Ready time: 3 hours (including rising)
1/2 cup (105 grams) sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoon (16 grams) instant yeast
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups (657 grams) flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (40 grams) flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
11/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch black pepper
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups (260g) icing sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
For tips and make-ahead instructions, click here.
Place sugar in a mixing bowl and cover with warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top of water and set aside to soak 5 minutes.
Microwave whole milk in a heatproof bowl for one minute to bring to room temperature. Whisk in eggs, egg yolk and vanilla.
Whisk the milk mixture into the yeast mixture in the mixing bowl. Place the 4 1/2 cups of flour and the salt on top. Stir using the paddle attachment until it forms a sticky, batter-like dough.
Mix in the softened butter one tablespoon at a time. The dough will be very sticky at this point. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and use your spatula to push the dough to one side. Sprinkle the 1/4 cup of flour over the dough and the bottom of the bowl.
Use the dough hook to knead at your mixer’s recommended setting (usually level 2) for 5 minutes. The dough will be very sticky at first. After five minutes it should only stick a little to the bottom of the bowl but be clearing the sides; if it isn’t add 1-2 tbsp of flour and allow to knead for an additional 2-3 minutes. The dough should be kneaded for a total of 7-9 minutes until it is smooth, elastic and slightly tacky.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for an hour. While the dough is rising make the chai butter. Stir together brown sugar and spices. Use a fork or spoon to work the softened butter in to form a paste.
Once the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and knead a few times to deflate. Flour your work surface and roll dough out into a 15-by-15-inch square. If the dough keeps bouncing back, let it rest 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten.
Use a spatula or your fingers to spread the chai butter evenly over the dough, leaving 1 inch uncovered on one edge. Roll the dough into an even log, brush unbuttered edge with water and press to seal. Use a serrated knife to cut the log into 12 equal pieces.
Grease two 9-by-15-inch glass or ceramic baking pans and evenly space six cinnamon rolls on each pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the buns are touching. While the buns are rising, make the cream cheese frosting.
Preheat oven to 350F. Uncover baking pans and place side by side in the middle of the oven. Bake 10 minutes, then rotate pans. Bake another 10-12 minutes or until buns are brown on top but only light golden brown on the sides. Cool pans on wire racks.
To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together until combined. Add icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time. The icing will look a bit dry. Add spices then turn mixer on high and whip until smooth.
Spread buns with cream cheese frosting while still warm. Buns are best served fresh, or microwave leftovers until warm.
Stephanie Eddy, who writes about her baking exploits at clockworklemon.com, lives in Calgary.