Why did this recipe fail?
April 1, 2019 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Can any baking experts help me figure out why this recipe (Cinnamon squares using enriched dough) might have failed? I really don't think it was the yeast.

Here is the dough recipe and step 1 instructions. I never got past step 1 because my dough never rose. I made the recipe twice, following instructions precisely both times.

"1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
Two 1/4 oz packets active dry yeast
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted and cooled) plus softened butter for the dough and pans
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp kosher salt
6 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, stir together the water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let stand until foamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining sugar, milk, butter, eggs, and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add the flour and stir until the dough comes together. Rub softened butter on top of the dough and around the bowl. Cover and let stand in a warm spot for 1 hour."

After one hour, the dough had not risen AT ALL. Not even a little bit. The first time, I chalked it up to dead yeast but now I'm not sure. It had a 2020 expiration date and was stored in a cool dry pantry.

However, I bought brand new yeast and tried again (different brand, but also with a late 2020 expiration date). I took the temperature of the water: 106 degrees. I watched the yeast bloom and foam; it was definitely alive. I pre-warmed my oven and proofed the dough in there (temp was 78-82 degrees). The second time I checked after 1 hour, 2 hours, and 3 hours. It did not rise. Well, after 3 hours, it looked like it was TRYING to puff up, but just barely, and it was more like the surface just smoothed out a bit. No increase in volume.

I used precisely the ingredients called for and measured correctly (all purpose flour, spooned lightly into measuring cups and leveled; cooled the butter; used 2 packets of active dry yeast, not instant; used dry and liquid measuring cups as appropriate, etc). I'm in the Portland area - less than 300 ft elevation, moderate temperature and humidity.

Is there anything obvious about the recipe itself that could explain 2 failures? Anything I might have inadvertently done? I don't normally have trouble with yeast dough, but I don't think I've made one quite this enriched before.
posted by peep to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could be too much salt. Try it again with unsalted butter.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 2:57 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

How hot were the milk and butter when you added them? If they were too hot, they might have killed the yeast.
posted by pmdboi at 2:59 PM on April 1, 2019

Wait, scratch that, TWO CUPS sugar, in the dough? That sounds like way too much sugar. Are these squares meant to be flat-ish, or supposed to rise like a bread/cinnamon roll? Cuz that much sugar will get you a flat dough and dry yeast--you can get a sugar-heavy dough to rise some, but it will take a long-ass time.

You could try again with osmotolerant yeast, or cut the sugar by a half cup, minimum.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 3:08 PM on April 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

that sugar ratio is way off. Consider for comparison a typical recipe. That's 1/4 cup sugar for almost 3 cups of flour. Your recipe wants ~twice as much flour, and ~twice as much yeast, but 8 times as much sugar. There's your culprit. Your yeast is gorging itself and dying.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:16 PM on April 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Milk was barely warm, probably less than 100 degrees. Butter was barely above room temp. And yes, the recipe does call for 2 cups of sugar. The picture showed a flat-ish final product that almost looked like baklava, but I couldn't possibly have rolled out/worked with the dough even after 3 hours. It was incredibly wet and sticky.
posted by peep at 3:16 PM on April 1, 2019

I don't doubt the recipe called for it. I'm saying it was either a typo or a mistake. That's just not the ratio for enriched yeast dough. It's also not the ratio for yeasted coffee cake.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:20 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

No worries, I was just clarifying that it was the listed measurement. I'm not sure I want to try this again - that was a lot of pricey ingredients in the garbage! But if I do, should I try half the sugar, or a quarter?
posted by peep at 3:23 PM on April 1, 2019

By “cinnamon squares” are you looking for the sort of recipe where you make a cinnamon roll dough, cover it with a cinnamon-y filling, cut it into squares, and then stack the squares on their sides in a loaf pan?

I would go with a ratio more like this one from Nick Malgieri (baking instructor at ICE in NY, appeared on Julia Child's baking show, etc). For a quick sanity check against the recipe you were using, his calls for the same amount of yeast with just 1/2 a cup of sugar and 3 cups of flour. Pretty close to what previous comments have also mentioned.

If you can get your hands on a book by Rose Levy Beranbaum or Shirley O. Corriher they are also great resources for better-tested baking ratios.
posted by bcwinters at 3:32 PM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cut your sugar back to 1/2 cup. If you need the finished product to be sweeter, add brown sugar to your cinnamon filling/topping.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2019

Maybe future searchers will find this helpful so I'll mention this recipe is in Joanna Gaines' Magnolia Table cookbook. It's just called Cinnamon Squares. There's a paste-like filling of pecans, butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. You roll out the dough, spread the paste, fold, repeat, then slice into squares and bake. If you google it, some people have posted pictures of the full recipe on Pinterest. I think I'll just make something else, or try the technique but with one of the other posted dough recipes. Thanks everyone for the responses.
posted by peep at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2019

I've never gone wrong with the Pioneer Woman's recipe for cinnamon rolls. Shape into squares rather than rolls. (OMG, they'd be so good with pecans--!)
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:50 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

They don’t look like the dough rises, ever.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:13 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just found a photo of the recipe on Pinterest (sorry if that link doesn't work, I know almost nothing of Pinterest).

FYI if you want to try again, I'm guessing the typo is that it should be 2 tablespoons of sugar in the dough. This is based on the fact that there is another section for the filling, and that calls for 2 cups of brown sugar. I can see how there might have been a copy and paste error, considering that. Also 2 Tbsp sugar per 6 C flour is about right for a sweet dough. Maybe as much as 1/4 C.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 6:02 PM on April 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, yeast likes sugar, but that much of it would probably kill it; most recipes calling for that much sugar use a chemical leavener (e.g. baking powder) instead.
posted by Aleyn at 6:06 PM on April 1, 2019

I read about that Magnolia Table Cookbook a few weeks ago in the Washington Post, and my takeaway was that it was not worth cooking from due to its unreliability!
posted by chromium at 6:38 PM on April 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

A May 2018 comment on Instagram on that recipe: "I’ve tried making the dough three times and it refuses to rise!!!! Did you add the whole 2 cups of sugar it calls for?"
posted by chromium at 6:42 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

No yeast will raise a dough with that much sugar, even osmotolerant. There is definitely a typo in that recipe. To give you an idea, most chocolate bars have less sugar than that recipe, percentage wise.
posted by smoke at 10:33 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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