I wish I could share my grandmother’s famous cinnamon roll recipe with you, but my kinfolks are all Southern; we are biscuit people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
My first exposure to cinnamon rolls came via the Pillsbury thwack-on-the-counter can. My sister and I spent many a Saturday morning heating up those sweet and slightly spicy buns and fighting over who got the most orange-flavored glaze. (Note to Pillsbury: stop being so stingy with the icing.)
Then as a teenager, I was shopping at the mall for something I desperately needed—most likely another Duran Duran t-shirt—when I caught the unmistakable scent of cinnamon. I followed my nose to a brand-new establishment peddling giant buns of ooey gooey goodness. (Not the place you’re thinking of, which amazingly didn’t have a franchise in my home state until last year.)
This place had an open-kitchen design so you could watch the bakers at work. They’d roll out giant sheets of dough, slater them with a butter-like substance, cover them with buckets of cinnamon sugar and then roll them up. They’d cut the log o’ dough into saucer-size slices and transfer them to pans. Then the show was over. Time to pay for a roll, share it with a friend (or not) and waddle home happily.
Considering my love of baking and my penchant for eating cinnamon rolls, one might think I’d have attempted to make these pinwheels of mass deliciousness ages ago. Two things held me back: fear of yeast and lack of patience. Yes, I’m one of those people who sees the words “one day before” or “refrigerate for 24 hours” in a recipe and quickly flips the page. I want to make my cake and have it NOW.
Every cinnamon roll recipe I’d seen required the better part of four hours, so color me surprised when someone showed up at a book club brunch at 10:30 a.m. with a pan of fresh-from-the-oven buns. Was she an insomniac? A masochist? A magician? No, as it turned out; she was a forward thinker. She made the dough the day before, let them rise in the fridge overnight and baked them in the morning. Also, she added orange zest to the frosting to create my favorite flavor: nostalgia.
Around this time last year, I decided to finally take control of my cinnamon roll destiny. (In the interim, I’d overcome my paranoia about cooking with live organisms after mastering pizza dough.) I consulted the trusty Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book and found a recipe for Ultimate Cinnamon Buns, which seemed like a good place to start.
Reading through the recipe, it seemed a bit fussy, but doable. I hit a snag when I saw their glaze though. It seemed to be lacking in both butter and volume. I subbed in my sister-in-law’s cream cheese frosting recipe and never looked back. I make the full recipe because A. I hate to see half a block of cream cheese turn into yet another refrigerator science experiment and B. The phrase “too much icing” isn’t in my vocabulary. (Unlike my dad who has been known to describe birthday cakes as having “enough frosting to kill a goat.” I mentioned that I’m Southern, right?) Anyway, feel free to make just half or use what you want and freeze the rest of the frosting for your next batch of cinnamon rolls. Oh, yes, there will be a next batch. Consider yourself warned.
A few things I learned the hard way so you don’t have to:
- As you roll out the dough, periodically pull out the corners and push in the sides to encourage the square shape. It’ll never be completely square, but don’t let that stop you from trying.
- Aluminum foil plus melted sugar equals sticky mess. If a recipe calls for lining the pan with foil (I’m talking about you, Cook’s Illustrated), just say no. Once the buns cool, it’s nigh impossible to remove them from the pan without decorative (and indigestible) flecks of foil attached.
- If you cut the log-o’-dough in more than 12 pieces, you’ll need more than one pan as these babies like to spread out.
- Have the frosting made before the rolls finish cooking so you’ll be ready for the initial glaze, which is key to the gooey deliciousness.
- When making icing, use your mixer’s lowest speed until powdered sugar is incorporated unless you want to cover the kitchen in a fine layer of sticky dust.
What’s your favorite cinnamon roll memory? Got any secrets to share? Please do tell!