Food — The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors

The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors

By Amy Diaz

Cinnamon rolls are not for the weak.

They are difficult to find, difficult to make and, if you eat too many of them, difficult to work off.

But still these sweet, spice-filled treats stand out as a breakfast holy grail. Find a good one and you are assured an eternal — or at least morning-long — feeling of happiness.

Holiday Special

Cinnamon rolls were a tradition in my house.

The tradition was connected to holidays though not specifically to any one holiday. Generally, it went something like this: my brother, my father and I would begin the traditional allowing my mom to relax. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and other holidays where she had a few days off, we’d always wait a few days into this break, give her some time to sleep in, lull her in to a false sense of peace. Then, we would begin the traditional Angling for Some Cinnamon Rolls. This was a complex process that involved flattery (“those cinnamon rolls you made last winter were the best I’ve ever had”), bribery (“with some cinnamon rolls in my stomach, I could probably shovel out the driveway”) and naked deal-making (“OK, I can give you 45 minutes of no fighting with my brother per roll”).

This elaborate tradition was necessary in part because cinnamon rolls fell into the unhealthy, special treat category of our diet. The baking of rolls was, in my mother’s mind, even worse than buying them because baking meant that we would have access to many of the sugary heavenly rolls, not just the one we would get at a restaurant. To earn such a treat, we would assure my mother that we understood this would supplant all chances for cookies, cakes and any cereals sweeter than Cheerios.

The other reason my mother drove such a hard bargain with the rolls is that they were a serious commitment of time and effort. The recipe my mother used was for no-fooling-around cinnamon buns — bready, puffy and baked to perfection.

This meant dough and dough meant yeast and yeast meant time. My mother’s recipe requires four separate risings. It also requires scalded milk. All of these measures help the yeast to rise at the right time and in the right way to produce the perfect rolls.

But they also drove my mom nuts.


Horrible as it is to admit this, my mother was right.

Two Manchester bakers confirm that cinnamon rolls are delicious, popular and a pain in the butt.

“The problem with them was the puffing,” said Eleni Antonopoulos of Gala Café on Elm Street.

Antonopoulos used to sell cinnamon rolls on a fairly regular basis but stopped because she was dissatisfied with the dough. It was too finicky — in the large batches required for her customers, the dough frequently wouldn’t rise right and it was difficult to keep them from drying out while cooking.

“People like the doughy ones,” Antonopoulos said. She points to chains such as Cinnabon, which have got the public used to the complicated yeast buns. So Antonopoulos has gone back to the drawing board in search of better dough.

Gala Café, when it returns to making the rolls, will be one of the few in the city to do so. An informal survey of a variety of independent cafes and bakeries came up with some who bought pre-made rolls and many who steered clear.

The pastry alternative

Of course there is one way to make the yeast dough part of a cinnamon roll easier — skip it.

Jamie Huffman, owner of Jaime’s Bakery on Second Street, says he too has a time-consuming recipe for big doughy rolls. But, with barely enough time already to cook his bagels and breads, he can’t spend all that time watching dough rise. Instead, he goes for crunchy pastry-like cinnamon buns and sticky buns. Nearly the size of a small saucer, these cinnamon and sugar creations do require some rising time and usually sell out when he has them available. But they don’t require the dedication of time and resources that comes when you go for the breadier rolls.

“They are so labor-intensive,” he said.  

Selling the roll

There is a science to cinnamon-roll sales.

For bakers such as Huffman, selling the bready rolls would mean cutting back on something else. And for sellers of both the pastry and the bready variety, as Antonopoulos points out, people have very specific desires when it comes to their rolls.

She tries to make hers about the size of her hand — bigger and potential roll-eaters will fear their treats will be too heavy or too fattening. Also, while there is little calorie difference between rolls with sugar and rolls with icing, the perception is that icing will require that many more minutes on the treadmill, she said.

All of this variation points to the other problem with cinnamon rolls — they aren’t keepers. After a day on the shelf — and they need to look good for the whole day — if customers just don’t feel like a roll, all that investment can end up in the trash or in the baker’s belly.

Best holiday ever

The toasty, spicy smell off baking cinnamon buns — I challenge you to find a cooking fragrance to match it.

So how do you get the glory without all the cinnasuffering? Well, there are a variety of ways to cheat. Most of the ready-to-bake roll dough sold in the refrigerator section of the supermarket can be modified to produce one version or another of rolls.

Take it one step further and you can buy the frozen bread dough. This requires a few risings, just as the from-scratch version does, but oftentimes at least one of these sessions can be done overnight, without the need for careful watch.

But the most painful way, as with so many aspects of life, is very much the best. Besides, with labor that intensive, your cinnamon buns could bring you all sorts of favors from friends and family. Just ask my mom.

- Amy Diaz

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