11 December 2008

Cinnamon Rolls, Eau de Vie and Limoncello

We're big fans of breakfast for dinner, so tonight we opted for cinnamon rolls. These come from Cook's Illustrated, so you know they're perfect.

3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter, melted

2 1/2 c flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 c buttermilk
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Since you're going to use 8 tbsp of butter anyway, melt a whole stick now and take out one spoon at a time whenever you need it. Preheat the oven to 425 and move a rack to the upper middle position. Coat a round cake pan with 1 tbsp melted butter.

For the filling: Combine sugars, spices, and salt in a small bowl. Add 1 tbsp butter and stir with a fork until it all looks like wet sand. Set aside.

For the dough: whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Separately, whisk the buttermilk and 2 tbsp butter in a measuring cup. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir until liquid is absorbed (about 30 sec). Transfer to a floured surface and knead until soft.

Pat the dough with your hands into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Brush the dough with 2 tbsp of butter and top with the filling*, leaving a 1/2-inch border of dough around the edges. Pat the filling lightly into the dough. Roll the dough from the long side up, pressing lightly, to form a log and pinch the seam to seal.

Cut into pieces (the book suggests 8, but ours were a little narrow so we cut more, smaller slices), dust them with the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fit into prepared cake pan. Bake for 23-25 min. Cool and enjoy.

There is a recipe for icing with cream cheese, buttermilk, and powdered sugar, but we skipped it. These don't need to be any sweeter than they already are, but you can dust a little powdered sugar or whipped cream over the top.

These cinnamon rolls were great, but the standout of our evening was long-form vodka preparation. Tonight was the fateful night that our months of toiling came to fruition (pun intended) in the form of limoncello.

This drink probably takes longer than anything else we've made. But it's worth it. Like K + J's apple and cinnamon infused vodka, it takes fairly basic vodka and makes it something much more amazing. The only problem is that once you taste it you realize you haven't made enough.

Limoncello is an Italian, lemon-flavored liqueur. To make it yourself, first buy some 100-proof Vodka (we used Smirnoff, just because it's what we found first). Then peel the skins off 10 lemons per bottle (we made two bottles). Be careful to only peel off only the yellow skin, and not the white pith beneath, which will make your liqueur bitter (it is basically impossible to avoid all pith, but keep it in mind). Take all these peels and stuff them into the bottle of vodka.

Now here's the hard part: take these bottles of vividly colored liquor and hide them away for 2 to 3 months. This is a long time, we admit. But it's worth it.

At the end of your dry period, open the bottle up and take a whiff. It should smell great, a lot like a lemonhead candy. Pour the liquid into a bowl.

Because neither lemons nor high-proof alcohol are sweet, you're going to want to add some simple syrup. Dissolve some sugar (demerara, preferably) into an equal amount of water on the stove and then let it cool. Add the simple syrup to the raw limoncello, tasting constantly (as if you weren't already) until it has achieved the right amount of sweetness. We used less than a cup of simple syrup for each bottle. The darker color comes from the Demerara sugar, so if you're planning to give this drink as a gift then you should use white sugar to keep the color bright yellow.

Traditionally, limoncello is served as an ice cold shot. But we shook it up with ice and added a cherry. It would also go great with a little club soda or sparkling water.

Now, originally we hadn't planned on making eau de vie. The term refers to almost any fruit-infused brandy. Since we used vodka ours wasn't technically a true eau de vie, but we don't think anyone drinking it will complain.

When you make the limoncello, the lemon peels are going to displace some of the vodka, which you'll have to pour out. Have another glass container handy, and just pour this extra alcohol over a few sliced pieces of fruit (including the skins). We used plums.

After six weeks (or two months, if you're forgetful like we are) you can add more simple syrup to taste. For us, at least, we didn't end up adding any sugar, and we ended up with a sweet, fragrant liquor.

*We forgot to brush the dough with butter before adding the filling, but all that happened is that a tiny bit more filling fell out than it otherwise would have. No matter, it caramelized on the bottom of the pan, so a couple of our rolls were on a crunchy bed of something like cinnamon rock candy - awesome.


  1. What is the benefit of Demerara sugar and where do you get it?

  2. Demerara is brown cane sugar -- if you go to Starbuck's, you'll find it in those "Sugar in the Raw" packets. It has a stronger taste than white sugar that would remind you of molasses. You can buy it at the grocery store in the baking aisle as eiterh Demerara or Raw sugar.

    There's a long explanation of the benefits of using it for drinks in David Wondrich's book, Imbibe. Basically the taste is more interesting and I think in this case it makes the limoncello even more drinkable on its own.

  3. I think I am going to try this recipe next week. I love cinnamon rolls....mmmm gooey center....yum!



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