I was at the airport early last weekend. I was headed to Florida for a wedding and I was hungry and in need of caffeine. Despite the recent arrival of some good sit-down restaurants, New York City airports fail miserably in the food department. In search of a decent bite, I wandered the terminal, passing display cases of limp pastries and shelves stacked with chips.
But then—what’s that?—the siren call of airport cinnamon rolls. Wafting down the corridor, the aroma of those cinnamon rolls is unlike any other. Like the fifth cocktail on a Friday night, you know they’re a bad decision. It’s 7 A.M. and you need real breakfast, not a puffed-up sugar bomb masquerading as sustenance.
Regardless, I had cinnamon rolls on my mind the entire flight. Truthfully, I don’t like how many bakeries these days consider size to be the ultimate expression of decadence: They think the bigger and doughier the cinnamon roll, the better.
I prefer a cinnamon roll made from a thinner dough. Rolling the dough more thinly allows the sugary, spiced filling to soak further into the tightly wound coils, which creates a sticky, chewy center. And after all, the center bite is the best bite.
I started thinking about other ways to up the intensity of a cinnamon roll. Naturally, I thought about whiskey (isn’t that the solution to many problems?). I made a very simple salted caramel sauce and added whiskey at the end, though not enough to overpower the sauce. If you love whiskey I’d suggest adding more than I did, and tasting until you’re happy with the flavor.
This recipe is a very basic dough, which comes from the back of the Domino brown sugar box. I’ve tinkered with the filling slightly, spreading softened butter over the dough before adding the cinnamon sugar in order to help the filling to stick better.
The salted caramel sauce goes on last. You might find it is difficult to spread evenly, but do the best you can. Messy caramel is still delicious. Baking absolves most sins (technique-wise, that is; emotionally, you’re on your own).
I recommend lining your pan with parchment. Some of the caramel will slide to the bottom of the pan, but the parchment makes it easier to pull the rolls out. The result is a thin layer of sticky caramel around the base of the rolls. It’s just as good as it sounds.
You’re welcome to frost these rolls, but I preferred them without adornment. To say that adding icing puts them over the top is an understatement.
Adapted loosely from Domino Sugar
Makes one 9-inch round or square pan
For the dough:
3/4 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
For making the filling and assembling the rolls:
1 cup granulated sugar, divided, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup whiskey
4 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
For the icing:
cup confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Photos by Posie Harwood and Bobbi Lin