Living in a big city, I think it's easy to romanticize another kind of slower, quieter life. I read articles about small town bakers that almost makes me cry out of jealousy; I spend far too much time looking at this tiny house listing on Sauvie Island. I don't think I'm alone in this sentiment — us big city folks are always daydreaming of slow living, wistful of the life depicted in Kinfolk magazine and the #thatsdarling hashtag.
I also think that, at the end of the day, us big city people forget that it's actually possible to live the thoughtful, more deliberate lives in our busy cities. It's a different kind than the ones depicted by the magazines and the Instagram accounts, but it's there. It's there in the window box of flowers, lovingly coached into blossom despite the traffic and busy streets below; it's there in recipes considered for small city kitchens and time-strapped folks, made with sustainably sourced and transparently produced ingredients. Like this one for quick whole wheat cinnamon rolls!
This recipe is adapted from one of my current favorite cookbooks, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, by former Chez Pannisse pastry chef Claire Ptak. If there's any baker who embodies the idea of "slow living in the big city", Claire is it. Her London bakery is almost nondescript and easily missed in the thriving hipster neighborhood of Hackney, but once inside, you can't helped but sucked in by the cozy atmosphere and her beautiful, homely baked goods.
Strapped for time and space in her city bakery, Claire developed a quickbread based recipe for cinnamon buns. As opposed to traditional bread recipes that use yeast to leaven the bread, quickbread recipes use leaveners like baking powder and baking soda instead. It significantly cuts down the baking time, eliminating any need to rest and proof the dough — heck, you don't even need to let any ingredients come to room temperature beforehand! It's perfect for folks who don't have four hours in their day to dedicate to bread making, but still want a hearty and rustic pastry.
My version of Claire's buns substitutes out half of the original recipe's quantity of all-purpose flour with King Arthur Flour's White Whole Wheat Flour, giving the rolls a heartier crumb with a subtle, nutty taste. The buns are filled with a generous portion of brown butter and sugar, spiked with King Arthur Flour's Chai Spice Mix. The resulting bun is not as fluffy as traditional buns; instead, these rolls are more akin to a crumbly biscuit or scone. When fresh from the oven and dipped in even more sugar, they're utterly addicting.
Thank you to King Arthur Flour for sponsoring this post by providing compensation and the ingredients for this recipe. I'm literally jumping for joy about our partnership together — even before this collaboration, I primarily used King Arthur products for most of my baking! I think they're the best in the business, and the quality of their ingredients elevates all my recipes above and beyond. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own; thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!
Some baker's notes:
- As opposed to regular whole wheat flour that is traditionally milled from red wheat, this recipe uses identity-preserved white whole wheat flour. The wheat is milled from white wheat instead, and being "identity-preserved" means that the wheat is grown from certified seeds using sustainable farming practices! Overall, this flour has a much more subtle flavor and works perfectly in lighter baked goods like cakes and buns. You can substitute up to 50% of any recipe using all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Check out King Arthur Flour's White Whole Wheat Baking Guide to learn more!
- Unlike yeasted buns, these don't double in size in the oven and stay pretty compact. Don't panic if they don't appear to be rising in the oven; that's totes normal.
- Unfortunately, because this is a quickbread recipe, these buns tend to get stale quickly and are best served the day they're made. However, you can make small batches by freezing the rolls you won't be able to finish in a day — wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and transfer each to its own muffin cavity when ready to bake.
Quick Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
(adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook)
For the Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls:
(makes 12 buns)
- 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 2 cups (10 ounces) King Arthur Flour white whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 cup (2 sticks // 8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) cold whole milk
For the Chai Sugar Filling:
(makes enough for 12 buns)
- 1/3 cup (2.65 ounces) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup (5.65 ounces) dark brown sugar, tightly packed
- 1 tablespoon King Arthur Flour chai spice mix
- a pinch of ground cinnamon
For the Sugar Coating:
(makes enough for 12 buns)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- fresh zest from 1 medium orange
For the Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls:
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400 (F). Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan by spraying each cavity with a generous amount of cooking spray; set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups white whole wheat flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons ground cardamom. Briefly paddle the ingredients together until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add 1 cup unsalted butter cubes all at once and continue mixing until you have a coarse meal. With the mixer still on low speed, slowly pour in 1 1/4 cups cold milk and continue mixing until the dough forms into a ball that comes away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and leave to rest for a few minutes.
- After the dough has rested for a few minutes, fold the dough gently over itself once or twice to pull it all together and incorporate any loose pieces. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into two even halves, and allow the dough to rest a second time for 10 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. Place 1/3 cup unsalted butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over medium heat and whisking gently as it continues to melt. Continue whisking gently as it bubbles. After 2 to 3 minutes, the surface will be foamy, but you should see brown bits appear at the bottom of the pan. The butter will emit a nutty aroma. Remove from heat immediately and continue whisking for another 30 seconds, before setting aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Whisk together 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon King Arthur Flour chai spice mix, and a pinch of ground cinnamon in a small bowl.
- Return to the dough. Use a rolling pin to roll out one of the dough halves into a rough 8 x 12-inch rectangle around 1/8-inch thick. Brush the surface of the dough with half the brown butter (from the 4th step); sprinkle half the chai sugar filling over the butter. For more attractive rolls, make sure you sprinkle the chai sugar filling evenly and completely over the rolled out dough, going right up to the edge of the rectangle.
- Working lengthwise, roll the dough into a log, pinching its edges to seal. Use a serrated knife or a bench scraper to cut the roll into 6 pieces, each about 2 inches wide. Take each roll and peel back about 2 inches of the loose end of the roll to fold it back under the roll; this serves as the bottom of the roll, creating a seal that prevents any filling from leaking out into the muffin pan. It's a little bit of a messy process, but stick with it! Place each roll with the side of the bottom side down on the pan.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the remaining half of the dough.
- Once you've created 12 rolls, transfer the muffin pan to the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the rolls have brown significantly and the filling has bubbled and blistered. As soon as the pan is out of the oven, flip the pan over a wire rack to turn out the rolls and prevent them from sticking to the muffin pan. Let them cool for a minute or two, and prepare the sugar filling by combining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, and fresh zest from 1 medium orange in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar becomes fragrant and the zest is incorporated throughout. Toss each warm cinnamon bun into the bowl of sugar to coat them completely, and serve immediately.