Cinnamon Rolls aren’t hard, unless you want them to be

As I continue working on my cookbook, I find myself getting distracted by the idea of coming up with new recipes. When my aunt gave me so many of my grandmaw’s recipes she mentioned her cinnamon rolls. We didn’t find a recipe for them and I didn’t give them much thought until a couple of weeks ago. Aunt Alice and I chatted online and I asked her about them. She said that grandmaw just whipped them up and they were so good. She thought that maybe her recipe for refrigerator rolls was what she used, so I tried it and they were ok. I may have baked them a little too long because they were very dry. I thought about them since and came up with a couple of ideas to improve them. I had not really made any bread in a few years, except a few sweet breads like banana or zucchini.

Mary gave me her recipe for rolls once and my first year out on my own I was invited to what we called an Orphan’s Thanksgiving. I had moved from home to Nashville, so there was no way I was going to get home. We all agreed to what we could bring and one friend hosted the dinner at her apartment. I said “I’ll bring the rolls!” and everyone looked at me like I was just picking the cheapest and easiest thing to bring. I told them about Mary’s rolls and how she would tell me that her grandfather taught her how to make them, that it was his recipe. He learned to make bread during the Civil War when he had to cook for the soldiers. So, naturally, with so much history and meaning behind them, everybody agreed that I should make them.

We all had to work on Thanksgiving Day, so our dinner was on Wednesday. I did a trial run that weekend before because I had never actually made them myself. I had seen Mary do it dozens of times. I had helped a time or two. I remember she used the same white coffee cup to activate her yeast in. When I think about it, I can smell the yeast beginning to work. Well, my first run through was ok, but not great. I didn’t have time to do them again that night, so I had to wait until my next day off, which was Wednesday. I got up early and started them. It seemed like it was all going well. But, they didn’t want to rise the second time. I thought they would do it in the oven, so I put them in. I baked them for almost 2 hours. I kept checking them but they were not getting any bigger and they would not brown at all. I finally just took them out and rubbed butter over the tops and stuck them back in to see if they would brown. They looked a little better, but not much. I got dressed while they cooled down. I had to go so I wouldn’t be late. I went to take them out of the pan and they were heavy as bricks. I cut one open to see if they baked all the way through and they were as dense as they could be. They actually still looked raw in the middle, even though they had been in the oven that long. I just set the pan aside and headed out the door without them. It felt so much like Thanksgiving Day that I forgot that it was still Wednesday and I could stop and pick up some at the grocery store. So I did. I got to my friend’s apartment and walked in with the most expensive and best-looking rolls I could find. I wish I would have thought to bring a basket that I could’ve put them in and made everyone think that I had made them. But instead, I blurted out what happened and just let it go.

I got home that evening and thought maybe I could salvage something out of them. So, I got out some milk, eggs, sugar, and some spices and tried to make bread pudding out of them. It only made them worse and now I had wasted even more time and ingredients, something I didn’t much of at the time. Years later I bought a bread machine and kind of perfected making bread. It did do most of the work, but when I wanted rolls I let it mix and rise them the first time and then I took it from there. They were pretty good at that point. I think Mary would have been proud, even though they were not exactly like hers. I could eat almost a whole pan of hers warm from the oven.

So, I decided that I would try the cinnamon rolls again today. I had posted the first attempt and Aunt Alice said that they looked great, but that grandmaw didn’t put icing on hers. She said that they were just nice and buttery and sticky, with nuts in the middle. Since the only recipe I had to go on was for her rolls, I just tried to picture what they looked like. I don’t remember her making them when we were there. Alice told me that she rolled them out and used lots of cinnamon sugar in them. She said that there was always a jar of cinnamon sugar in the cabinet and they would also use it for cinnamon toast, which I did remember having. Growing up we always had cinnamon sugar in the cabinet and I never realized that it was probably because dad grew up that way. I too always have cinnamon sugar. It was kind of funny to make that connection.

Since it was down in the 50’s last night it finally felt like Fall was trying to start. I didn’t waste any time making it feel even more like Fall today. I fixed a big breakfast and pulled out the apple butter I made a little while back to put on some biscuits. All day I thought about making the cinnamon rolls have an apple flavor, but using the apple butter would have made them too messy and figured that would not work. Then I remembered that we have a pack of Angry Orchard hard cider in the pantry that a friend had left here. I figured if beer bread worked, why not hard cider bread. They were quick to do and smelled so good through the whole process. I ended up coming up with another recipe and didn’t use my grandmaw’s. I thought she may not have approved! These may have been the best cinnamon rolls I have ever had, certainly the best I had ever made. Of course, the only other option for them would have been to come in second best.

Here’s the recipe. If you don’t have hard cider, you can just use regular apple cider. You will just need one 12 oz. bottle.

Hard Cider Cinnamon Rolls


For the rolls
4 cups of plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 packet of quick active yeast (or 1 tablespoon)
1 large or jumbo egg
2 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup hard cider
3/4 cup of whole milk

For the filling:

1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the icing:

1/2 cup hard cider
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups powdered sugar


Pour into a large bowl, 3 cups of the flour, all of the salt, sugar, and yeast. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg, melted butter, cider, and milk. Mix until all dry is incorporated. Begin slowly adding the remaining 1 cup of flour and incorporate well. Cover and let it sit for 10 min.

On a large floured surface, turn the dough out of the bowl. It will be very sticky, so use plenty of flour on your surface and hands. Begin to knead the dough, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Continue for about 10 minutes. Again, make sure your surface is very well floured and begin to roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick. Make the rolled dough a large rectangle.

Cover the top of the dough with the softened butter, spreading it to each edge. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together and spoon evenly over the buttered dough. Begin to roll the dough up from the wide side so your log will be as long as possible. To cut the dough, use a knife or dough scraper and start in the middle. Cut the full log in half, then cut each half in half and so on until you have 10-14 rolls. With 3 more tablespoons of butter, butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan or skillet. Starting in the middle and working your way out and around, fill up your pan or skillet. Let them sit for 10 minutes while your oven preheats to 350′.

Place pan of rolls in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Be sure not to over brown them. Take them out of the oven to cool. While the rolls are in the oven, begin to prepare the icing. Place the cider, butter, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. This won’t burn off much of the alcohol, but it will reduce it some and intensify the flavor. Remove it from the heat and let it cool while rolls finish and cool.

When the cider mixture has cooled, mix in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix well. You can add extra or leave a little out, depending on how thick your icing becomes. You want it soft enough to pour, but thick enough to coat and stick to the spatula. Pour or drizzle the icing over the rolls, depending on how much icing you want. Serve and enjoy!

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The Appalachian Tale

Memories, recipes, and Tales of an Appalachian Boy.

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