When the first cool nights hit here in Iowa, I lean into my comfort food menu here at home. Most people’s ideas of comfort foods don’t align with mine. My go-to comfort food is none other than a cinnamon roll or a caramel pecan cinnamon roll. This is a recipe that I have perfected over the years, entering it successfully in many baking competitions.
This recipe didn’t start off on a high note and as I’ve mentioned before, our Labrador at the time, “Annie” wouldn’t even eat a roll I turned out on my first batch. Yes, the same dog that would eat a decaying fish carcass by the pond wouldn’t get past the sniff test on my first batch of rock-hard cinnamon rolls.
Over the course of the past decade plus, I’ve toyed with different variations of the classic cinnamon roll recipe. I’ve tried different ingredients in the dough, different frostings and glazes and different nut combinations for the topping of the flipped out caramel pecan rolls. My most adventurous roll dough recipe was created specifically for a whole wheat cinnamon roll contest. I developed a recipe using dried fruit swirled between layers of whole wheat dough, topped with a maple cinnamon confectioner’s sugar glaze. Developing new and different recipes is always exciting, but it is the classic recipes I never veer far from when I’m baking for my family.
I always share the recipe for cinnamon rolls, but rarely do I get to talk to people in person and give them the tips and tricks so make any cinnamon roll recipe a success. I like to share the inside information on why the recipe works because that’s the fun part of baking for me.
Cinnamon Roll Baking Tips:
Make the dough recipe the day before, let the dough rise once and punch down to degas. Spray the top of the dough with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning when ready to work the dough, remove from the refrigerator to a floured workspace. The dough will be easier to work with and the swirls in the dough will be perfect.
Tip #2: Don’t stretch the dough as you are rolling it.
If you stretch the dough while you are rolling it up, this can lead to the middles of your rolls popping up during baking. Another reason the middles may pop up is if you don’t give the roll dough an adequate amount of space to rise in the baking container they bake in.
Tip #3: Mashed potatoes make all the difference in the dough!
If you see mashed potatoes in a tender yeast dough, you know you have a great recipe! The potato starch disrupts just enough of the gluten formation to make the dough more tender making soft, tasty rolls! Any plain mashed potatoes will work, but avoid “garlic mashed” or anything that is heavily peppered. In a pinch, I keep packets of powdered mashed potatoes on hand and mix them up quickly to put right into the dough.
Tip #4: Cover rolls with plastic wrap, not a tea towel.
Recipes like mine are a little higher in hydration and a tea towel will likely stick to the tops of the risen rolls. Well worn tea towels are pretty breathable, meaning they let a lot of air in. This could present a problem by drying out the roll tops and preventing them to rise to their potential.
Tip #5: When making caramel pecan rolls, toast the pecans prior to adding them to the recipe.
Chop and toast pecans to get the most of their flavor in the recipe. Also, stay away from recipes that don’t pre-cook the topping. The topping needs to be heated to boiling at least, and held there for a minute or so. If this step isn’t taken, you’ll be guaranteed to have grainy topping. The alternative is a perfect topping with over baked dough. The topping needs to reach a certain temperature during baking to change the grainy properties of the sugar.
And if you need a recipe, I’ve got one of those too!
12 Giant Cinnamon Rolls
By Cristen Clark
2 packets (4 ½ teaspoons) instant yeast
1/2 up warm water, 110 degrees
2 teaspoons honey or sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk warmed to 110 degrees
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
7-8 cups all purpose flour
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
Dash of salt
Vanilla Icing Ingredients
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt
In a large mixing bowl, proof yeast with warm water and honey in a small bowl until creamy.
To large mixing bowl with yeast mixture add milk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt and potatoes.
Whisk well until combined. Add flour, mixing with each 1 cup addition. Stir well until dough comes together.
Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, by hand, until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, work dough in a stand mixer with a large capacity fitted with a dough hook for 5-7 minutes on lowest setting.
Place dough in greased bowl, flip dough over so both sides are well greased then cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise until double. (60-75 minutes)
Punch dough down to degas. Let rest for 10 minutes, covered. Refrigerate overnight if possible. Will be easier to work with and more flavorful.
Mix in a small bowl: brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt. Set aside to use once dough is rolled out.
Vanilla Icing Instructions:
Whisk ingredients until smooth, add milk or more powdered sugar to achieve desired consistency. Set aside until rolls are out of the oven and cooled 15 minutes. *Double frosting batch if desired.
On a lightly greased surface using a rolling pin, roll dough into 12x24 inch rectangle.
Spread butter evenly over dough. Sprinkle filling evenly over butter. (Leave 1 inch unfilled at end of roll so it seals easily after rolling up.
Roll up long end to long end. Pinch seam at the end of the roll.
Score the dough in 2 inch increments. Slide unflavored dental floss under roll. Bring up ends of floss and crisscross at the center and pull quickly, slicing through the dough.
Place 6 slices each, cut side up, in 2 well buttered 9x13”cake pans.
Rolls should not be touching at this point. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until double in size. (60-75 minutes) *Towards end of shaped dough rise, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake the rolls in a 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes until the internal temperature registers 190 degrees F with an instant read thermometer. Do not let the roll tops overbrown. Tent with foil during the last 10-15 minutes of baking if necessary.
Remove rolls from oven. Let rest 30 minutes then drizzle with icing. Serve warm.
Cristen Clark lives on an Iowa farm where her family raises corn, soybeans, pigs and cattle. She loves cooking and writing, and sharing contest winning recipes with people she knows. She can be reached at email@example.com or at foodandswine.com.