Scalding Milk & Making Sticky Cinnamon Rolls

Some foods I want to make just because they look they’re fun to make. One of those are cinnamon rolls. I’ve seen loads of photos of cinnamon rolls: those little round rolls with cinnamon all stacked up in a pan with a lot of sticky glaze over it. Sounds great to make and eat!

What’s better, while making these cinnamon rolls I noticed a step that seemed quite useless: ‘scalding of milk’! That made me happy! This would give me the opportunity to write a post about (in my case: sticky apple) cinnamon rolls + science (of scalding milk).

Cinnamon rolls with caramel

Cinnamon rolls are rolls of dough in which sugar, butter and cinnamon have been rolled. On top of those rolls there’s generally some sort of a cream cheese topping or a caramel. Since I still had a lot of apples lying around, I decided to make an apple caramel version, inspired by the one from the Pioneer Woman. The crux to these cinnamon rolls is that the rolls are really light, but also super gooey and sticky.

Whey protein and yeast dough

Most cinnamon roll recipes I found use a dough with milk instead of water. Using milk tends to make bread doughs browner, a little sweeter, softer and gives it a finer crumb. A disadvantage though of these milk doughs is that they tend to rise slower and won’t gain as much volume as when using water.

Milk is a complex liquid. Most of it is water, but besides water there are a bunch of proteins, fat, sugars and minerals. It’s the proteins that we have to zoom into when discussing the disturbance of the dough.

Milk contains two main classes of proteins: casein proteins and whey proteins. The casein proteins are essential for making cheese. Whey on the other hand are the proteins that are left behind after cheese making. Research has shown though that it’s the whey protein that can interfer with the dough, more specifically the gluten.

Gluten development is necessary for making a good dough. The gluten will form a network that can hold on to air inside the bread. When making a bread the formation of this network is very important. Well known ingredients that can interfer with this network are fats such as butter or olive oil. However, whey proteins can also interfer with the gluten. The presence of whey can lead to an increased time required to proof bread and to a smaller volume of the dough after rising (read this article and this one for more information).

Overcoming whey

This effect of whey has to be overcome somehow in order to improve the fluffyness and lightness of the dough (source). There is a relatively easy way to do that for proteins. Just about all proteins break down through heat, as do whey proteins. They will denature and break down if heated sufficiently.

Therefore, bread recipes using milk tend to call for scalding the milk on forehand. Scalding milk consists of bringing milk just to the boil and then cooling it down again. This quick heat will break down the whey. In the end it will make the dough lighter. So even though it seems like a quite ridiculous step to do, it will actually help the cinnamon rolls.

Scalding in the older days

You might see scalding of milk turn up more in older recipes, even those where a gluten network is not important (e.g. muffins). This most likely stems from the fact that at the time milk wasn’t pasteurized, in other words, made safe for human consumption. So at the time people heated their milk themselves before using it. The heat destroys micro organisms and made the milk safe to drink.

My rolls ready for baking!

Cinnamon roll recipe

To be honest, I didn’t make the recipe with and without scalding the milk (who knows one day I’ll do). Instead I properly followed the recipe here and heated my milk and left it to cool again. Now that you know the heating bit is important a quick word of warning: the cooling part is just as important!

Yeast is used here to rise the dough. Yeast is a living micro organism though and can be killed by heat. Adding yeast to hot milk will kill the yeast.

Sticky Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Serves: 20 rolls
  • 250 ml milk
  • 55 g oil (e.g. sunflower oil)
  • 50 g sugar
  • ½ tsp yeast
  • 260+30 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
Filling for dough
  • 50 g melted butter
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 150 g cane sugar
  • 55 g butter
  • 1 tbsp corn or glucose syrup
  • 1 tbsp cream
  • 1 apple chopped up in pieces and coated with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice to taste
  • Pecans to taste
  1. Start making the dough by scalding the milk, that is, bringing it to a boil and then leaving it to cool again. Make sure it is lower than 40C before continuing.
  2. Add the oil and the yeast to the milk.
  3. Mix in the 260g of flour. Leave to rise for at least one hour, until doubled in size.
  4. Take the rest of the flour, mix the baking powder, soda and salt through. Mix the flour mix through the dough. It should now be dry enough to handle for rolling out.
  5. Roll the dough out into a long rectangle.
  6. Cover the dough with the melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Roll up the dough and slice into small pieces of a few centimeter.
  1. Melt the butter and add the sugar, syrup and cream. Bring to a boil and make sure all of the sugar has dissolved. Pour this into a 24cm diameter pan.
  2. Place the pieces of apple on top of the caramel. If you want you can add some pecans here.
  3. Now add the dough domes to the pan, stack them next to each other into the caramel.
  4. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes, you should see the rolls expanding and tighten inside the tin.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
  6. Place aluminium foil around the tin to protect the cinnamon rolls from burning. All the sugar and milk make them very prone to browning and thus burning.
  7. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil and continue baking for another ten minutes. The cinnamon rolls should be a nice brown on the top, but not burnt.
  8. The cinnamon rolls should be taken out of the pan pretty much immediately or else the caramel might set inside the pan. So turn it over on a plate and leave to cool.

Thinking about the apple and caramel?

Ok, before you dig into these delicious cinnamon rolls, are you ready to learn a little more? The apples in this recipe become super soft and juicy, just like they do in apple beignets. I’ve dedicated a whole post on those apple beignets. Also, curious to know what happens when making caramel? Dive into caramel science with me!

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