Why Isn't My Cherished Family Recipe Working?

This week's question for our pastry chef: Why can't I get my great-great-grandmother's cinnamon roll recipe to work?

The winter holidays are focused on traditions, many of which take place in the kitchen. Mastering an old family recipe can make or break a special meal -- so I took my friend seriously when she asked for help in making her favorite recipe work.

A friend asked for my help in figuring out her great-great-grandmother's cinnamon roll recipe. Her mother would make these rolls from heart and in mass quantity for the whole family. It reminded me of my mother and how she would dole out her own cinnamon rolls over the holidays, also.

Feeling completely inspired and anxious to help, I set out to help deconstruct the scribbles she had written down when she was very young after asking her grandmother for the recipe. Now, I've encountered this myself after going through my recipe box: finding a list of ingredients, but alas, no instructions -- thinking that I would remember how it was done. Asking her family for help was not an option for my friend; her loved ones have passed away.

The main problem we ran into, as it turned out, was the order of the recipe. In baking, it's often very important that a specific organization be followed. It's been said that baking is scientific, which is true. It is much harder if impossible to add ingredients later and may lead you to starting all over again. Or giving up.

In the example of the cinnamon roll recipe, I found the ingredient yeast written at the bottom of the card, almost as an afterthought, and directed my friend to make that her first step: priming your yeast with warm water and sprinkling a little brown sugar over it to help activate the yeast.

I could go on and on listing many more examples of what specific order a recipe must be done in, but you don't have all day. I'll leave you with this: If you've had problems in the past trying to remember or figure out a family favorite, look to the order of your ingredients and check other recipes online to see how similarly it has been done, for this could be your culprit.

I'm happy to report that after 20 years my friend was able to master the caramel cinnamon rolls she had always remembered and I was very happy to help reunite her with something that she can again look forward to year after year.

Now you can, too, because she generously shared the recipe. 

Caramel Cinnamon Rolls

From the kitchen of Laura Hutchinson


Yeast Mixture

1 ¼ cups lukewarm water

1 package of yeast

 Sweet Dough

1 ½ cups milk

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup shortening

1 TB salt

6 cups AP flour

 Caramel Sauce

8 TB, or ¼ # butter

1  lb brown sugar

½  cup light Karo syrup

¼  cup water

 Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

½ cup sugar

2 TB ground cinnamon


Sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water and gently sprinkle about a tsp of brown sugar over it. Let this sit for about 10 minutes and till it's foamy.

Gently heat the milk and shortening (do not boil) till it is warm or at a light scalding.  Add the sugar. Add the yeast mixture. Make sure that your liquids are lukewarm before you add your yeast mixture so as not to kill the yeast.

Begin by adding 2 cups of flour and add the salt on top of the flour and mix. Keep adding the rest of your flour at ½-1 cup intervals till it forms a soft dough. Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes, or with a mixer and dough hook for about 4 minutes. It should be smooth and elastic. Let this rest in a clean greased bowl with a towel over it for 2-2 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients together for the caramel sauce and gently heat over the stove. Prepare your greased baking pans by pouring ½- 1 cup of the sauce into the bottom of the pan. Adding too much will make your rolls turn out too sticky. Prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Punch down the dough and cut it in half. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle (12x16). Begin by rolling out one half, then switch to the other half to allow the dough to become more elastic. When you have the desired rectangle, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the dough. Take 1- ½ cups of caramel mixture and spread the warm sauce using a pastry brush till evenly distributed. Roll the dough till it is a tight cylinder (might be difficult with the sauce inside) and pinch the seam closed. Using a bench scraper or serrated knife, make evenly sized rolls. Place the rolls into pans that have been prepped and let rise with a towel over it for about 1-1 ½ hours. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 25- 30 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes, then invert onto a plate and serve warm.


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