Oh am I a sucker for cinnamon rolls. See: years of patronizing airport Cinnabons, or my first year at Lula's, before they altered (irrevocably) their recipe. This formula is everything one could hope for: fluffy, sweet but not cloying dough, ribbons of cinnamon sugar paste - and more so for one who's never worked with yeast, but fortunately owns a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2008.
1 cup whole milk
3 tbsps unsalted butter
3 and 1/2 cups unbleached ap flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 and 1/4 tsps rapid rise yeast
1 tsp salt
unsalted butter, room temperature
golden brown sugar
good cinnamon (I use Vietnamese, from my farmer's market)
cream or neufchatel cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
optionally, I like 1/2-1 tsp of Kahlua
1. Combine milk and butter in a glass measuring cup. Microwave until butter melts. Pour into bowl of stand mixer (can you do this in a regular stainless steel bowl with a hand mixer? potentially, I imagine), and add 1 cup flour (sift first), sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Note: I just measure and add the yeast dry. Some googling led me to believe that the warm milk allows for the yeast to expand as is, so dissolving into water first isn't truly necessary.
2. Beat low (setting 2-4) with paddle attachment for 3 mins, occasionally scraping the bowl. Add 2 and 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low until the flour is absorbed and the dough is sticky; if the dough is super sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it pulls from the sides of the bowl, forming a cohesive clump. However you imagine bread dough to look, this is what you're looking for.
3. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball or lump, and transfer to a large, nonstick-sprayed bowl. Gently turn the dough lump to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel. Now, the thrill: let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size. 2 hours on the counter, or less in a 150 degree oven, or even on a burner of a recently-off oven.
4. Toward the end of the rise, make your filling. I don't include measurements here because it's really subjective: you're adding cinnamon and sugar to softened butter to make a paste that you'll spread across the dough. Make enough for maximum ooze, once rolled and baked. I like a higher cinnamon-to-sugar ratio, but that's me.
5. Ok, dough completes its 1st rise. Punch it down, remove from bowl, transfer back to freshly floured work surface. Gently roll the dough out to a 15x11-ish inch rectangle. Spread filling over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Starting at one long side, roll the dough (carefully!) into a log, keeping the roll as tight as possible. With the seam side down, slice the log into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices - the best way to do this without damaging the integrity of (i.e. razing down) the roll, is to slip a long piece of thread until the log, and pull the two slack ends toward and past each other, so that the dough is cut as they cross. I think Buffy decapitated a vampire like this once.
6. Spray your container (I use a pyrex casserole dish) with nonstick, and set the rolls down cut side up. Cover with plastic and towel again. Note: at this point, you can refrigerate the dish(es) overnight, removing them in the a.m. for the final rise and bake. Impress brunch company. Or, if you're into consecutive steps, let the dough re-double another 45 mins. I've made these both ways (straight through & pausing overnight) and they're fucking amazing either way.
7. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375. Bake rolls until tops are golden, anywhere from 13-20 mins. My oven takes about 18 mins with no threat of the tops burning, but some reviewers of this recipe prefer to cover the rolls with foil for the last 5.
8. Make frosting. Combine ingredients to your liking, whether it's one large, refrigeratable batch or as-you-eat.
These rolls don't require frosting to be delicious, and are pretty great microwaved for about 2 days after. Not that they'll last that long.