This Saturday was my dad’s birthday, and my mom and I thought we would make some cinnamon rolls to celebrate. Ever since I got my Kitchen Aid stand mixer for graduation (thanks, parents!), I have wanted to start bread making. Not that the Kitchen Aid is actually necessary (or even very useful, as we shall see) in the art of making bread. But the thing is, every time I walk into the kitchen, there is the mixer, so shiny and beautiful and professional-looking on my counter. It begs for a new project, a new challenge. And although my baking/cooking/food porn addiction phase has lasted at least a year by now, I have never (gasp) used yeast! This was a situation that my mother, dutiful 4-H graduate that she is, felt the need to rectify before I leave home and attempt to feed myself and the unsuspecting character that I am marrying.
So, we chose a recipe that we thought would work, got up Saturday morning, sent my dad to the grocery, and set about making him some birthday cinnamon rolls!
Before getting into the results, there are two things you need to know about these birthday boy cinnamon rolls. The first is that Saturday was not actually my dad’s birthday. His birthday was Sunday, in fact, although I was entirely under the impression that it was Saturday and advertised the fact to everyone we know. I declined an invitation to an open house Saturday night because it was my dad’s birthday and we would be spending the day together. I told at least ten family friends that Saturday was my dad’s birthday. I informed my fiancée, who dutifully texted Saturday morning to wish my dad a very happy birthday. Most of the family friends, incidentally, were at the open house (which we attended after all, since it was not Dad’s birthday), and they were kindly, but mistakenly, wishing him a happy birthday all night long. Dad got more “Happy Birthdays!” on the day before his birthday than he did on the actual day. Whoops. But at least we were all thinking about him, right? Maybe it doesn’t matter when the well-wishers were doing their wishing. It’s enough they were whishing at all, right? Right. Wish wish wish.
The second important fact about these cinnamon rolls is that they purport to be the self-same rolls served in Ann Sather’s restaurant. Ann Sather’s is a Swedish restaurant in Chicago that serves all kinds of yummy Swedish food (if you find Swedish food yummy, which, to be honest, requires a constant desire to consume only foods that are rich and creamy). They are especially famous for their breakfasts, and specifically for their cinnamon rolls. My mom had found a recipe for these that we had clipped a while back (probably while we were still living in Chicago) and decided what with the combination of my need to learn to use yeast, the deliciousness of Ann Sather’s cinnamon rolls, and my dad’s birthday (on SUNDAY), we would use these as both a learning experience and a celebration.
As it turns out, the rolls were both of those things! Their flavor is excellent, just the right mix of that comforting yeast-bready taste (yes! my first time!) and the sweetness of a pastry. The combination of the right amount of browning and a sweet glaze spooned on while the buns are still hot meant that they were crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside.
Dang. Hang on while I go get me another one…
Just kidding. Kind of. Ah, the magic of the internet – you’ll never actually know if I went to eat one more. Or if I went to go eat ALL the rest. Mwahaha…
Alright already, onto the details of the cinnamon roll-making process.
Here we have our main players of the day… simple ingredients, right? Not pictured is the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla used in the glaze, but pretend they are there. Behind the milk or something.
First we had to do a little ingredient prep. Here is Mom, showing me that the milk is scalded, since it sticks to the spoon…
Then comes the dough-making process. Here is the dough in the baby stages, right after adding the yeast to warm water and bit of sugar:
After the yeast is dissolved:
See? The yeast ate the sugar. You go, yeast!
(Give me a break, it’s my first time… I’m allowed to be exciting about things like dissolving yeast)
This is after adding some flour. Sorry for the ugly flash effect… I promise to get better at this whole food photography thing.
Here it’s getting a little thicker…
OK, this is where it gets tricky. The recipe (like most bread recipes) gives you a range of how much flour to add. This one tells you to add 2 ½ to 3 cups, enough to form “a soft dough.” Since I have no idea what “a soft dough” actually looks or feels like, I let my mom handle this. The thing is, she has always mixed yeast breads by hand, and with the stand mixer, you don’t have the benefit of feeling the dough to really know if it is the right texture. So, take a close look at this next picture:
See what the dough looks like at this point? And how we are taking it out of the mixer to let it rise, confident that we have added enough flour?
Take a close look. Think you have it down?
OK… now forget it. That isn’t what the dough is supposed to look like. I wish you could reach through the computer to handle the dough, and then you would know what the dough is NOT supposed to feel like, either. We definitely did not add enough flour, which eventually (after the first rise) led to the following situation:
I am trying to avoid a terrible pun about so-called sticky situations here…
Anyway, thanks to the mad skills of my mother, we eventually got the dough rolled out:
We then got in there with our fingers to slather some (OK, a lot) of butter all over the place (OK, mostly on the dough):
Got some brown sugar action goin on:
And started a-rollin those buns (when did this recipe start to get a twang?):
If you look carefully at the above picture, you can see a gap in my rolling. See it? It looks like I am doing more of a folding motion rather than rolling a tight roll. I remember from a Paula Deen show I saw a while back (yes, I watch Paula) that she warns against gaps while rolling up cinnamon rolls. I guess some things you see on TV are actually true, because the combination of those spaces and the insufficient amount of flour in the door contributed to some droopy buns:
Notice especially the bottom rack, which is the handiwork of yours truly. The top rack is my mom’s more professional result.
Alright, so the mixing and rising and rolling was a long, adventurous process. But then they came out of the oven, the frosting went on…
And the glaze started to set…
And we had us some delicious (if not overwhelmingly attractive) yeast-risen cinnamon rolls!
I feel pretty darn good about this whole experiment! They weren’t the best looking, but I think we have learned a lot about yeast, using the stand mixer, rolling, etc. And seriously… the taste of these cinnamon rolls is out of this world. The smell isn’t even worth trying to describe. The combination of cinnamon and sugar and yeast smells like home, but better. The best version of home.
Try the recipe! Here it is, with my additions and tweaking. We borrowed the glaze from another recipe, doubled it, and spontaneously added more powdered sugar and vanilla. The recipe below is my best guess at what we actually ended up with, but don’t worry too much about getting the glaze perfect. It’s sugar and butter – are you seriously going to stress about actual measurements?
I didn’t think so.
Ann Sather’s Cinnamon Rolls, adapted from the Chicago Tribune Magazine circa 1988 (or something…)
- 1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter, melted
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature (I would just go ahead and divide it now)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (Ditto on the dividing)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (Yep… divide it)
- Powdered sugar glaze, recipe follows
1. In a large bowl, stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar into the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in milk, melted buter, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour. Beat with a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth.
2. Gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups flour, keeping the dough smooth. If the dough is still moist, stir in 1 tablespoon flour at a time to make a soft dough (Seriously, stir in enough flour). Cover with a dry cloth and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
3. Divide the raised dough in half. On a lightly oiled board, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out and stretch 1 piece of dough to make a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Spread 2 tablespoons of the soft butter over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with half of the brown sugar and cinnamon. Beginning on the long side, roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Cut the dough into 2-inch slices. Place on greased and floured baking sheets. Let the dough rise (in a warm place) until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
5. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Take the baking sheets out of the oven and place the cinnamon rolls on a wire rack to cool.
6. Top rolls with a sugar glaze immediately, if desired (ha! If desired? yes, I desire…). Serve warm!
Powdered Sugar Glaze, adapted from From the Heart of our Homes, our old church’s cookbook
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla exract
- 2 to 3 teaspoons hot water
1. Combine confectioner’s sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl, mix until smooth. Add several teaspoons hot water to thin mixture to the consistency of whipping cream.
2. Drizzle gaze over hot rolls.