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The Quintessential Cinnamon Roll

For me, a cinnamon roll is just the perfect indulgence. There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls – the warm, sweet, cinnamon scent is totally captivating. I like the flavor of cinnamon rolls because they are not overly sweet, and I can eat them any time of the day without feeling like I’ve gone overboard with my sugar intake.

My mother was the baker in the family, and breads were her favorite. She made great cinnamon rolls – in many shapes and sizes, and using at least ten of her different cinnamon roll recipes. I learned how to bake bread when I was in my twenties. I made a lot of mistakes and tried a lot of recipes, but after about five years of experimenting, I finally mastered it. My ultimate goal was to learn how to make cinnamon rolls. Over the last few decades, I have evolved a recipe and now it’s my favorite. I’ve included it below.

I’m picky about cinnamon rolls. I like them soft and doughy, without too much sugary filling. I like them with pecans in the filling because they are soft and not too bitter. Classic, old-fashioned cinnamon rolls were meant to be eaten plain, or with a light powdered-sugar frosting, not cream cheese, for God’s sake! Whoever came up with the idea of putting cream cheese on a cinnamon roll (and ruining it) should be forced to eat dirt.

Fillings for cinnamon rolls can include nuts such as walnuts or pecans, and also raisins. There are people who don’t eat raisins or don’t eat nuts, and you can leave these out if you want. All you need on the inside of the cinnamon roll is some butter, sugar and cinnamon.

The sweet dough for the cinnamon roll varies a lot. Some recipes have milk as the liquid and some have water, or a mixture of both. Milk will yield a softer texture than water. I like a sweet dough that has a hint of sugar but not too much. My favorite recipe below has just the right amount. Remember, you are also putting sugar in the filling; you don’t want too much in the dough. I also add cinnamon to the sweet dough. I think it gives the rolls a more uniform cinnamon flavor.

You can make many different shapes from cinnamon roll dough. The standard shape is a roll that when baked is about 2 or 3 inches tall and up to 4 inches in diameter. You can also shape the dough into twists or crescents, or form one big spiral ring and then cut slices from it.

Cinnamon rolls freeze pretty well and retain their flavor and texture well. Be sure to freeze them the same day you make them, for best results.

You can use a conventional bread-making method or the “cool-rise” method (see the second recipe below). The conventional method means that you make the dough, let it rise once, shape into rolls, let it rise again and then bake it right away. The cool-rise method means that you make the dough, let it rise briefly, shape into rolls, and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours to let it rise; then you bake it. The conventional method will yield a softer, more uniform roll. The cool-rise method will result in a roll that is slightly crusty on the outside and smooth on the inside – with a slightly chewier texture. The cool-rise method is a great recipe to use in the summer when it’s hot and you don’t want to heat up the kitchen; you can mix up the dough at night, let it refrigerate overnight, and bake the rolls the first thing the next morning when it’s cooler. Experiment with both methods to see which one you prefer.

Catherine’s Cinnamon Rolls
(makes one 13 x 9” pan full, plus one 8” square pan full)

1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
2 packages instant yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup brown or white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans


In large bowl of electric stand mixer, places 2 cups of flour, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and salt. Mix until well blended. In large 4-cup glass measuring cup, place milk and water. Heat in microwave to “bread” temperature of 105 degrees. Add heated liquid and softened butter to flour mixture, and blend. Add beaten egg and 2 cups more flour. Continue to mix until well blended, then gradually add more flour until the mixture cleans the side of the bowl. Transfer dough to floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until elastic. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for about 45 minutes until doubled.

Grease two baking pans with cooking oil: one that is 13” x 9” and one 8” square pan. Remove dough from bowl and punch down. Roll out dough to rectangle that is 16 inches long and about 10 inches wide. Brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Add pecans, sprinkling evenly over dough. Roll up into a tight roll and seal the edge. Cut into 3/4 inch slices and transfer to pans. Cover with towel and let rise until double. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake rolls on middle rack of oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool, and then frost with light powdered-sugar frosting if desired.

Cool-Rise Cinnamon Rolls
(makes one 13 x 9” pan full, plus four extra rolls)

5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages instant yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups water
2 eggs, beaten

Filling:
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup brown or white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

In large bowl of electric stand mixer, places 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and salt. Mix until well blended. In large 4-cup glass measuring cup, place water and heat in microwave to “bread” temperature of 105 degrees. Add hot water and softened butter to flour mixture, and blend. Add beaten eggs and 2 cups more flour. Continue to mix until well blended, and then gradually add more flour until the mixture cleans the side of the bowl. Transfer dough to floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until elastic. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for exactly 20 minutes.

Grease two baking pans with cooking oil: one that is 13” x 9” and one smaller one that will hold the 4 extra rolls. Remove dough from bowl and punch down. Roll out dough to rectangle that is 16 inches long and about 10 inches wide. Brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Add pecans, sprinkling evenly over dough. Roll up into a tight roll and seal the edge. Cut into 3/4 inch slices and transfer to pans. Brush the surface of the rolls with a little cooking oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight. When ready to bake them, remove from oven and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, moving rack to middle of oven so they won’t burn on the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then frost with light powdered-sugar frosting if desired.


Enjoy those cinnamon rolls, and be sure to share them with your neighbors, because the aroma of cinnamon travels far!!

Catherine Kitcho


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