Entries in Delicious Dish (66)


GCRP: Mel's Kitchen Cafe Cinnamon Rolls

Yesterday wasn't exactly cinnamon roll weather--it got up to 98 degrees inside our house--but undaunted, on I forged with The Great Cinnamon Roll Project. My darling and brilliant friend Jenna had recommended yesterday's recipe to me, and frankly, I wouldn't have tried it if the recommendation had not come from her. I would have taken one look at the ingredient list (which includes instant vanilla pudding) and moved on. But I trust Jenna. End of story.  

Mel (of Mel's Kitchen Cafe) claims that the vanilla pudding makes the dough tender and pliable, and it certainly was that. I tasted the raw dough, which was surprisingly un-sweet and had only the faintest of artificial tastes to it. (That disappeared upon baking, by the way.)

When it came time to roll out the dough, I did make a change. Mel called for an amount of filling that is fully double the amount of any other recipe I tried. There was no way. It's not like I ever cut down on the amount of butter and sugar in anything, either--but this was too much. So instead of spreading one cup of butter over the dough, I settled for 3/4 cup, and instead of 2 cups of brown sugar +  4 tablespoons of cinnamon, I halved that--and it was more than plenty. 

The dough was a bit sticky, but it rolled up and cut just fine. The rolls rose and baked beautifully--I used my big lasagna pan plus another pan that measures about 10x7 inches. 

Mel's frosting recipe calls for cream cheese, which of course, divided the household. Hope conceded that this particular recipe was "less cheesy" than others, but James was not impressed.

Thse rolls were good. Quite good. They certainly got gobbled down in a hurry. However, I think Grandma Ida still has the edge; the higher egg-to-flour ratio in her recipe gives the dough a richness that Mel's doesn't quite have. In the end, although the texture was excellent and the sweetness level was spot on, I felt these rolls were slightly one dimensional in flavor. Would I make them again? Probably--but only if I had instant vanilla pudding in the pantry, and that's not all that likely.


GCRP: West Coast Cinnamon Rolls

Ah, The Great Cinnamon Roll Project. Did you think I'd forgotten about it? How could I? No, the cross-continental move has merely slowed me down a bit. Onward we go.

When we were still in New York, I tried Bon Appetit's Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls. They were tasty, but not at all worth all the extra work involved boiling and mashing the potatoes--at least, I didn't think so. I know the potatoes are supposed to make the bread extra tender, but we did not notice much of a difference. Meh. So far, nothing has compared to my modernization of Grandma Ida's recipe.

But I have completion anxiety, so we'll finish the list. In our new house, with a new (old oven), we tried the penultimate recipe on the list: Sweetapolita's homage to Cinnabon

The dough came together easily. Was that because of the recipe, or because I'm now practiced at making cinnamon rolls? It rolled out nicely, which made me suspect that it might be tough when baked--but it wasn't. They were a little on the sweet side--"a little cloy," as Grandma Ybright would have said--but overall decent.

The deal-breaker for almost everyone? The lemon flavoring in the frosting. No. Bad. Wrong. I knew it would be a problem, too, but in my commitment to sticking to the recipe (except for using the m-word (margarine)), I tossed it in. Anne took one bite, screwed up her face, and scraped off the rest of the frosting. Everyone else ate them politely, but when I reminded them that I needed an honest critique, they all expressed a wish for different frosting. 

So there you have it. Next up? Mel's Kitchen Cafe's recipe--which is very similar to the Tyler Perry one we tried months ago. After that, I'll probably make Grandma Ida's one more time as part of the formal testing process, then tally up our thoughts and crown the winner.


GCRP: Cinnamon Rolls of Vermont

I've subscribed to Cook's Illustrated for nearly twenty years. It is the Consumer Reports of cooking magazines; when its staff wants to make the very best roasted turkey, for example, it'll roast 20-30 of them in different ways until it finds success. The results are almost always spectacular. 

It was actually CI's spin-off show "America's Test Kitchen" that inspired my method for the Great Cinnamon Roll Project. Therefore, even when CI's cinnamon roll recipe looked a little spartan, I went forward in full trust. CI has never let me down before. 

But apparently there is a first time for everything. Perhaps it is because CI originates in Vermont, where the yankee-est yankees live. Perhaps those stern, frugal Vermonters frown upon rich, gooey indulgences like my ideal cinnamon roll. I'm not sure, but I have my suspicions.

The recipe heading stated that its creators had compromised between "a rich brioche dough" and "a lean sandwich bread." (Based on past GCRP experiences, I'm pretty sure I would have erred on the side of brioche.) In addition, the filling was made with a couple of tablespoons of milk in lieu of the usual butter. I hoped that these substitutions would not detract from the taste and texture I was going for, but my hope was in vain. The result was a faintly spicy piece of bread with a dash of anemic icing on top. Boo. My taste testers all vehemently agreed.

The next recipe on my list was from the King Arthur Flour company, another bastion of my kitchen, and another very successful company based in Vermont. I love KAF's flour, its website, and its recipes--usually. But when I saw that KAF's recipe was nearly identical to CI's, I didn't bother. Next, we'll move right on to Bon Appetit's Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls.


GCRP: Grandma Ida's Cinnamon Rolls

Well, I'm a happy woman right about now. I'll continue with the GCRP, but as of today, we may have a winner.

A few days ago, after reading about The Great Cinnamon Roll Project, Patrick's Aunt Karen sent me an email containing her mother's cinnamon roll recipe. It was published in 1941 in the book Favorite Recipes of Ephraim Women.

Ephraim is the town in Sanpete County, Utah in which Patrick's father's family lived until the end of World War II. (Correct me if I have my Perkins family lore wrong, Aunt Karen.) Oh, how I love the kind of cookbook that the women of Ephraim put together--community compilations of tried-and-true recipes from seasoned cooks and bakers. My Nani has a whole shelf of such Relief Society cookbooks, and she has promised they will be mine someday. TREASURE.

I knew and loved Grandma Ida late in her life, but I had no idea that she was an accomplished baker. Her recipe is written in the style of her generation, with shorthand instructions. There was no need to school the reader on how to proof yeast or the optimal temperature at which dough will rise. You could just write, "Roll out as for cinnamon rolls," and bakers of that day, tutored by daily experience and wise forbears, would know what to do.

I just pulled a batch of these rolls out of the oven. Grandma Ida apparently didn't frost her cinnamon rolls; in the lean days in which the recipe was published, the unadorned bun would have been treat enough (especially if raisins had been added, as Aunt Karen reports that she would beg). But I wanted to assure a level playing field for the project, so I adapted the Magnolia Bakery's Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting--and I also frosted some rolls with a simple powdered sugar-cream-vanilla glaze. 

They are outstanding. Feather-light, yeasty, fragrant, with that perfect pull-apart texture and just the right amount of sweetness and spice. Grandma Ida, I know that you are smiling down from heaven right now as your great-grandchildren happily devour your legacy. Thank you--and thanks, Aunt Karen, for passing on this gem.

Grandma Ida's Cinnamon Rolls (translated for the modern baker)

1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water (105-110 degrees)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
4-3/4 cups flour


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon 

Mix the yeast with two tablespoons water and two tablespoons sugar and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix 1 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar, then add the 1/2 cup melted butter, eggs, and salt and mix well. Add the yeast mixture. Replace the mixer's paddle beater with the dough hook. Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until well-kneaded and elastic. The dough should still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl. 

Cover the mixing bowl with a dishtowel and set in a warm place to rise. 80-85 degrees is best; if there's nowhere in your house that is warm enough (like the top of the refrigerator), set the mixer bowl in a big pot containing hot (115-degree) tap water, cover, and set on the back of the stove. My oven vents to the back of the range, so I turned it on to about 150 degrees, just so some additional warmth would hit the bottom of the pot and keep the yeast happy. Let the dough rise for 2 hours. It should be double in size. 

Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together with a fork. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle--about 12 x 18 inches. Pour the 1/4 cup of melted butter in the center, then spread it around evenly over the entire surface. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter. Roll the dough up tightly into a log and press the edges together to seal them. Slide an 18-inch length of dental floss under the log and cut one-inch rolls. Place the rolls in the buttered pan, cover the pan with a dish towel, and set the rolls to rise in a warm place for a half hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Uncover the rolls and bake them for 25 minutes. They should be golden brown, and some of the centers might have popped up a bit. While the rolls are baking, mix up ONE of the two icings. Once the rolls are out of the oven, spread the icing over them so that it can melt into all the crannies. Leave the room and distract yourself for at least fifteen minutes while the rolls cool somewhat. Serve warm, with plenty of cold milk on the side. (They are also plenty tasty at room temperature--if they make it that long.)

Caramel Cream Cheese Icing

4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1/3 cup Caramel Sauce*, room temperature

Mix all ingredients until smooth.


Vanilla Icing

3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients until smooth.

*Caramel Sauce

1 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream

Put the water, salt, and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves--about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high and boil without stirring until the syrup turns a deep amber color--about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Very slowly, add the cream and whisk like mad. The caramel will bubble up furiously at first. Just keep adding the cream in a thin stream and whisk until it's all mixed in. Put the pan back on medium-low heat and stir for one minute. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Store in a quart jar in the refrigerator. Excellent over ice cream.



GCRP: The Picky Cook's Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

On we go with the fourth round of The Great Cinnamon Roll Project. I had high hopes for this recipe. It had two intriguing features: a butter-brown sugar base and a frosting containing vanilla bean. Alas, it fell short of my expectations.

I had a clue as I rolled out the dough. The OBB girls had said that cinnamon roll dough needs to be pretty soft and somewhat difficult to handle in order to produce a tender roll. So once I took the Picky Cook dough out of the mixing bowl in which it had risen, I suspected trouble. It was extremely easy to roll out, making a smooth, thin rectangle. This made the rolls very pretty--elegant spirals with several layers to them once they were rolled--but when baked, they were quite tough. The recipe said to bake the rolls for 30 minutes, but mine were quite done at 25 minutes.

They also tasted undersalted and not very cinnamon-y. I have decided that I definitely prefer a filling with brown sugar to one with white sugar. 

Now, about that base--the recipe asks you to melt brown sugar and butter together, add vanilla and pour the mixture into the baking pan, then place the rolls on top to rise. This sounded exciting! I imagined the rolls would develop a sticky, chewy bottom as they baked; what could be better? But it ended up not doing much for them at all. 

So--tough rolls, not much flavor. The frosting was admittedly delicous. The scraped out goodness from the inside of a vanilla bean did make a wonderfully fragrant and tasty icing. But it wasn't enough to save these rolls. Anne had to be coaxed to finish hers--that's how unexciting they were.

I've looked ahead at the next recipes on my list, and after examining them, I've decided that neither Martha Stewart's nor Paula Deen's rolls are worth my time. The recipes look quite similar to those I've tried that have failed. I'm therefore moving ahead to the Tyler Perry/Oprah rolls, the first recipe to call for vanilla pudding as an ingredient. Stay tuned!