Bourbon-Glazed Cinnamon Buns

As promised, Bourbon-Glazed Cinnamon Buns! (Or, you know, cinnamon buns. Whether or not you dress them up with a boozy, sugary topping is entirely up to you. But I’ll never tell.) The bourbon glaze on these buns was entirely serendipitous: a friend of Tai’s has been visiting for a couple of days, so they could spend some quality time climbing frozen waterfalls in the Catskills before the dreaded Spring thaw. Last night, just as I was taking the buns out of the oven (and no, that’s not a euphemism), Tai and his friend Rob walked through the door, after a “wicked pissah” good day (yes, Rob is from Massachusetts), armed with a bottle of Jefferson’s Kentucky bourbon (and a bottle of Hornitos Añejo tequila, which was promptly diverted to Tai’s climbing flask), a very generous thank-you gift from Rob for putting him up. As they were cracking open the bottle to toast a great day of ice climbing, I said the fateful words: “How about bourbon-glazed cinnamon buns?” The answer was a resounding “Hell, yes!”

Let me warn you from the get-go: these are whole wheat cinnamon buns. As such, they require at least an overnight pre-ferment (which simply means that you mix the flour and liquid the night before, to allow the whole grains to soften and sugars to be released) before you can shape and bake the buns. And while the pre-ferment step is easy & quick, many people are turned off by this step. Don’t be. It’s not difficult, it adds exactly zero active time to your recipe prep, and it only requires a little advance planning, i.e., knowing that tomorrow you want to make cinnamon buns. Still with me? OK, good.

A few recipe tips: I’ve made these before, but I had forgotten a few things. Like, for a nice cakey texture to your buns, you can’t let the dough go too long on the initial rise; it should only go to between 1 and 1/2 times and just shy of twice the original volume (I sort of forgot about mine and it tripled in volume. Oops.) If you do let it go too far on the inital rise, the best thing to do is punch it down and let it rise again (it will only take half the time to double on the second rise). The second thing I forgot is that I’m lousy at making a nice tight roll of dough, and equally lousy at cutting the rolls evenly, so my buns turn out a bit loose and sloppy. They are still delicious, but keeping a tight roll not only keeps your buns neater and more compact, it helps to melt the cinnamon sugar into ooey-gooey deliciousness. Take your time with that part and roll the dough as tightly as you can without overstretching. Third thing I forgot? This makes a pretty big batch. Peter Reinhart seems to think this makes only 9 cinnamon buns; my batch last night made 24 (of course, I did not punch down my over-risen dough for a second rise, so my rolled out square was much bigger than it should have been). I don’t know about you, but it’s tough for just Tai & I to go through a dozen or two cinnamon buns before they start getting stale. Next time I will freeze half of the dough (rolled tightly in the log) to bake at another time. Because you never know when you might need booze-laced cinnamon buns at a moment’s notice.

Adapted from Whole Wheat Cinnamon Buns in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads by Peter Reinhart


Bourbon-Glazed Cinnamon Buns



  • 8 oz (1 and 3/4 cups) whole wheat (bread) flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) milk, buttermilk or yogurt


  • 8 oz (1 and 3/4 cups) whole wheat (bread) flour
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast (OR 3/8 tsp active dry yeast: see Options if using active dry yeast)
  • 5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) milk, buttermilk or yogurt at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Final Dough

  • soaker, chopped into 12 pieces
  • biga, chopped into 12 pieces
  • 2 oz (7 tbsp) whole wheat (bread) flour, plus extra for adjustments
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 and 1/4 tsp instant yeast (OR 1 tbsp active dry yeast)
  • 2 oz (3 tbsp) honey
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) butter, melted
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) butter, melted (optional)


  • about 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • about 2 tbsp filtered water or milk
  • about 1 – 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)


  1. Day 1. Mix soaker ingredients together until flour is well hydrated and forms a ball in the center of the bowl. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap (push wrap down until it is touching the dough to prevent surface oxidation (darkening) of the soaker), and allow to rest at room temperature for 12 – 24 hours. To hold the soaker for up to 3 days, refrigerate.
  2. Mix biga ingredients together in a medium bowl to form a ball of dough. With wet hands, knead dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to ensure the flour is completely hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Allow to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes, then knead again for 1 minute. Dough should be smoother but still very tacky. Transfer dough ball to a clean bowl, cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours and up to 3 days.
  3. Day 2. Prepare the final dough: in a large bowl, combine soaker, biga, flour, salt, yeast, honey and melted butter. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or with wet hands. Knead in the bowl for a few minutes, with wet hands, to evenly distribute all of the ingredients throughout the dough.  Transfer to a floured work surface and knead, alternating between adding flour and using wet hands to prevent sticking, until dough is soft and pliable but still somewhat sticky, about 4 minutes.  Form dough into a tight ball and allow to rest, covered with a clean kitchen towel, for 5 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl for proofing the dough.  Knead again for 1 minute (to strengthen gluten) then form into a ball and transfer to the oiled bowl.  Turn the dough once to oil the surface, cover tightly, and allow to rise in a warm spot until not quite doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  4. Shape buns. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured board. Gently roll the dough out to a square 1/2-inch thick. Drizzle, or spread with a pastry brush, the optional melted butter over the surface of the dough. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar until well-combined; sprinkle evenly over the dough. Roll the dough, as tightly as possible, into a log (you’ll see a swirl of cinnamon sugar at each end of the log). Slice the log, crosswise, into 1-inch sections; place each bun, at least 1 inch apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spritz with cooking spray and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 30 – 45 minutes.
  5. Bake buns. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake buns for approximately 30 minutes, or until they are a rich brown and the middle is very springy when you press on it. Turn pans once in the middle of the cooking time.
  6. Glaze. Allow buns to cool for at least 5 minutes before glazing. Whisk the sugar, water or milk, and vanilla together in a small bowl, adjusting amounts of liquid & sugar to get the consistency you desire: the glaze should be thick & creamy yet still pourable. Whisk in the bourbon and adjust to taste. Drizzle over the buns (I drizzle the whole batch, then start over at the beginning for a second layer). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields about 16 buns.


  1. If using active dry yeast, instead of instant yeast, you’ll need to dissolve the yeast in your liquid before adding to the flour. It should dissolve readily in milk or buttermilk; if using yogurt, dissolve in a small amount of water (1/4 cup) then add to the dough. You will not need to adjust the amount of milk; you’ll make up for the extra water by adding more flour in the kneading stage.
  2. To make a healthier (and/or less boozy) glaze, beat 4 oz of softened cream cheese with 3 tbsp of honey, 2 tbsp of milk and 1 tsp of vanilla until smooth & creamy. Add 1 – 2 tbsp of bourbon to finished glaze if desired.
  3. While the original recipe is delicious, these do seem to lack a bit of richness, and the cinnamon sugar is not as gooey-rich as it could be (although this could be due, in part, to my lousy roll-forming technique). Next time, I will try adding some melted butter to the rolled interior of the dough (suggested as “optional” above) because, let’s face it: “healthy” bourbon-glazed cinnamon buns is a bit of an oxymoron. Since these are a special treat, I think they should be as over-the-top as possible.
  4. When I orginally made the glaze, I just splashed away with bourbon; and then realized that the glaze was really bourbony. To keep the bourbon flavor from being overpowering, I suggest making the glaze with milk or water first, then adding bourbon (and more sugar as necessary to maintain consistency) in at the end, to taste (FWIW, mine had way more than 2 tbsp of bourbon; delicious, but just a wee dram (heh) overpowering).


At room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for 2 days. Microwaving for ~20 seconds refreshes buns if they begin to stale.


Year round.


  1. I should have added, as I usually do: if you are at all interested in baking with whole grains, you should get Reinhart’s cookbook. It’s wonderful and has become my go-to book for any yeast bread recipe. He goes into much more detail in his recipes than I do regarding how the dough should look, feel and perform at each step; it’s very worthwhile having this one on your shelf.

  2. Tai

    These were outstanding, especially when we took some as a snack for apres-climbing today. Very bourbon-y glaze, excellent flavor in general. Even better if a little warm.

  3. Ok, I have no idea what a “wicked pissah” good day is, but I want one, too, if it’s going to include these cinnamon buns! I mean, cinnamon buns + bourbon? Amazing!

    • Ha! Wicked pissah is a Massachusetts thing: wicked = very (as in “wicked good” “wicked tired” “wicked cool”); pissah (pisser) generally = bad, by itself (as in “The Sox lost again? What a pissah.”) BUT, in combination with wicked, translates into wonderful, fabulous, awesome. SO wicked pissah = awesome.

      Or, you could just think wicked pissah = bourbon cinnamon buns and you’d pretty much have it. 🙂

  4. MY oh my. how do you get the buns to have a perfect uniform shape? You should see mine, they are always very different looking. Anyway, your’s are lovely.

    I would be pleased if you would link them up at my monthly sweet rolls linky party 🙂

    Also, your Chinese Orange chicken looks incredible… i will try it this week and report back!

  5. Pingback: The Holiday Shuffle « Brooklyn Locavore

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