No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Let’s face it–some sourdough recipes are anything but no-fuss. On the coattails of sourdough’s great, quarantine-inspired resurgence, many bread lovers with lofty aspirations of achieving the perfect loaf have come to the same conclusion: working with sourdough can be kind of hard.

It’s not that caring for a starter poses an insurmountable challenge. If anything, neglecting–or simply forgetting–about your starter in the fridge can be the biggest hurdle, if you don’t bake every day, or even every week.

What Does It Mean To Care For Sourdough Starter

The fact is, sourdough is alive with wild yeasts and lactobacilli, an umbrella term for bacteria strains typically found in yogurt and dairy products. These strains of bacteria excel at converting sugar into lactic and acetic acid, which translates, happily for us, into flavor. (This is why we love our artisan bakers for intimately caring for their cultured loaves, from the beginning stages of liquid starter to a gorgeously shaped levain.)

Dreamy as the sourdough life may seem, not all of us can shape our lives around a schedule dictated by bacteria, temperature, and flour. The good news is, there are many uses for sourdough starter other than making bread, many of which take much less time to master.

Ways to De-Mystify Your Starter

If pulling out the scale once a week becomes a pain-point in the process of caring for your starter, ditch it.

The deeper one digs into the realm of sourdough culture (pun intended) the more involved (and superstitious) recipes for sourdough become. A baker may weigh every ounce to the proper decimal, consider every variable impacting culture activity, and plan their life around their starter–and still bake a crummy loaf.

Don’t view your starter as a complex adversary–it is a new friend you are getting to know.

Feed your sourdough culture 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour when you pull it from the fridge. Clean the container, pour the fed starter back into its vessel, and use what doesn’t fit in a recipe like No-Fuss Cinnamon Rolls. (This is called sourdough discard.)

If you are unsure of how to use your sourdough discard, consider these ideas:

A simple rule of thumb for understanding sourdough starter behavior is, the warmer the environment, the more active the starter. This is why if you keep sourdough starter on your fridge, it requires daily feedings–versus the weekly feedings required when kept in the fridge.

Resources For Further Sourdough Recipes and Research

  • The New York Times produced a deep dive into making a sourdough loaf, with illustrative pictures and step-by-step instructions.
  • Breadtopia hosts a wealth of information about different kinds of flours, sourdough care, loaf-shaping methods, and also boasts a large collection of recipes.
  • King Arthur Flour is a trusted source for recipes with predictable levels of success for bakers of all experience levels.
  • Cultures For Health is an excellent resource for many “alive” products, including milk and water kefirs, sourdough, kombucha, and more.

But enough about starter care: let’s get to the good stuff.


hear that? that’s the sound of success. and also, my neighbors’ construction project 🙂

This recipe is for the casual sourdough fan,

who may have acquired a starter during quarantine but still would unabashedly consider themselves in the “training wheels” phase of Sourdough Understanding. Personally, I’ve had my starter for years, and I’m still getting to know it–I am still baking loaves that cause me frustration, and, occasionally, I bake beautiful ones.

These cinnamon rolls, however, have yet to disappoint. This was one of the first recipes I ever followed which yielded successful results from a starter and made me believe that maybe I was, in fact, developing the accompanying intuition for translating my starter’s behavior into an end result I wanted to eat.

vanilla cream cheese frosting makes everything better…and a flaky bun makes for a great bite

Assemble the ingredients for the dough and mix.

there’s our friend the sourdough starter, in the top left corner
she may look a little shaggy, but she cleans up real neat

It is very important not to overmix the dough at any point in this recipe!

When you first begin mixing the ingredients together, feel free to use your hands so you can experience the textural change the ingredients undergo as they combine. The dough should barely come together, feel shaggy, and also very tender. The more you “knead” the dough and mix it together, the tougher it gets (and nobody wants a tough bun!) due to gluten networks forming. Treat this dough as gently as possible and you will be rewarded with airy, delicious buns.

On paper, this shaggy mixture should hang out at room temperature overnight–but since it’s been a little colder at my place in these winter months, I let it sit on the counter, covered, for about 18 hours. Again, don’t go overboard adhering to a strict schedule on this one. I’ve made these before letting the dough rest about 10 hours with great success. This is not a recipe to stress about…promise.

Here’s what the dough looked like after resting for a glorious 18 hours:

the dough should be significantly more relaxed in the bottom of the bowl
l: filling ingredients; r: rising agents and salt for dough

Sprinkle baking soda, baking powder, and salt over the dough and mix gently until incorporated. Dough should be incredibly soft, tender, and supple at this point and will literally feel like (and resemble) a dimpled baby’s bottom. Roll dough out over a floured surface into a vaguely rectangular shape.

Filling ingredients are mashed together with a fork until a paste forms. Spread over the dough, roll into a log, and cut.

i am of the school of thought that more filling is better…
leave some space in your pan to account for growth
whipped up some vanilla cream cheese frosting, because that’s my business
good morning to me
if you like a bun with a little structural integrity, this is the recipe for you

No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

This simple dough relaxes at room temperature overnight before being rolled out, rolled up, and baked into sweety cinnamon-y goodness.
Prep Time 45 mins
Resting Time 12 hrs
Total Time 13 hrs 10 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine American, festive, holiday, Intuitive, sourdough, traditional

Ingredients
  

Dough

  • 1/2 cup cold butter, salted
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup active sourdough starter, or sourdough discard
  • 1 Tbs white sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Filling

  • 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar

Icing

  • 4 oz full fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt

Instructions
 

  • 12 hours or so before you wish to bake, prepare the dough.
  • Using a food processor or a pastry cutter, combine butter and flour until the mixture looks sandy and uniform. If using a food processor, empty contents into a large bowl. Add starter, sugar, and milk and very gently mix until dough only just comes together. It is important not to overmix at this stage. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel and let rest at room temperature 12-18 hours.
  • In a small bowl, mix salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Sprinkle over the rested dough and mix with your hands until the ingredients are incorporated. Dough should slacken considerably and feel very tender and light. Again, be careful not to overmix.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Lightly flour a clean level surface and roll out the dough until it is roughly 1/4" thick, and in a rectangular shape.
  • In a medium bowl, mash warm butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger with a fork until a paste forms. Spread the paste evenly over the dough using the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  • Roll the dough up lengthwise as tightly as possible. Cut the ends off of the log, then cut the remaining dough into roughly 1" thick rounds.
  • Place buns in a buttered cast iron skillet, cookie sheet, or muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes, or until buns are golden brown at the edges.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the icing in a medium bowl. Combine room temperature cream cheese, vanilla, salt, and milk with a whisk or spatula. Gradually add powdered sugar until incorporated, adding more sugar as desired.
  • Drizzle buns with icing and serve immediately. Keeps in the fridge up to 3 days. Reheat in small bursts in the microwave for delicious leftovers.
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Cranberry Orange Sablés

Any fellow cranberry junkies out there? (It’s okay to raise your hand, this is a safe space…!)

Consuming cranberries is my favorite way to maintain basic urinary health while boosting my immune system. Drinking a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice is like absorbing pure vitality; even the shocking taste is bracing, like taking a polar bear plunge or throwing back a shot of fresh ginger juice.

With every passing year, I place more and more cranberry sauce on my plate for Thanksgiving dinner. It becomes a welcome addition to turkey, bacon sprouts, creamy sweet potatoes…I pass it around my dish like a rumor, allowing it to shapeshift and add brightness to every decadent bite.

So this year, when I passed by the cranberries in the grocery store only to discover that they were on sale, I ended up celebrating this fact by buying a lot…as in, over five bags of fresh cranberries…

After making cranberry relish, I still had four bags of cranberries. These are destined to become a cranberry curd tart, cranberry simple syrup, cranberry apple handpies…anything left over will head straight to the freezer for mocktails.

Before the holiday was up, I’d made cranberry cookies. The recipe is fresh-tasting, delightfully simple, and can all be combined in one large mixing bowl. (I don’t know about you, but during the holiday season I try to minimize the amount of unnecessary dishes I have to do.)

sugar, flour, orange zest, pulverized dried cranberries and walnuts…what’s not to love?

Once combined, the dough is shaped into a log, rolled in sugar, and placed in the fridge for at least two hours.

cookies are cut about 1/2″ thick

With these flavorful, sightly cookies, erring on the side of underbaking, rather than overbaking, is key.

ever so slightly golden on the bottom with a moist crumb, these simple cookies may end up a seasonal staple!

Cranberry Orange Sablés

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Chill Time 2 hrs
Course Dessert
Cuisine Seasonal

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold butter, salted
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • zest of one orange
  • 2-3 Tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
  • additional sugar to roll over cookie log

Instructions
 

  • In a food processor or blender, combine cranberries and 1/4 cup sugar and blend until the cranberries are fine and mostly uniform in size. Place in a large bowl.
  • Wipe out the blender or food processor, add walnuts, and cut until they resemble coarse meal. Add to the large bowl with the cranberries.
  • Wipe out the blender or food processor once more. Add the flour and remaining sugar, and pulse. Add the butter and pulse until you have very fine crumbs. Add to the bowl with walnuts and cranberries. Add orange zest, orange juice, and almond extract. Stir to combine.
  • Knead the dough until a ball comes together, adding orange juice as needed to moisten the dough. Form into a log about two inches in diameter, and roll in sugar if desired. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge between two hours and three days.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Cut cookies using a large knife to about 1/2" thickness. Place cookies on a baking sheet with at least 1" of space between them. Bake 13-15 minutes, being careful not to overbake.
  • Let cookies cool for 10 minutes on the warm baking sheet before removing and placing on a wire rack to continue to cool.
  • Save in an airtight container up to 4 days, or freeze, well-wrapped, for up to 3 months.
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Dorie Greenspan’s Baked Apples

I rarely come across a recipe that I don’t adapt in the kitchen. Few and far between are the chefs I trust implicitly enough to blindly follow a recipe for the first time. Dorie Greenspan is one of those chefs.

My sister recently learned that she is intolerant to gluten. Rather than shower her in gluten-free approximations of traditional sweet treats, I decided to get a little creative (and a little seasonal) and see what the internet had to offer on the happenstantially-gluten-free-dessert front. (Thank you, internet, for always providing me with what I seek!)

The only modification I made to this recipe was the kind of apple I baked. Dorie recommends large baking apples (Rome Beauty, to be precise) but I had these smaller, Opal apples on hand which still tasted beautiful baked–I found the portion size for a smaller apple to be closer to what I could comfortably eat as well. (Sorry Dorie, for the slight deviation…)

Everything else about this recipe I followed to the letter, and was so pleased with the results. I’d never made baked apples (somehow!) and was frankly delighted with the whole process. Coring and stuffing the apples, basting them in high-quality pressed cider and butter, watching them puff and brown in the oven…the whole experience was part of the treat of eating them. To boot, this recipe is grain-free and refined-sugar-free, so flavorful, and feels so perfectly autumnal. The real sense of indulgence comes from the butter and whipped cream, which are beautifully complimented by the sharpness of the apple and the warmth of the candied ginger. I mean it when I tell you this recipe left a profound enough impression on me, it will probably become a yearly staple…and I’m sure I’ll make it again before fall is gone.

the top right bowl contains raisins

There was definitely a steep learning curve in terms of coring the apples without an apple core-er. I used this cheese knife to pierce concentrically around the core, then used a small spoon to scoop out the flesh I’d serrated–a labor intensive process, but so rewarding. These apples are cute as a button when they’re all hollowed out with little lids for the top!

dorie recommends peeling away the topmost layer of apple skin and leaving the rest; this has the effect of adding a note of gastronomy to this simple and homey dessert!
the apples were stuffed with dried apple chunks, unsweetened raisins, and candied ginger, then topped with a generous pat of butter!

Apple cider and honey go into the pie dish and the whole thing bakes for about an hour, until…

my frankenstiened toothpick apple exploded, but that’s ok! the innards flavored the basting liquid and it still tasted delicious

I basted the apples three times over the course of the hour, spooning buttery cider into the hollowed cavity and over the tops of the apples.

apple cross section–don’t forget the whipped cream!!
serve with maple-syrup sweetened whipped cream, a dash of cinnamon, and buttery cider juices from the bottom of the pie dish. YUM.

Dorie Greenspan’s Baked Apples

Serves 4-6

Apples

  • 4 large apples or 6 medium ones
  • ½ lemon, cut into wedges
  • ¼ c dried apple rings, broken into small chunks
  • 4 pieces of crystallized ginger
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 2 teaspoons honey per apple, + 2 more tsp for basting liquid
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup pressed apple cider

Topping

  • ½ c heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbs maple syrup
  • Dash of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 and make sure a rack is centered in the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and place a 9” pie dish on top.

Cut a small cap off the top of each apple, and keep it close to its mate so they don’t get confused. Use a small paring knife or corer to remove the core from the apples. (Note: sometimes perforating the apple flesh with a fork or cheese knife makes for easier work.) Peel the topmost layer of apple skin underneath the cap of each apple and reserve. Rub the peeled and cored apple flesh with lemon and squeeze some juice into each opening.

In a small bowl, combine equal parts ginger, dried apple chunks, and raisins to make the filling. Press down into the opening of each apple, and drizzle 2 tsp honey into each apple. Cut the butter into as many chunks as you have apples, and place each pat over the top of the cavity. Pop the lid back on the apple, and don’t worry if it feels very full!

Pour cider into the pie dish and mix in 2 tsp honey, two lemon wedges, and reserved apple peelings. (Chef’s note: the honey won’t dissolve evenly into the cider at first, but don’t fret!)

Arrange the apples in the pie dish and bake.

Baste the apples occasionally with the liquid from the pie dish as they bake, at least three times. When you can poke them with a fork and meet minimal resistance, 50-70 minutes, they are done. 

Let them cool for about 15 minutes as you prepare the whipped cream.

Add cream and maple syrup to a medium bowl with high walls, or a large bowl. Beat with an electric beater until fluffy and of desired texture, about 5 minutes.

When the apples have cooled slightly, top with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon. 

These apples keep 2 days in the refrigerator and can be reheated in the microwave.

Triple Decker Chocolate Cake

…seems simple enough, right? Well, with the help of Samin Nosrat, I’m getting a little more curious about the science behind what makes delicious cake just that.

Whether from a box or from scratch, it’s safe to say most households have made a chocolate cake at least once. Nosrat points out in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” that even boxed cake mixes call for some kind of oil rather than butter. Why might this be, you ask?

According to Nosrat, oil more evenly coats flour particles in comparison to butter. This inhibits gluten development which encourages a more tender, moist crumb. This does, in turn, create a cake that is a little denser when compared to butter’s capacity for aeration.

For a classic chocolate cake, I’ll happily take a dense, moist crumb and save the fluffy stuff for another time. And when I found this recipe for a three layer chocolate cake made with oil, I knew I was in for a decadent treat.

i chose to use canola oil for this cake, but vegetable oil or some other neutral oil would work well too

This cake baking endeavor posed an excellent opportunity to test out my new cake strips, which you can see pictured above as the thick, purple strips of fabric.

If you don’t know what cake strips are, you aren’t alone! I only learned of them recently. The idea is simple: buffer the heat between the temperature of the oven and the outermost ring of cake batter in order to more evenly heat the cake as it bakes. This makes for a more homogenous rise across the surface of the cake, which prevents doming.

To test this, I used two cake strips on two cake pans, and baked the third without.

about 3 cups of batter went into each cake pan

Here’s an aerial shot of both the independent variable (no cake strips) and dependent variable (with cake strips).

can you tell the difference? (l: no cake strips; r: cake strips)

Here you can see the dome from the layer baked without strips:

dennnng, check out that dome

Versus a close up of a layer baked with the strips:

in the background is the hump of the layer baked w/o strips–but you can see the outer rim of the cake pan, unique to those layers baked with the strips

The overall height of the layers of cake strips versus no cake strips was different as well, even though each layer roughly had three cups of batter prior to baking.

no cake strips–dense, tight crumb at the edges
with cake strips–fluffier crumb throughout

What do you think?

I have to admit, I am a new cake strips convert. You can purchase them here, if you are moved by this testimony. (And no, they are not paying me to say this! 🙂

After the exciting reveal of the cake strip experiment, I whipped up some buttercream frosting and layered my cake.

dark chocolate shavings make everything better

I was good and waited until after dinner to dig in to this cake…we’ll see if I can follow suit tomorrow!

a thin layer of frosting on the bottommost layer prevents the cake from sliding away from center on the cake plate, which is helpful if your cake is destined to travel places

Yum!

Basic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Generously serves 12

Cake

  • Butter and all-purpose flour for coating the cake pans
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1 ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c buttermilk
  • 1 ½ c near-boiling water
  • ½ c canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three nine-inch cake rounds and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. If using, soak cake strips for 5 minutes and apply to the exterior of the cake pans without ringing out the water. 

Slowly mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer until combined.

Add wet ingredients and beat for two minutes on medium speed, until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans, just over three cups worth.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the outer edge of the cake and inverting each layer onto a wire cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • 1 ½ c butter (3 sticks), room temperature
  • 3.5-4.5 c powdered sugar (taste as you go and make it as sweet as you like!)
  • ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream or whole milk
  • Dark chocolate bar for shaving on top

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. 

Add vanilla, cream, and cocoa powder and mix until incorporated. Add powdered sugar in increments, tasting as you go, until frosting is of desired sweetness. Frost in between each layer, the top of the cake, and the sides. 

Shave dark chocolate using a vegetable peeler on top of the freshly-frosted cake. Keeps well plastic wrapped at room temperature or tightly sealed in the fridge. Serve with a glass of your milk of choice.