Cinnamon Buns with a crunchy, sugary Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal topping – the best part is you can make them the day before and bake them in the morning!
There’s just something about cinnamon buns that is childhood. I’ve heard that smell is the sense most closely connected to memory, and there is no doubt that the smell of fresh yeasty dough in the air, followed shortly after by sizzling butter and warming sugar and cinnamon is one that I closely associate with my childhood Sunday mornings. If there’s one thing that will wake a kid up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning (besides cartoons) its the smell of cinnamon buns. And my memories of these mornings are warm and comforting, just like cinnamon buns themselves. My dad would sometimes make them on late fall or winter mornings at our house upstate, mornings when the house would have a slight chill because my dad, being who he is, would keep the heat low and warm the house the rest of the way with the help of our wood burning stove. The second I smelled that butter and cinnamon, I would throw the covers off into the chilly air and rush down the stairs to stand in front of the big wood burning oven in our kitchen – where the sweet smell in the air mingled with the unmistakable smokiness of burning wood – letting my feet warm on the tile below and my hands warm in front of the fire box. And I knew that all of the gooey, buttery, sugary goodness of cinnamon buns waited for me right on the other side of that oven door.
Honestly, I could be 97 and I think I would still get just as excited as I did when I was 7 at the prospect of cinnamon buns. I would say that this recipe is an updated or more adult version of one of my childhood favorites, but if anything its actually a double homage to my childhood because I combined one of my favorite breakfasts with one of my favorite breakfast cereals: cinnamon toast crunch. I have been wanting to make a recipe using breakfast cereal for a while now, after taking inspiration from Momofuku Milk Bar, a dessert and pastry shop with locations all over New York City. Under the direction of pastry chef Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar had become famous for desserts like “Crack Pie” – which I made this past Thanksgiving and can truly attest is like crack – and the “Compost Cookie” – which has everything from chocolate and butterscotch chips to pretzels and potato chips. But I think my favorite creations of chef Tosi’s are her cereal milk desserts, in which she uses milk that has had cereal soaking in it to make ice cream, milk shakes (their corn flake milkshake is one of my favorite shakes in New York), and more. For anyone who lives in New York, you need to check out one of Momofuku Milk Bar’s locations, and for anyone who doesn’t, you can order the desserts online or check out the recipes here.
For my own take on a cereal based dessert (technically breakfast, but I consider cinnamon buns to be both) I wanted to use both cereal milk – milk that cereal has been soaking in – as well as the cereal itself. As one of my favorite childhood cereals, cinnamon toast crunch was my inspiration, and what better to use cinnamon toast crunch for than cinnamon buns?! Two childhood favorites combined to make what is now, as an adult, one of my go-to breakfasts. The cinnamon buns themselves are no different than any normal cinnamon bun recipe, save for the fact that the milk I use in the dough is milk that has had cinnamon toast crunch soaking in it for about an hour. You know all that delicious sugary milk waiting for you at the bottom of your cereal bowl, the only way your parents could get you to drink milk as a kid? Yeah, thats the milk I used to make my cinnamon buns. But while the milk is great and all, I didn’t want to loose out on the crunch of the cereal itself. And so I rolled out my cinnamon bun dough right on top of a pile of crushed cinnamon toast crunch to embed all of those crunchy sugary pieces right into my cinnamon bun crust. But that still wash’t quite enough; I made a simple gooey caramel of brown sugar melted down with butter and spread that on the bottom of my baking dish and sprinkled more crushed up cinnamon toast crunch pieces on top of it. Then when my buns came out of the oven I flipped over them like an upside-down cake to make this sugary, crunchy, toffee-like layer on the bottom of my baking dish into the absolut perfect topping. And now if this still isn’t enough for you, there is one more thing. While my brown-sugar-butter-cinnamon-toast-crunch topping is incredible by itself, every cinnamon bun needs icing in my opinion. And what is icing but milk, butter, and powdered sugar? So of course I used more of the cinnamon toast crunch cereal milk as the base for my icing, incorporating the cereal into every aspect of the cinnamon buns.
I have to say, I think these cinnamon buns were some of the best I’ve ever had. The dough is perfectly buttery and flaky, and every bit of that brown-sugar-butter-cinnamon-toast-crunch topping is crunchy and sweet and unbelievably good. While there may be quite a few steps involved, the end result is totally worth it. Plus, you can make the whole recipe the day before like I did, rolling out the dough by hand and then cutting and assembling each cinnamon bun in the baking dish, and then pop it in the fridge. Then, in the morning, all I had to do was let the buns rest on the counter for about an hour to come to room temperature and then throw them in the oven. While you are more than welcome to make the buns from scratch the morning of, I would rather sleep in a while and then have breakfast ready in the time it takes to let these cinnamon buns become perfectly golden brown in the oven. And I can tell you that the smell in the air as they bake is exactly the same as I remember it being as a kid, and this recipe brings me right back to those chilly Sunday mornings by the fire, anxiously awaiting all of the cinnamon sugar goodness.
- For the bun dough:
- 2¼ teaspoons of yeast (1 packet)
- 1 cup ¼ cup milk
- 2 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch
- 3½ cups flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- For the filling:
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons cinnamon
- For the topping:
- 1 (1/2 cup) stick butter
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 2 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch
- For the Icing:
- 2-3 tablespoons milk (use the leftover cinnamon toast crunch milk you made for the bun dough)
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- Steps 1-9 can be made the day before. Make the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal milk: let 1 cup cinnamon toast crunch soak in 1+1/4 cups of milk for a minimum of 30 minutes in the fridge.
- For the cinnamon bun dough: Add the yeast to a large bowl. Warm the milk in a small sauce pan over low heat so it is just warm, not hot. Add warm milk to yeast and stir for about a minute, until yeast is dissolved. Add the sugar, beaten egg, and melted butter (again just warm, not hot), and mix well to combine. Add the salt and flour and mix well to combine, at first with a spoon and then with your hands if necessary, until a sticky dough forms. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel or paper towel and allow it to rise in a warm spot for a least an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
- Make cinnamon toast crunch crumbs: Add 3 cups of cinnamon toast crunch (1 cup for rolling out the dough, 2 cups for the cinnamon bun topping) to a ziplock bag, and crush pieces using a rolling pin or your hands - you can use a food processor for this part, but I like to do it this way so that I still maintain larger pieces of the crunchy cereal and it doesn’t totally become dust.
- Turn risen dough out onto a well floured surface. Roll out part of the way - to about a 6in x 9in rectangle. Carefully transfer dough to a cutting board, and then spread 1 cup of cinnamon toast crunch crumbs onto your working surface to form a 12in x 18in rectangle. Transfer dough back to your working surface, laying it in the center of your cinnamon toast crumbs rectangle. Continue to roll out dough, pressing it into the cinnamon toast crumbs, until it forms a 12in x 18in rectangle.
- Evenly spread 1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter onto the dough and sprinkle with ½ cup brown sugar and 3 tablespoons cinnamon, being sure not to miss the edges.
- Roll up your cinnamon buns! Starting with a longer edge of your rectangle, tightly roll up the dough into a cylinder. There will be pieces of the cinnamon toast crunch crumbs that did not stick into the dough - that’s ok, you can add them to the topping. Cut the dough cylinder in 8 pieces by cutting in half, cutting each half in half to form quarters, and each quarter in half to form eighths.
- Make your topping: In a small sauce pan, melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter with ¾ cup brown sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon until sugar is totally dissolved. Add mixture to the bottom of a well greased 9in x 12in or similarly sized baking dish. Sprinkle 2 cups cinnamon toast crunch crumbs (plus any that did not stick into cinnamon bun dough) on top. This mixture will become your topping when you flip the cinnamon buns upside-down out of the ban after baking. Place your 8 cinnamon buns into the baking dish on top of cinnamon toast crunch crumbs - its okay if there is space between the buns, they are going to continue to rise.
- Allow cinnamon buns to rise for about 45 minutes. If you are making this recipe the day before, you can cover the cinnamon buns with plastic wrap and leave them in the fridge overnight. Be sure to take them out at least an hour before baking to allow them come to room temperature.
- Bake your cinnamon buns in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, until the crust has become golden brown. Allow them to cool slightly, and then flip them upside down out of the baking dish by placing a large cutting board on top and using oven-mitted hands to turn the baking dish upside-down onto the cutting board. This way, the caramelized cinnamon toast crunch crumbs on the bottom of the baking dish will become the topping for the buns; you can skip this part if you want, its mostly just for show.
- For the icing: Whisk 1 cup powdered sugar with ½ teaspoon of vanilla, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon toast crunch cereal milk. Add more milk ½ tablespoon at a time until the icing is your desired consistency, but keep in mind that it will continue to get slightly thicker as it sits, so I like to make mine a little on the thin side.
- Drizzle icing over cinnamon buns and serve!