When I began culinary school in Baltimore, MD, I wanted to be a Master Chef. After going through my first few classes and working in a kitchen, that changed. I found myself drawn more and more to the pastry side of the house. Since graduating, I’ve found a happy balance between cooking and baking; but if you stick around for a little while, you’ll see a heavier dose of baking recipes. This Sweet Cherry Roll with Cream Cheese Icing is one of my prized baking recipes. It’s not overly sweet, it’s chockfull of fresh cherries, and it’s slathered with a tart, creamy frosting. Sweet rolls, these especially, can be prepared the evening before you want to bake them- that’s a winner any way you look at it.
A pound of dark sweet cherries (which are still in season). You’ll also need butter, sugar, active dry yeast, eggs, flour, milk, and cream cheese- of course. You’ll need a few other pastry staples, but these are the main items. Allow your butter, eggs and cream cheese to come to room temperature prior to starting. Anytime you’re baking, you need to have the ingredients for your dough at the same temperature. Don’t worry too much about the milk, since we’re going to scald and allow it to cool to warm in a minute.
If you don’t have access to fresh cherries, you can use frozen cherries that have been thawed and drained of their liquid. Make sure your cherries, whether fresh or frozen, are pitted. Canned cherry filling is not something to use in this recipe. It’ll cause the sweet rolls to be soggy and cloyingly sweet.
Blooms? In Milk??
Not floral blooms- yeast bloom. “Blooming” is the process which yeast goes through when introduced to a warm (110°F) liquid, or milk, in this case. Liquid that is too hot will kill the yeast, if your liquid is too cold, it may, or may not, bloom at all. Yeast is a live organism. A live yeast will begin to foam and bubble up when it is activated. If, after five minutes, you don’t see any movement, your yeast is probably dead, and you’ll need to start with another jar (or packet). Just think of it like this: the yeast is taking a nap in the jar, you threw it into hot milk and woke it up. Now it’s pissed and about to start all sorts of drama as it’s mixed into the dough. Pissed yeast= yummy, fluffy bread.
So, to get the yeast blooming, bring the milk and a pinch of the sugar to steaming in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the stove, and allow the milk to cool to 110°F (you can test on the inside of your wrist- it should feel comfortable, not too hot). Add the yeast to the milk, and allow it to bloom for five minutes.
Begin the Enriched Yeast Dough
There are three types of doughs in this world. Well, there may be more than three, but the three most common are: lean, laminated, and enriched. This Country Rye recipe is a lean dough, and I’ll post a laminated dough in the future. For now, we’ll focus on enriched dough. Unlike lean doughs, enriched doughs have a higher percentage of fat and sugar. Some may or may not have eggs. There’s no hard line on the percentages, you just kind of know when you’ve crossed over from lean to enriched by the amount of fat and sugar you add to the dough.
In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the sugar, butter, and salt. You should always incorporate your salt into something else (the flour or the fat) prior to letting it touch the yeast. We added a touch of sugar to the yeast, earlier, because yeast feeds off of sugar and helps it bloom. On the contrary, salt kills yeast, so you always need a buffer between the two.
Beat these together until fluffy.
Add the eggs to the mixture in the bowl, one at a time. Scrape down your bowl after each egg has been fully mixed in before adding the next.
Continue beating until the mixture looks airy.
By now, your milk-yeast mix has bloomed fully. Add it to the butter-egg mixture with the mixture running at low speed. Then add two cups of the flour to create a thick batter.
You Need to Knead
Once you’ve added the two cups of flour, your batter will be really thick. Switch from the paddle attachment to a dough hook. Slowly, a cup at a time, add the remaining flour, mixing on the second speed. Depending on how humid it is, you may need more or less than the recipe calls for.
While you can do everything up to this point by hand, you’re going to feel it in your forearms and elbow joints if you do. Bread doughs like this need to be kneaded for a minimum of ten minutes to get the proper chewiness and structure. The development of the gluten strands in breads is what creates both of those characteristics. If you don’t have a mixer you can knead in tandem with someone in your family. Grab a partner to help you go the distance.
Knead for a full ten minutes. Your dough should feel soft, but not tacky, when finished.
Wrap and Rise
Once your dough has kneaded for ten minutes, pull the bowl off of the mixer and take the dough out of the mixing bowl. Grease the bowl with butter, baking spray, or a neutral-tasting oil, and return the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough over- this gives the surface of the dough a coating that will prevent it from drying out. Wrap the mixer’s bowl in plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place (I like to use a cold oven and turn on the oven’s light, or use the microwave). Allow the dough to rise until it’s doubled in size (about an hour to a hour-and-a-half).
Prep the Cherries, the Schmear, and the Icing
I don’t like to be idle while in the kitchen. That may make you think I’m not lazy, but it’s laziness that motivates me. Instead of sitting down and reading a book, then scrambling to prep everything as I need it; I prep everything needed to finish the rolls while the rolls are baking. This cuts down on the time it takes to finish the recipe. Which means I get to veg out faster.
Quarter your pitted cherries with a sharp chef’s knife or a paring knife. I prefer quarters because I don’t like chewing whole, or halved, cherries while I’m trying to chew bread. The quartered pieces work well. If you’re using frozen cherries, be sure to drain them before and after cutting them. This will prevent soggy sweet rolls.
Deposit your cut cherries into a bowl and set them to the side.
When you’ve finished cutting your cherries, prepare your cinnamon-sugar schmear. This is what’s going to be spread onto the dough we roll out. Typically, for cinnamon rolls, I would add a lot more cinnamon. For this, however, I want the flavor of the cherries to be the highlight.
In a mixing bowl, blend together the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon using a hand mixer. Once the schmear is light and fluffy, set it to the side.
Finally, make the icing in a separate mixing bowl. Combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt together at low speed. Once the sugar is mixed in (and won’t fly everywhere), increase the speed and whip until airy. You can set this finished icing in the fridge until ready to use.
Prepping to Bake
By now, your dough is either finished rising, or very close to it. Grab a baking dish, or a large cake pan (like me), and grease it with non-stick baking spray. You can line the pan with parchment paper, as I prefer to do, or leave it as is. Set this to the side and pre-heat your oven to 350°F. **Obviously, if you’re using the oven for the dough’s rising, wait until you’ve removed the bowl before pre-heating.**
Once your dough is finished rising, punch it down to expel the gases that have developed during this stage. Allow it rest for ten minutes while you prepare to roll, fill, cut, and pan.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Mine is somewhere around twelve-by-sixteen inches. The larger your rectangle, the wider your sweet rolls will be; however, the layers of dough will also be thinner and more fragile. Don’t think that rolling it small will give you yummy, thick sweet rolls, either. I mean, it will, but it won’t be a great thing because thicker layers of dough will not bake through in time and they may be raw inside after baking. Anywhere from nine-by-thirteen to twelve-by-sixteen is great.
Use an offset spatula to spread the cinnamon-sugar schmear all over the surface of the rolled out rectangle, but leave a one inch margin on one the wide edge of the dough farthest from you (for sealing the roll when done).
Spread your chopped cherries over the dough that’s covered in the schmear.
They See Me Rollin’…
Beginning with the edge closest to you, start rolling the dough tightly. Make sure to press down slightly as you form the roll to encourage that schmear to stick to the dough it’s sandwiched between. This creates a tight roll that won’t fall apart after baking.
Pinch the unschmeared section of dough to the underside of the roll to seal the dough.
Cut the sweet roll into equal sizes.
Just eyeball it. You want twelve slices to be about the same size so they bake evenly.
Cover, Proof, and Bake
Put the sweet roll slices into the prepared pan and cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel. You may need to use two pans depending on how thick your rolls are. Leave a one inch space between the rolls. For the sake of pictures, I spaced mine out more than usual, so I used a really large pan. Typically, my rolls end up touching each other after they have risen and baked. Either way is totally fine.
Set the pan into a cold oven or microwave (or on the counter in a draft-free part of the kitchen) and allow the dough to proof (or rise) for thirty minutes to an hour. Again, you want the sweet rolls to double in size.
Place the pan into your preheated oven and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until they are golden brown.
Seriously. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Allow the sweet rolls to cool for ten minutes before icing.
Finishing the Sweet Rolls
Grab your cream cheese icing from the fridge, and scoop a dollop onto each sweet roll. Allow the residual heat to melt the icing slightly, then spread it over the sweet roll.
Grab yours before the rest of your crew realizes they’re ready to eat. You can store any leftovers in the fridge for three days (just nuke them in the microwave to warm them) or on the countertop for a day.
If you plan to freeze them, do so prior to icing them. Remove them from the freezer and allow them to come to room temperature, then ice. They freeze well for up to two months.
With the holidays coming up and school back in session, these Sweet Cherry Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing are the perfect breakfast, or brunch, to make ahead and freeze. Pin the recipe so you don’t lose it, and share it with your world.
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Sweet Cherry Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing
- 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to warm
- 4 1/2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
- 1/2 cup plus a pinch of granulated sugar, separated
- 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, separated and at room temperature
- 1 tsp plus a pinch of kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 4-4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 pound fresh or frozen dark cherries, quartered *see note
Cream Cheese Icing
- 8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 pound confectioner's sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Begin the Sweet Roll Dough
- Add the yeast and a pinch of sugar to the warmed milk and allow it to bloom for five minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the remaining granulated sugar, 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, and 1 tsp of salt. Beat, at medium speed, until fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, to the mixture in the bowl. Scrape down the bowl after each egg has been fully mixed in before adding the next.
- Continue mixing until the mixture is airy.
- Once the yeast has bloomed, add it to the butter-egg mixture with the mixer running on the lowest speed.
- Add two cups of the flour to create a thick batter.
Finish the Dough
- After you've incorporated the two cups of flour, your batter should be really thick.
- Switch from the paddle attachment to a dough hook.
- Slowly, a cup at a time, add the remaining flour, mixing on the second speed.
- Knead for a full ten minutes.
Allow the Dough to Rise
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and take the dough out of the mixing bowl.
- Grease the bowl with butter, baking spray, or a neutral-tasting oil and return the dough to the bowl.
- Turn the dough over to oil the surface of the dough. Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm, draft free place.
- Allow the dough to rise until it's doubled in size (about 1-1 1/2 hours).
Prepare the Schmear
- In a small mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar, the remaining butter, and cinnamon, using a hand mixer, until light and fluffy.
- Set this to the side.
Make the Cream Cheese Icing
- In a separate bowl, stir together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and the remaining pinch of salt at low speed.
- Once the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed, and whip until airy.
- Cover the bowl, and refrigerate this finished icing until ready to use.
Roll and Bake the Sweet Rolls
- Grease a 9x13" (or larger) baking pan with non-stick baking spray. Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.
- Once the dough has finished rising, punch it down to expel the gases that have developed during while it was rising.
- Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
- With a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a 12x16" rectangle.
- Use an offset spatula to spread the cinnamon-sugar schmear over the surface of the rectangle leaving a 1" margin on the wide edge farthest from you (for sealing after rolling).
- Spread the cherries over the dough covered in the schmear, avoiding the bare margin.
- Beginning with the edge closest to you, start rolling the dough tightly.
- Pinch the bare section of dough to the underside of the roll to seal the dough.
- Cut the sweet roll into 12 slices of equal size.
Cover, Proof, and Bake
- Arrange the slices in the prepared pan leaving a 1" space all around each slice.
- Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel.
- Allow the dough to proof (or rise) in a warm, draft-free area of the kitchen for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until they have doubled in size.
- Put the pan into your preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
- Allow the sweet rolls to cool for 10 minutes before icing.
Ice and Serve
- Scoop a dollop of cream cheese icing onto each sweet roll.
- Allow the residual heat to melt the icing slightly.
- Serve immediately, or store in an air-tight container for later enjoyment.
- If using frozen cherries, thaw first. Drain liquid both after thawing and after cutting.
- Store any leftovers in the fridge for 3 days, or on the countertop for a day.
- If you plan to freeze the rolls, do so prior to icing them. Cool the sweet rolls completely. Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and place them into a freezer storage bag.
- Freezes well for to two months. Remove them from the freezer and allow them to come to room temperature, then ice them.