The beautiful part about being a grown-ass adult is the opportunity to establish your own traditions, particularly around the holidays. Cinnamon rolls for breakfast on New Year’s Day has become one of ours. I’ve tried quite a few recipes, now; sticky-pecan rolls, morning buns with extra cinnamon sugar, I’ve even tried fusing together the sticky bun recipe with the cream cheese frosting…nothing was THE RECIPE. This year, I did a little extra research into how to get the dough to be super fluffy, and the filling super decadent, without giving anyone a toothache, sugar rush or heart attack. I’m proud to announce that these Super-Fluffy Brown-Butter Date Cinnamon Rolls are IT. And I can’t wait until next New Year’s morn when we get to eat them again. (Although, let’s be honest – we won’t be able to wait that long!)
See the recipe notes below for more on why the technique I share below is rock-solid, and for more on the refined-sugar free way I put together this sultry filling!
Whisk ¾ cup whole milk and ¼ cup (31 g) all-purpose flour in a medium saucepan until smooth. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until mixture is thickened and whisk lines are visible on the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Scrape tangzhong into the bowl of a stand mixer and let cool.
Add 1 large egg, one ¼-oz. envelope of instant yeast (about 2¼ tsp.), ⅓ cup (67 g) granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp. Diamond Crystal or 1¾ tsp. Morton kosher salt, and remaining 1½ cups whole milk to tangzhong and whisk to combine. Add the remaining 5½ cups (688 g) of all-purpose flour. Fit bowl onto stand mixer; fit mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-low and mix, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally, until dough is smooth and elastic, 18–24 minutes. Pinch off a golf-ball-size piece of dough and stretch between your fingers as thin as possible without breaking. If you can see light through the dough, it’s ready. If not, continue mixing a few more minutes, then try again.
Add ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces, to the dough and mix on medium speed until incorporated about 2 minutes. Continue mixing until dough pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl and is no longer tacky to the touch, 5–7 minutes longer. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Let sit in a warm spot until doubled in volume, 60–90 minutes.
While the dough is rising, cook ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter foams and milk solids turn dark amber, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and let cool slightly.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment, add the pitted medjool dates, the brown butter and 1 Tbsp of warm water. Blend until the date mixture is no longer chunky, and has formed a voluptuous, creamy, smooth spread, adding water by the tablespoon to loosen the mixture. Add the cinnamon and the salt, transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Butter two 9″-diameter cake pans or one 11×13″ baking dish.
Punch down dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Stretch dough into a rough rectangle; if dough feels stiff, let sit 5–10 minutes to allow gluten to relax. Arrange dough with short side facing you and roll out to a 24×13″ rectangle. Spread date filling over dough in an even layer.
Starting at edge closest to you, tightly roll up dough into a log; roll log seam side down. Using a sharp serrated knife and long sawing motions, trim ends of log; discard. Using serrated knife or, preferably, unflavored dental floss, cut log in half crosswise, then cut each half into 6 equal rounds. (If using dental floss, slide floss underneath dough, then cross over top and pull ends through.) Nestle 6 rounds, cut side down, in each prepared cake pan. Cover with damp kitchen towels and let sit in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 30–50 minutes.
Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Bake rolls until golden on top and puffed (don’t be alarmed if they rise dramatically in the center), 25–30 minutes.
Meanwhile, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a whisk, beat 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, and 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature, in a large bowl, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed, until combined. Add 1¼ cups (138 g) powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. whole milk, 1 tsp. orange zest (if using), and ¼ tsp. Diamond Crystal or Morton kosher salt and beat until mixture is smooth and sugar is incorporated. Taste and beat in more powdered sugar (up to ¾ cup) if desired. Thin with more cream as needed, a teaspoonful at a time, until the frosting is thick but spreadable.
If you’re like me and you prefer a glaze to frosting, simple whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla paste and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Pour over still warm rolls when they emerge from the oven.
Let cinnamon rolls cool in pan 5 minutes; spread frosting over.