Every Bite a Memory


Northern Nevada is having a not-so-normal winter this year.  One storm after another, some dumping more snow than I’ve seen since I moved from Colorado, some bringing flooding rains.  Today’s storm is rain.  It has been raining all day, and I don’t handle the gloom so well.

Dreary days tend to make me turn inward, become somewhat maudlin.

But, there is also an definite plus side to rainy days–humidity.  And when you are a bread person (as in baking bread, not made of bread), humidity is wonderful.  So this was the perfect day to make cinnamon rolls.

If there is one “test” for a good bakery, in my opinion, it is the cinnamon roll.  It seems that everyone makes them, and generally it is a family recipe.

I can say, that the basis for my cinnamon rolls is rooted in family.  My Grandma Frances made the absolute best cinnamon rolls. EVER!!  And she did it with no apparent difficulty.  She would get out her big silver spoon, scoop a bunch of things into the mixer bowl, and a few hours later–cinnamon rolls.  Light and airy bread with just the perfect amount of cinnamon and sugar filling, generously covered with frosting.  In the town I grew up in, Frances’ cinnamon rolls were legendary.  And with good reason.

When I asked my girls what foods trigger strong memories for them, daughter #1 immediately said Great-Grandma Frances’ cinnamon rolls.  The smell of the dough raising is a very nostalgic memory for her and many of the other kids in our family.  And that strong scent memory links right back to Grandma’s little red car.

Yes you read that right, her car.  You see, well into her 70’s, Sister Frances (as she was known by many) spent her Wednesday’s cooking for a local church’s weekly dinner.  She would prep and cook, many times with no more help than one of her pre-teen granddaughters, serving family style meals such as fried chicken or pot roast with all the fixins, including dinner rolls and dessert, for as many as 50 people.

Now as anyone who make bread and rolls will know, it takes time.  You can’t just mix all the ingredients together and pop it into the oven.  There is the little matter of raising. Because bread making is a science, the little chemical reactions that are the magic of great bread take time. So early in the day, Grandma would get her dough mixed and thoroughly kneaded, put it into what was to my eyes, a giant stainless steel bowl and cover with Saran Wrap to get the first raise in. At this point it was the time for her to get any running around done, grab the last minute things needed to get the church dinner made.  It was also when she would drive her little red car across town and pick up whichever of the granddaughters was going to help her that week.  And of course, being an imminently practical woman, she took the roll dough with her, tucked the giant stainless steel bowl into the little hatch of her can and took off around town.


It was many, many years later that I realized the secret to her amazing rolls was the trip around town in the back of her car.  If you, like me, are old enough to remember laying in the back window of a car during a long trip, you will remember the warmth of the sun coming in through the window.  Even in winter, the little hatch got warm, so her dough would raise wonderfully.  Sometimes too wonderfully, which generally happened about 3:30 when she would make her way to my house to pick up daughter #1.

By that time the dough had been in the warm hatch of Grandma’s car for upwards of 2 hours and had taken on a life of it’s own, resembling not so much bread dough as a pasty form of the 50’s sci-fi horror movie “The Blob”.  Taking on an amorphous, pasty quality that had to be punched down into submission before carrying the whole thing into the church kitchen.


This entire process from the time the dough was placed in the car to arrival at the church is what is commonly known as the “first rise”.

It has long been my contention that this prolonged, and somewhat unorthodox, rise is what made Grandma’s rolls perfect.

We lost Grandma 6 years ago this June, and every batch of cinnamon rolls I make are, in many ways, my tribute to her.  She lives on in each tender, sweet crumb. Every bite a sweet memory of her.

Cinnamon Rolls

  • Servings: 9-12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Light and sweet, just like Grandma made



  1. 720 grams all purpose flour
  2. 240 ml warm water, 110 degrees
  3. 114 grams butter, room temperature
  4. 100 gr granulated sugar
  5. 15 gr. instant yeast
  6. 15 gr. Kosher salt
  7. 15 gr. dry milk powder
  8. 2 large eggs
  9. 5 ml vanilla


  1. 110 gr. granulated sugar
  2. 100 gr. brown sugar
  3. 10 gr. cinnamon


  1. 240 gr. cream cheese, room temperature
  2. 114 gr . butter, room temperature
  3. 454 gr. confectioner’s sugar


Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray

  1. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, bloom yeast in warm (110 degrees) water.
  2. Once yeast is bloomed, add sugar, milk powder, flour, eggs, salt and vanilla.
  3. Mix on low speed (1-2 on Kitchen Aid mixer) until dough comes together to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl.
  4. Turn mixer up to 4 and knead about 3 minutes.
  5. Add room temperature butter in 4 additions while mixer is running. The butter will take a while to incorporate and the dough will look strange.  If needed stop mixer and scrape butter from sides of bowl and continue to knead.  After about 3-4 minutes the dough should come together into a smooth ball.
  6. Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in warm place to rise to double in size.
  7. Punch down dough, recover with plastic wrap and let rise a second time to double the size.
  8. On floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness.
  9. Spread softened butter all over rolled out dough.
  10. Generously sprinkle cinnamon/sugars mixture over buttered area
  11. Beginning in the middle of the edge nearest you, start rolling the dough into a log. Pull slightly to stretch the dough as you roll.
  12. Cut into ¾ inch portions and place into prepared pan.
  13. Cover with clean kitchen towel and let rise until double.
  14. Bake 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown.
  15. While the rolls are baking, prepare the Icing
  16. Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  17. Add in confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until smooth.
  18. When rolls are done, spread icing on while hot


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