This recipe was inspired by my friend Abeer, and the beautiful sage she brought me from a recent trip to Palestine, where sage leaves are often steeped with black tea and sweetened with a little sugar. This wonderfully fragrant tea is emblematic of one of my favorite features of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine: in my experience, we don’t treat most ingredients as inherently savory or sweet, but neutral, which means that they can become savory or sweet depending on the context. These sage and cinnamon chelsea buns go wonderfully with a pot of lightly sweetened sage tea, and they are a perfect way to start an October weekend morning.
Speaking of chelsea buns/cinnamon rolls… I recently did an Instagram AMA, where I asked people to write in with cooking questions and problems, which I tried my best to answer and solve, sometimes phoning a friend for advice. So when someone asked how to bake cinnamon rolls that turn out super soft and fluffy, I asked Kate from Wood and Spoon and Abeer to chime in, because they bake the softest looking cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen, while mine tend to have a more coffee-cake-like texture
I would have assumed that the trick is adding more butter and milk, but there was a clear consensus that if you want super soft cinnamon rolls, the key is to take them out of the oven when they’re still light golden brown, and around 190°F on the inside. The ones photographed here are baked to closer to 200°F, so they’re a little more on the coffee cake side (which I like) but if soft and fluffy is what you’re after, make sure you keep a close eye on them, and pull them at 190° F, or a little above.
Whatever you do, don’t overproof your cinnamon rolls! If you let them double in size, they’ll often end up springing up and uncoiling as they bake. I mean, they still turn out delicious—it’s just a presentation thing. It can be hard to tell whether something has risen enough, but it helps to take a before photo on your phone so you have something to compare it to.
sage and cinnamon chelsea buns
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons yeast
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 yolk from 1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
450 grams all purpose flour (about 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups)
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 180° F (you will be shutting it off to proof the dough)
Combine the buttermilk, yeast, egg, yolk, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Once the yeast has dissolved, Add the flour and butter and knead everything into a dough for a few minutes in the bowl. If the dough seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of buttermilk and continue kneading; if it seems a little wet, add a couple tablespoons of flour (using a scale to measure the flour takes out the guesswork). The dough will smooth out and look much less shaggy after a few minutes of kneading, although it might still look a tiny bit lumpy and not perfectly smooth (this is fine).
Turn the oven off and open the door for about 30 seconds to let it cool off a little. Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap, place it in the oven (again, make sure the oven heat is off), shut the door, and let it proof for about 1 hour. The dough is done rising once it's noticeably larger, and has approximately doubled in size.
filling and rising
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup raisins
2 teaspoons ground sage
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
Roll the risen dough out into an approximately 14 by 19-inch rectangle (do not use flour. While the dough will stick as you roll, it is buttery enough that it won't stay stuck to a smooth surface). Start by flattening it with your rolling pin, and then gently pull 4 corners out to make it more of a square. Pat the top and sides to nudge it into a more regular-looking square or rectangle, and then continue to roll out. It will want to become an oval whenever you roll it, so pull and pat it back into a rectangular shape between rollings. It should be very thin, about 1/8-inch or thinner, by the time you're done rolling it out. Let it stay stuck to the counter to relax while you mix up the filling.
Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the raisins and stir for about 2 minutes, until they have slightly plumped up and softened. Remove from heat and add the sage, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar. Stir it together and let it cool down to room temperature.
Once the filling is cool, spread it out over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border at the two shorter ends. Make sure the raisins are evenly distributed.
Tightly roll the dough up from one short side to the other short side (you want to end up with a 14-inch-long log, not a 19-inch one).
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice about 1/2 inch off either end of the log.* Then cut the log into 8 equal pieces (carefully saw back and forth—don't just chop straight down or they won't look perfectly round and spirally).
Butter an 8-inch cake round and place a parchment round in the bottom (butter under and on top of the parchment). Place the biggest looking chelsea bun in the center of the cake round, and surround it with the 7 other rolls.
Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let them proof in a 70° F room for about 1 hour, being careful that they don't over-proof. They're ready to bake once the tops start to look a bit round (like this).** Toward the end of their rise, preheat the oven to 350° F convection.***
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until they're golden brown.
Feel free to let them cool and serve them in the pan. If you're going to place them on a cake stand or plate, remove the whole thing from the pan after they've been out of the oven for about 10 minutes (treat them like a cake: loosen the sides with a knife, place a cutting board over the top, flip, remove the pan, place the plate or cake stand, and flip again).
30 grams buttermilk (2 tablespoons)
180 grams powdered sugar (about 3/4 cup)
a pinch of ground sage
Whisk the buttermilk and powdered sugar together until there are no lumps. The glaze should be free-flowing, but it shouldn't be too runny or it will disappear and become kind of translucent after you pour it. If it's too thick, add a drop or two of additional buttermilk at a time to thin it out. If it's too thin, add a tablespoon or two of additional powdered sugar at a time to thicken it.
Once the chelsea buns have cooled off a bit, drizzle the glaze with a spoon, and then sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sage. Serve immediately****
* Discard the ends, or flatten them into a pancake, cook it on the stove, and enjoy while you're waiting on the rolls to bake
** Take a photo before, and then take another one later to compare how much larger they've become.
*** If you’re not using a convection oven, you may need to slightly increase the temperature and/or cook them just a minute or two longer.
**** If you're not serving them within an hour, keep the un-glazed chelsea bun covered or in a plastic bag for up to 1 day, and reheat in the microwave just to warm them a little and take off the stale (in my microwave, about 45 seconds for the whole pan works great). Then glaze them at the last minute. You can also freeze them unglazed and then glaze them after thawing—if you seal them tightly before freezing, these will be pretty enough to serve to company. If you have any leftovers after glazing, you can also freeze these, but they just won't look as pretty after they thaw (great for midnight snacks and decadent weekday breakfasts). If you want them to be super fresh, you can leave the shaped rolls in the refrigerator overnight before baking.