Here in Michigan, we are having a heat wave (read: in the 20s/30s for several consecutive days, and yes my standards have completely changed). YESSSS. But I have a cold….no matter. It is a toasty 35º outside. We are rolling with it.
My friends Arnav and Steph hosted a dim sum Sunday after our first full week of our second semester (yay long weekend), and I wanted to contribute. Then I had the best idea. GUYYYYSSSSS seriously though. I thought cinnamon rolls. Technically not Chinese. But what about Chinese 5-spice rolls??? 5-spice is a blend of clove, star anise, cinnamon, fennel seed, and peppercorns, all ground up into a super warm and tasty spice mix. It is the logical upgrade from cinnamon. And my instincts turned out to be dead-on.
No, I had never made rolls before, unless you count getting startled by the popping tubes of Pillsbury cinnabunz. Regardless, I set aside my anxieties around baking anything other than cookies (really, anything that has to rise) and set to work. Given how much both Joy the Baker and Pioneer Woman rock the rolls, I figured this recipe was a great base for some magic. It really is pretty simple, no kneading involved whatsoever. Yay for that!
After making the rolls the night before their dim sum debut, I cautiously served myself and my roommate each a freshly-glazed roll, and then proceeded to dance around the house shouting “I win!” and “game changer!” for a solid five minutes. My head felt like a balloon, but I did not care in the least. I am still stunned at how well they turned out. First time was the charm, luckily. And my friends agreed! Double yay.
So, here are your instructions for achieving 5-spice awesomeness: put on the new D’Angelo album and spice it up in the kitchen. These will warm your belly and heart right up. I think I’m in really love with them.
Chinese 5-Spice & Orange Rolls
(Adapted from Pioneer Woman via Joy the Baker)
That Sweet Stuff:
- 2 c whole milk
- 1/2 c vegetable oil
- 1/2 c white sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast (0.25 oz, about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 4 1/2 c of flour, divided
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 c unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 c white sugar
- Chinese 5-spice powder (I didn’t measure, and neither should you!)
- zest of 1 orange (~2-3 tsp)
- a few generous pinches brown sugar
- 1 1/2 c powdered sugar
- 3 tbsp orange juice (look at us, using the whole orange!)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- generous pinch Chinese 5-spice
- baby pinch of salt
Rockin’ and Rollin’:
- Combine milk, sugar, and oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot and heat over medium until just under a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure milk isn’t scalding on the bottom. You should start to see some baby bubbles before you kill the heat.
- Let this mixture cool down until about room temp, warm but not hot to the touch (Joy recommends 105º, so if you have a candy thermometer to gauge that, awesome!).
- After the mixture has cooled, sprinkle your yeast across the top and let it bloom for 1 minute. Things will start smelling yeasty, this is good.
- Next comes 4 cups of your flour, mixed directly into the pot with a spatula or a wooden spoon, stirred until just combined and you’re not seeing major patches of dry flour.
- Cover the pot and leave it somewhere warm to rise for an hour (I used my off oven, since our “heat wave” does not quite translate to an actually warm spot for the dough to rise). Check it after 30 minutes to make sure it’s rising (if not, you’ve gotta start over).
- Once your hour is up, stir your remaining 1/2 c flour together with the baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add to the dough and stir to combine. If you’re not using the dough right away, you can cover and refrigerate it overnight.
- But back to rolls. Preheat your oven to 375º, grease two 8″ x 8″ square or 8″ round pans and get to rolling out that dough. Split it in half and put it on a floured surface. Remember that you still don’t have a rolling pin, so grab that old quarter-full bottle of cheap wine from that party you threw in October (let’s be real, no one is fishing it) and wrap it in foil.
- Roll your dough out on a floured surface into a long rectangle. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick. Mine was about 8″ x 15″.
- Take a moment to rub your orange zest in with your white sugar for your filling. This will help that amazeballs orange flavor really disperse throughout the sweet filling. It also makes your fingers smell delightful.
- Now we drizzle. Half of the melted butter goes on (because we’ve got that other half of the dough). Now we SPRANKLE. Do it in whatever order makes your heart sing. I think I did it 5-spice/orange sugar/brown sugar round 1, then orange sugar/brown sugar/5-spice round 2. Having eaten rolls from both pans, it makes no difference. Just do it generously and evenly across the length of the dough so you get goodness in each roll. I did not measure the 5-spice, I just did several hefty pinches until I felt like I got good coverage.
- Now, we roll. We are rolling the long side, so you should be rolling towards yourself. Unfortunately somehow the action shots got lost in transit, so check out Joy’s roll in-progress. Make sure you’re rolling fairly tightly, and pinch the seam shut along the log when you’ve completely rolled it to ensure they don’t roll open, either.
- Next up, slice the log into eight even pieces and place them in one of your prepared pans. Don’t stress over their organization in the square pan, because like you may have guessed, there doesn’t seem to be a pretty way to do it with 8 rolls. They’re going to puff up and snuggle and look golden and purdy no matter what, so noooo worries.
- Let them rest in whichever nonsensical arrangement you’ve settled on for about 15 minutes. Then we bake! 20-25 minutes. Mine was on the longer end, and I rotated the pans halfway through. But you do you. Check on them to see how they’re feeling. Then take them out when they’re golden and let them rest (they’ve been working hard) for 10 minutes.
- While they’re resting, stir together all the glaze ingredients. Taste it, see how you like it, and add more of whatever floats your boat. Mine wasn’t particularly drizzly, but I found that once it hit the hot rolls it spread just fine. 10 minutes is up? Get your drizzle on! And then EAT.
These are perfect winter treats—warm, sweet, spicy, a little gooey…they just might get us through to the next “heat wave.” So make them. Track down some 5-spice, or play around with making your own blend of spices. Garam masala could also work wonders here…get creative! Because you could be the next one screeching “I WIN!” and running around the house.