Are you making ricotta cheese yet? And saving the resulting whey (previously, and less appetizingly referred to as the thin, milky liquid that drips off the cheese) to bake with? If I tell you can make cinnamon rolls really, really easily will you make them? I must credit my mom here, who on a recent visit reminded me how effortlessly this can be done.
OK, you don’t have to start with ricotta cheese. But do start with this bread recipe; then, when the dough’s risen once and you’re ready to shape loaves, make one loaf of nice sandwich bread, and one nice pan of cinnamon rolls. Or skip the loaf entirely and make a whole lot of cinnamon rolls, I won’t tell.
2 tbsp dry yeast
1/2 c lukewarm tap water
2 c warmed buttermilk (or the liquid that drained off your homemade ricotta cheese)
2 c unbleached bread flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp olive oil or more melted butter
Combine water and yeast in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the buttermilk and bread flour
and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment overnight at room temperature. It may bubble up and then fall — that’s fine. In the morning, it will be bubbly and fragrant.
In the morning, add the butter, honey, and salt to the sponge and mix well. Stir in flour until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Rub your hands with oil or melted butter and lift the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead once or twice. Now let it sit a minute while you rinse out the mixing bowl with warm water, towel dry, and coat with olive oil. Put the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise about 1 hour.
At this point, you can butter or oil either two 8 1/2 x 4″ loaf pans, or one loaf pan and one 9×9″ square baking pan (the one you use for brownies), or a larger, lasagne-size, roasting pan. Just use metal pans; glass ones don’t give you as nice a crust.
Divide the risen dough in half. To make sandwich bread, form the dough into a vaguely loaf-like shape (really, you can pretty much drop the dough into the pan and it will find its shape), place in the pan, cover and let rise until the dough reaches the rim of the pan, about 30 minutes.
To make cinnamon rolls, take your half lump of dough (even if you’re turning all the dough into cinnamon rolls, working with half the dough at a time makes life easier), and roll it out into a rectangle, about 12″ long. Dot it with butter, then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top (or you could mush the butter, sugar and cinnamon up together in a bowl and spread it on the dough). Do this to suit your own taste; I used about 2 tbsp each of butter and sugar, maybe a teaspoon of cinnamon. Toss on a bit of orange zest if you have it, and sprinkle with raisins and/or walnuts if you like. Roll the dough the long way into a cylinder, and slice the cylinder into 3″-thick slices. Lay the slices in the baking pan cut side down, cover and let rise about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 420. Bake for 25-40 minutes. Check for doneness by turning one loaf out of the pan and tapping the bottom; if it sounds hollow, it’s baked through. For the rolls, check by lifting up a corner and seeing if the bottom is crusty and brown. If the breads are browning too much but don’t seem quite done, cover loosely with foil for the final 5-10 minutes of baking. Cool on a wire rack.