When I first started writing The Bumbling Chef, my husband’s cousin Heather told me about one of her favorite food blogs, Our Best Bites. She wanted me to try the pizza rolls recommended on that blog, and after they turned out to be a hit with my husband (although not my children, who are suspicious of pizza that doesn’t look like pizza), I started following the blog myself. That’s where I found a recipe for Everyday Cinnamon Rolls.
I wish I could eat them every day. But that would be dangerous. These yeast cinnamon rolls are really, really yummy, and it was cinnamon rolls—well, and donuts—that contributed to my mid-twenties weight gain a while back—the weight gain that it took me seven years to kick.
So I will eat you, yummy cinnamon roll, but not every day. I’m sorry.
For weeks I have wanted to try my hand at baking cinnamon rolls, which are God’s gift to all people and, in particular, to me personally—a gift that, as I’ve said, we must save for special occasions.
I finally got the chance when my friend Mandy planned a Chili and Cinnamon Rolls football party.
Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, the traditional side for chili is cinnamon rolls. The rumor I heard is that this food pairing started as a regular on the public school’s lunch menu, and that generations have grown up and left the LPS system addicted to the combination. Of course, like the invention of donuts, the origin of this tradition probably has many different versions. Whatever the truth of the tradition’s origin, in Lincoln, where you find chili, you find cinnamon rolls.
My parents live in Missouri and have only been to Lincoln three times in their lives. When I told them over the phone how people in Lincoln eat their chili, they were taken aback.
“They eat what?”
“Chili and cinnamon rolls.”
“That sounds … odd.”
“Not here. Even some of the restaurants have signs that advertise ‘Chili and Cinnamon Rolls,” I offered.
“How exactly do they eat this?” they asked.
“I don’t know … I guess the way anybody eats chili or cinnamon rolls,” I answered.
Clearly my parents found something about the idea repulsive.
There was a slight pause.
“Do they pour the chili over the cinnamon roll?” Dad asked.
“Or dip the roll in the chili?” Mom asked.
Now I saw what really bothered them.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “I think they eat them separate. The roll is a side dish.”
My parents were nauseated. And, I think, a little fascinated. We talk about this odd Lincoln food combo several times a year. And they’ve been telling their friends at church about it.
When I was on the phone with them Saturday morning and mentioned I was making cinnamon rolls for this party, they both laughed.
“Tell Chris to be sure to pour his chili all over his cinnamon roll,” said Dad.
“They don’t do that,” I reminded him.
But it doesn’t matter. It sounds funnier if you picture it the other way.
After the phone call with my parents, I planned for the baking process and got to work. I figured I could make the rolls about an hour and a half before we had to leave to watch the game with my friend Mandy and her family, and that turned out to be just enough time.
I followed the recipe and, for the most part, it went swimmingly. Other than the inevitable moment when I found my hands covered in gummy sticky dough and nearly ran screaming from the room. But not everyone has that reaction.
I did have a little trouble rolling the dough up with the topping inside, as the dough was sticky enough to tear here and there. I think if I had floured my pastry board again before rolling out the dough, I could have prevented the tearing when I rolled it up. Even so, I did get it all rolled and cut into pieces without the dough actually falling apart. And I was proud of myself, because in the old days a few weeks ago, I would have begun yelling “I can’t do this! I am a failure! Thanks for ruining my life, cinnamon rolls!”
But now I know that I can fix some things and that a torn roll isn’t the end of the world. The fact is, however messy that cinnamon roll was going into the pan, when it comes out of the pan, gooey and warm and smelling of cinnamon, it’s the perfect companion for a bowl of chili.
And you might try it the way my dad suggested.
Everyday Cinnamon Rolls
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp butter, cut into chunks
3 ¼–3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast (about 2 ¼ tsp)
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
Icing (I just used leftover quick white icing that I made to top a cake the week before)
1 ½ C powdered sugar
2 T melted butter
½ tsp vanilla
1–2 Tbs milk
Dough: Place milk and 4 Tbs butter in a microwave safe bowl. (I used Our Best Bite’s tip and heat just ¾ C of milk, then added the remaining ¼ cup after heating it to bring the temperature back down.) Heat on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Butter should be at least partially melted. Stir and set aside. In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 C flour, yeast, white sugar, and salt. When milk mixture has cooled to warm (not hot) add it to the flour mixture along with the egg while the beater (paddle attachment for those using a stand mixer) is running. Beat until well combined, about 1 minute. (With a hand mixer, do this on low speed, then beat 2–3 minutes on medium speed.) Switch to the dough hook now. Add remaining flour only until dough barely leaves the sides of the bowl. It should be very soft and slightly sticky. Continue to let the dough knead for 5 minutes. If you are not using a stand mixer, turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes by hand. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and let rest for about 10 minutes while you make the filling.
Filling: make sure butter is softened well. Mix with brown sugar and cinnamon.
Assembly: Roll dough into a rectangle about 12 x 14 inches. Spread brown sugar mixture (it will be slightly thick, you might have to “crumble” it) over the surface and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to gently spread around. Roll up from the longer side of the rectangle and pinch edges closed. Score the roll into 12 equal pieces and then cut into rolls. Use dental floss to score and cut the rolls. Place three across and four down in a 9 x 13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Cover pan with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. I used the extra tip from Our Best Bites narrative about letting the rolls rise in the microwave. In the mean time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
When rolls have finished rising bake for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown. If desired spread with icing while still warm. Makes 12 rolls.