Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts

new christmas tradition

You're in charge of the carbs for Christmas breakfast.  Scones?  You're not inspired.  Muffins?  Muffins are so...the other 364 days of the year.  Look no further.  I don't care what your culinary plans for Christmas were. These are your new plan.

Tammy, loyal reader and hard-core promoter of In Praise of Leftovers, asked if I had a good cinnamon roll recipe.  I said no, but I'd work on it.  Three guesses what I did (and the first two don't count.)  I called my Mom, of course.  She rummaged through her recipe box and laughed that every recipe in there was from her friend Gayle.  Dear readers, that is good news for us.  Gayle is an excellent cook with a keen eye for good recipes. That's a skill I haven't talked much about here.  There's no shortage of recipes in the world--how many thousands of food blogs are there?  The trick is in being able to tell, after a minute of perusal, if a recipe is good or not.  I'm not sure how to teach that, but a lot depends on it.

So my Mom did it the old-fashioned way--she read the recipe to me over the phone, skipping parts according to the shorthand we have, and working up her own appetite along the way.  She made them the next morning, calling to confirm that yes, they were as good as she remembered and yes, I should definitely make them as soon as possible.

I brought them to my sister's house this morning and we attacked them.  Naomi decided to make them for Christmas morning. I'm telling you--these moist little rolls inspire changes of plans.  And you'll end up being more popular than Santa.  I made mine with pecans and orange zest, but can envision so many other combos--slivered almonds and almond extract; lime zest and toasted macadamias; little bits of dried fig and anise.  The dough is incredibly tender, you don't need to bother with yeast, and I'll stop trying to sell you on them. Because I think you might already be changing your plans.


Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts
I like these much better than any traditional yeasted cinnamon roll I've ever had.  In fact, I'm disappointed with cinnamon rolls most the time--too heavy, often too dry, with those annoying raisins clogging everything up.  The recipe, originally from Fine Cooking, directs you to put them in a 10" greased springform pan, which works beautifully.  If you don't have a springform, just bake them in a solid circle, edges almost touching, in the middle of a baking sheet.  You could leave the nuts out and be fine, I think.  My mom put chopped fresh cranberries in hers, and they were so delicious and festive.  Also, I didn't have all the spices around, so just used cinnamon, allspice, and some freshly ground nutmeg.

For filling:
3 Tb. melted butter
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/2 ts. allspice
1/4 ts. cloves
1/4 ts. cardamom
1 c. pecans

For dough:
2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1/4 ts. soda
3/4 c. 4% milkfat cottage cheese
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. sugar
4 Tb. melted butter
1 ts. vanilla

For icing:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
2-3 Tb. milk
1/2 ts. vanilla
finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 400 and butter a 10" springform pan.

For filling:  In food processor, combine pecans, brown sugar, and spices.  Pulse a few times until pecans are chopped semi-finely.  Set aside with melted butter in another bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.  Set aside.

In a food processor, mix cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla, pulsing for about 10 seconds until just mixed and cottage cheese is pureed.  Add flour mixture to cottage cheese mixture, pulsing in short bursts until dough is just beginning to clump.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, kneading a couple times until smooth.  Dough will be very soft and fragrant, but surprisingly easy to work with.  Roll dough out into a 12"x15" rectangle. Brush dough with melted butter, leaving a little border around the edges.  Sprinkle pecan spice mixture over dough.  Roll the dough up lengthwise, pinching ends.  Using your sharpest knife, cut dough into twelve rounds.  I didn't have any problem doing this.  They will squish a little bit, but don't worry about it.

Arrange in the springform pan (or in a solid circle in the middle of a baking sheet) and bake for about 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  This is super essential. 28 minutes max, depending on your oven.

Let cool for about five minutes, then whisk powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest to make your icing.  Drizzle icing over buns, let cool for about five more minutes, then unmold the springform.