Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chocolate Earl Grey Tea Sweet Rolls

I think I'm finally getting good at making cinnamon rolls.  (I probably jinxed myself there)  I've tried tons of yeasted dough recipes that resulted in more failure than success.  There was even one time when the dough never rose, but I still shaped it into rolls and baked them hoping they'd rise in the oven. Yeah, that's not how it works.  Unless you want hockey puck rolls.  In any event, I've been a little obsessed with yeasted bread baking lately and thought I'd try to make something I've always dreamed of:  Earl Grey tea sweet rolls.

The thought of warm, fluffy, and gooey yeasted rolls with Earl Grey undertones makes my heart sing. Plus chocolate?  Yes, please.  I tried to incorporate Earl Grey tea in every way possible in this recipe. There's tea in the dough (2 ways), in the filling, and in the glaze (2 possible ways).  But if you want something that screams Earl Grey, this recipe isn't it.  The flavor is there, but it's pretty subtle and comes mainly from the glaze.  But now that I think about it, I've never really tasted anything that screams Earl Grey. Even a cup of Earl Grey tea doesn't scream Earl Grey, which is probably why I like it so much. :)

I reference measurements of teabags here (very scientific, I know) because I pretty much only bake with Twinings teabags that come with already finely ground tea leaves. If you have loose leaf tea, 1 teabag = 1 teaspoon. (although tea strength is another issue) You may also have to use a coffee or spice grinder to get the tea leaves to the consistency of a coarse powder.

Also, I know this looks like a monster number of steps, but I'm just trying to keep my bases covered. (Plus, fresh homemade sweet rolls are SO worth the effort)  If you're a seasoned cinnamon roll maker, none of this is new. :)

Makes 12 buns

Dough (adapted from the Vegan Brunch cookbook)
1 cup water
4 Earl Grey teabags
1/2 cup lukewarm water (it should feel like warm bath water)
1/3 cup evaporated cane juice (sugar), plus 1 teaspoon (to activate the yeast)
1 packet active dry yeast (1/4 oz.)
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus about 1/2 cup more (or as needed during kneading)
Finely ground tea leaves from 2 Earl Grey teabags

3/4 cup brown sugar (or coconut palm sugar)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Finely ground tea leaves from 1 Earl Grey teabag
1/4 cup solid coconut oil
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup raw cashews (soaked in water for at least 2 hours or overnight; rinsed and drained)
2-4 tablespoons maple syrup (based on your desired level of sweetness)
2-4 tablespoons water (or strongly brewed Earl Grey tea)-- start with 2 tablespoons and add more until you reach your desired consistency
Finely ground tea leaves from 1 Earl Grey teabag
  1. Make the tea:  Boil 1 cup of water in a kettle or in the microwave. Let the 4 teabags steep in the water for a few minutes.  Remove them when the mixture is lukewarm or at room temperature.  After removing the teabags, you should be left with 3/4 cup of brewed tea to use for the recipe.  Set aside.
  2. Proof the yeast:  Place the 1/2 cup of plain lukewarm water in a large bowl.  Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of sugar and the yeast packet.  Let the yeast activate for a few minutes.  If the mixture doesn't foam, start over with a new packet of yeast.
  3. Add in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, brewed tea, oil, salt, 2 cups of the flour, and the ground tea leaves. Stir to combine.  Then add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at at time, stirring in between each addition.  (You should have added a total of 3 1/2 cups of flour at this point)
  4. Knead the dough in the bowl using one hand.  If it's sticky, add more flour a few tablespoons at a time until the dough doesn't stick to your hand anymore.
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes until it's smooth. (150 turns is the magic number)  Add a little bit of flour as needed if the dough starts to stick to your board or counter. 
  6. First Rise:  Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat, and cover with a clean towel.  Place the dough in a warm place to rise for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.  (I use my turned off gas oven for this)
  7. After the dough has doubled, punch it down with your fist, cover it with the towel again, and let it rest in the bowl for a few minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and mixing it with a fork until crumbly.  Set aside.
  9. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead gently a few times to make sure all the air is out.  Using your hands, stretch the dough into a small rectangle and then roll it out into a larger 12" x 18" rectangle using a rolling pin.
  10. Sprinkle the filling mixture evenly over the dough. Then roll it up along the long side until you have a nice tight log. Cut the 2 ends of the log off (it's mostly dough and no filling) and discard.  (or bake them separately so as to not waste food)
  11. Spray an 11" x 13" baking pan with oil. (or use whatever size pan you want to use-- I used a 9" x 9" square pan, plus the small paper loaf pan shown above and below)
  12. Using a knife, score the log into 12 equal pieces.  Start by placing a mark in the center of the log, and then in the center of each half, and then divide each quarter into 3. (see photo below)
  13. Cut the pieces with a knife or dental floss.  For the dental floss method, slide the floss under the log and align it with the score mark.  Wrap it around the log as if you're going to tie a knot, but pull the ends crosswise to cut the dough. (see photos below)  Place each piece cut side down in the pan.
  14. Second Rise:  Cover the pan with a clean towel and let the dough rise again in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until it has doubled in size.
  15. Preheat your oven to 375°F.  When the oven is fully heated, bake the rolls for about 20 minutes, or until they're puffy and golden.
  16. While the rolls are baking, make the glaze by blending the cashews, maple syrup, and water in a mini blender or mini food processor until smooth. Stir in the ground tea leaves.  
  17. When the rolls are done, transfer the pan to a wire rack.  Drizzle with the glaze. Eat while warm!

Some photos to help you with your sweet roll making journey:

Here's the dough after some gentle kneading in the bowl. (before the real kneading began)  

And here's the dough after about 150 turns.  It should feel smooth and elastic (like it's fighting with you, meaning it's an active dough). You'll know when to stop kneading when you poke the dough with your finger and it springs back up. (it's alive!)

Here's the scored dough.  (dental floss ready to do some damage)

Slide the dental floss under the log and align it with the score mark. (and get ready to witness magic)

Give the dental floss a crosswise pull and taa-daa!  You have a cleanly cut roll that hasn't been smooshed by a knife.

Sweet roll threesome. (prior to the second rise)

And because I hate wasting food, I also baked the doughy ends in paper muffin cups.

After all is said and done, I don't think the brewed tea in the dough did much to add any Earl Grey flavor.  You can probably skip that part and just use plain old water or unsweetened plant milk, even though it would be nice to know that you're eating bread that's been infused with tea.  Up to you.  The tea leaves in the dough also don't add much in terms of flavor, but I think they look pretty, so let's leave them in.  :)

The glaze may seem more like a watered down frosting, but it worked and I liked it. (because I put cashew cream on everything)  Feel free to make your favorite powdered sugar or vegan cream cheese based icing instead and add the Earl Grey tea leaves in at the end.

Of course you'll have to serve this with a nice, hot cup of Earl Grey tea. And if you're like me, you'll serve it on a handmade ceramic plate that says "vegan" on it.  :)  (available here)