SMiLes by Meg

Cinnamon Rolls

I’ve been promising Erik cinnamon rolls for a couple of weeks now, and since this is one of those rare weekends during which I’m actually in Cambridge, it seemed like the right time. Now, these are not to be confused with cinnamon pinwheels, which I’ve made before. Those are more of a cookie than pastry. Cinnamon rolls, on the other hand, are a yeasted dough (more on that later), and are meant to be a lot cakier. And they’re meant to be iced, but since Erik was calling the shots, we didn’t go that route.

One of my favorite cookbooks for regular food (read: not desserts) is What to Cook and How to Cook It. It has beautifully photographed recipes, and only ever demands what I think of as “normal” ingredients – things you don’t get annoyed buying since you’ll definitely use them more than once. For cinnamon rolls, I was looking for just a basic recipe, and my other baking cookbooks weren’t delivering. So I turned to this one, and decided to give it a try.

I think in the future I’d stick to using WTCAHTCI for non-desserts only. The recipe didn’t work great (probably due to some substitutions I made, but I’m blaming the recipe) and didn’t follow how I usually use some of the ingredients. I ended up following the instructions in the book rather than following my gut since the book had never led me wrong before, and it resulted in a dough that really wasn’t so interested in rising properly. Oh well – the end product still did its job.

First, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast.  I was skeptical of this step, and it is probably what led to problems in hindsight. The recipe calls for a packet of fast-rising yeast. I keep a jar of active dry yeast in my refrigerator. I know those aren’t the same thing. I know you’re supposed to activate active dry yeast with water before using. I wasn’t sure how to do that and stay within the proper ratios, so I just treated my active dry yeast as if it were fast-rising yeast and added it with the dry ingredients, hoping the warmed butter mixture would do the activating. To some extent it did, but not to the extent I would have liked.

In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Remove from heat and whisk in the milk. Whisk in the eggs. Pour the melted butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a sticky dough. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Here’s where the recipe next went wrong – there was nothing sticky about my dough. It was very dry and crumbly, and I ended up having to add quite a bit of water in the next step to get it anywhere near a proper consistency.

Anyways, after 10 minutes turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly until dough forms a smooth ball. Place into a large, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for an hour or until dough doubles in size. As you can see, my dough didn’t come anywhere near doubling, but I was under time pressure and couldn’t really start over.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and press into a rectangle about 16×12 inches. Spread with remaining very soft butter. Apologies that the next few pictures are blurry – I didn’t realize why they weren’t coming out until it dawned on me that working with very soft butter meant the lens of my camera got smudged by that butter and wouldn’t take a clear shot until I cleaned it. Sprinkle brown sugar over the butter, then sprinkle the cinnamon over that, then sprinkle the chopped pecans on top.  Roll the dough from the long edge across. Cut off the very ends and discard. Then cut dough into 12 equal pieces and place cut side up in a 9×12 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cover and refrigerate overnight. About an hour before you want to eat breakfast, pull the baking pan out of the fridge and let sit at room temperature to finish rising.

After an hour, bake at 350°F for 25 minutes, or until golden. Allow to sit in pan 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further. If you want to ice them, whisk together 1 1/4 cups of confectioners sugar with 2 tablespoons of milk, and drizzle over the top.


Cinnamon Rolls


  • 4 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (1/4-oz) packet fast-rising yeast
  • 2/3 cup butter, divided, very soft
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, sugar, and yeast.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat.
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in milk, followed by eggs.
  4. Pour butter mixture into dry ingredients and mix with wooden spoon until dough comes together in sticky ball. Set aside for 10 minutes, covered.
  5. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead briefly, until dough forms smooth ball. Place in greased bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Spread dough into a rectangle about 16×12 inches.
  7. Spread with remaining soft butter. Then sprinkle on top brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans.
  8. Roll dough starting from long edge. Cut off ends and discard. Cut log into 12 equal pieces.
  9. Place rolls cut side up in a baking pan sprayed with cooking spray. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  10. When ready to bake, remove baking pan from fridge and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
  11. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow to sit in pan 15 minutes before transferring to wire rack.
  12. If icing, whisk together 2 tablespoons of milk with 1 1/4 cups of confectioners sugar. Spoon over cinnamon rolls.