BBA #8: Cinnamon Buns

February 25th, 2011 by Chris

Everyone loves cinnamon buns. Or at least I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like them (so my inductive sample has yet to run into a counterexample). You should also fear not: these are good cinnamon buns. I have no doubt that my fellow BBA’ers — or anyone who gives this recipe a whirl — will enjoy these tasty treats (I know my kids did, especially the 5 year old).

Although I’m a cinnamon bun fan, I have to admit that I wasn’t really all that fired about about this week’s challenge. What’s the problem? Simple: calories. Nowadays I don’ t eat over the top diet buster foods like these. I don’t see them as worth the calories. I can say with certainty that it’s been ages since I’ve walked through the mall and actually stopped at Cinnabon. That doesn’t mean that I’m not tempted to stop, and that I don’t always enjoy the smell walking by – -but all I see are big huge calorie-numbers floating above the buns, and that unfortunately ruins it for me. In fact, I’m certain that I’ll be bringing the ones left over to school tomorrow for my students to eat.  After all, what do they care about calories?

(As my fellow BBA’ers, such as Nancy, Jim, Joanne, Heidet, DJ and Coz, stream in, I’ll put their links here).

Speaking of Cinnabon, Reinhart says in the book that in his opinion, these buns rival or perhaps even best Cinnabon’s own. I’m not sure whether they do, given how long it’s been since I’ve had them myself. I’m curious what the other BBA’ers have to say on this – are these better? Not? All I can say is that they are good, but I’ve been “out of the game” too long to have a meaningful opinion on it.

Reinhart also gives you the directions to either make cinnamon buns or sticky buns. The sticky buns are worse calorie killers (Reinhart even says they are called that because they “stick to your buns”), so I stayed away from those. Moreover, he suggests that you can use all sorts of extras here — jelly, nuts, fruits, you name it. It’s easy to see how to do that, but I skipped all of them. A plain old’ cinnamon bun is enough for me. Plus, like I’ve said before, you shouldn’t screw around with extras until you’re sure you can make the base-level recipe.


Let me spell it out: this recipe is E-A-S-Y.

As a matter of fact, this is the first of the eight challenges so far that I’ve labeled as ‘beginner’. I honestly think anyone can make this, even people who are trying out baking for the first time, or near to the first time. There was little about the process that was challenging at all. That’s not a bad thing – it’s fine with me to have an easy week here and there (especially after the three attempts it took me last week to make ciabatta right).

That said, I’m not saying that making the perfect cinnamon bun is easy. I’m sure it isn’t. Like anything else, it takes tweaking and adjusting, and lots of trial and error. But making a good cinnamon bun can be done on the first try, and that’s a good thing for people to know.

Onward to the process!

Comments on the Process

The cinnamon bun process is simple: two steps – (a) dough/shape, (b) bake.  So easy you might fall asleep in the middle of it.

Step One – Dough and Shape

The dough preparation stage is standard – the dough simply has a few extra ingredients, like egg and sugar and milk. One place where I did have a slight problem, though, was in the needed amount of flour to get the dough to the stage that Reinhart suggests it should be in (not sticky and forming a ball) at the end. Taking as the starting place that I used the maximum amount of milk the recipe suggests, I actually had to increase the flour by 10 tbsp over what Reinhart says you’ll need. That’s a bit surprising. 10 tbsp of flour is a bit over 1/2 cup. Given the amount of flour in this recipe, that’s actually a pretty big increase in flour percentage. This isn’t a big issue, but I was surprised to have to go over that much from what he said (from past recipes I have referred to the “I needed to add a lot more water or flour to this recipe” as “getting Reinharted”, so in this case, I got Reinharted again).

The next step, after the first rise, is to shape the dough into a roll. The first step requires flattening the dough out and sprinkling it with cinnamon sugar. Here’s how it looked:

Flattened Dough with Sugar

I must admit that for a few minutes I got stuck at this stage, as the B picture in the book on shaping looked odd to me. This time, the directions were clear, but the picture — that B one in the middle — confused me. As it turns out, it’s an optical illusion (like the famous duck/rabbit picture, where what you see in it depends on how you look at it). When I first started looking at it, it seemed to me to be a picture not of a flattened out piece of dough (which it is), but rather like a fat multi-layered tall piece of dough with a thick inside full of sugar. Only after staring at it for a while did I then see that it wasn’t really, it was flat. I guess it depends on how you look at it. I’m curious if anyone saw that too. Up until that moment, I wasn’t sure what the heck the instructions were saying! Of course, that’s not Reinhart’s problem – just a strange optical illusion that caught at least my eye.

The next stage calls for you to roll the dough into a log from one end, over the sugar, to get the layers. Now Reinhart doesn’t say to do this (as far as I could see) but I reserved some of the cinnamon sugar and used it to add cinnamon sugar to the outside of the dough too, as you roll. Otherwise you won’t get the right look, as the cinnamon will only be on one side. Here’s how the roll looks:

All Rolled Up and Nowhere to Go

Next: cut the roll into 8 pieces and place them on their sides on parchment paper in a pan, and then proof them again. No problem. This is too easy:

Ready to Proof

Once this is done, you’re ready for the oven.

Step Two – Baking

The baking stage is quick – 25 minutes it took for me. What’s cool is that as they spring in the oven, the swirls rise up to different levels, giving you that cool rising look that cinnamon rolls have. Here’s how they looked when they came out:
Hey – Glaze Me!
These puppies are ready to be glazed. The glaze itself is simple. If you’ve ever made cookies with icing, it’s a very basic recipe (see the ‘final product’ below however for a warning on the icing).

Comments on the Final Product

Here’s a shot of the final product, and then after a discussion of it.

These are really good cinnamon buns. Everyone in the family liked them, especially the 5 year old. If you recall, this is the one who said that I had my “head too much in the cookbook” and as a result she was boycotting my cooking/baking. Well, that protest movement didn’t last through this recipe. When she smelled these buns baking, her eyes open up like saucer cups. She started peppering me with questions in rapid succession: “Can I have one?” “When will they be ready?” “What kind of icing are you putting on them?” I said, “I thought you said that I had my head too much in the cookbook, and so you weren’t going to eat what I made.” She old me in response that this “wasn’t a rule.” Apparently it’s just a suggestion, and following it depends on how the food I’m cooking/baking smells.

Icing Warning: one thing to be aware of. Reinhart’s recipe calls for lemon extract in the dough. I used it, and I can assure you, you will taste it. So the buns themselves have a lemony taste. This may or may not be to everyone’s liking (I’ve never had a cinnamon bun with a lemony taste). At the same time, though, he says to use some lemon extract in the icing too. I think that’s too much. So I opted for the vanilla extract substitute. This was a good decision, I think. My guess is that if you use the lemon for the icing too, the cinnamon buns will be overwhelmed by the lemon flavor. Unless, of course, you are a lemon fanatic! In that event, do what you wish! I made this mistake once before, with my ricotta lemon cookies. Lemon in the cookie and in the icing = too much lemony. In fact, I think that if I made these buns again, I’d substitute out the lemon extract in the buns for the vanilla extract too.

Next Week: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

I actually made this bread when I first got the book, but I messed up the recipe. So I’m looking forward to giving it another try, now that I know what I did wrong the first time. Since I’ve already made the bread, I can also say that it’s a good one! 

See you next week!

30 Responses to “BBA #8: Cinnamon Buns”

  1. Joanne Says:

    Really nice looking cinnamon buns! I agree that this is an easy recipe. It’s very similar to the many I have made in the past for Christmas morning (usually served with deviled eggs, fruits, and veggies on the side so I don’t have to cook). I am tempted to either skip it or adjust it to use splenda for most of the sugar (maybe just sprinkle them with powdered sugar, after coating with butter on top). I have done this before with really good results, mostly because my husband is diabetic and shouldn’t have all that sugar. I might simply make just enough for two rolls, at least then I would only have to worry about his blood sugar for a short while! I am thinking that Reinhart adds sugar to almost all his recipes, and that health wise I am going to have to start substituting it with splenda all the time.

    Not seeing that optical illusion, even with my glasses off! I know how you feel though, there are times I look at something and my mind see’s something totally different!

  2. Frieda Says:

    I love your plain and simple cinnamon buns! No raisins or nuts for me! I found PR’s recipe to have too much cinnamon/sugar filling, so I made half of it and it doesn’t spill out when I roll the dough. I use pure lemon extract and have noticed a lemon “note” in the finished dough, but it is not overpowering… I do use a traditional cream cheese frosting, as that is what everyone likes. I made these for a Share Our Strength Blogger bake sale last year and they disappeared very quickly!

    Did you end up saving calories by giving some of these rolls away?

    The sticky buns are a little tricky to knowing when to take them out of the oven ~ too soon, and you have a runny mess with a doughy center. Too late, and you’ll have hard tack candy stuck to the bottom of the buns. Just right, and they are to die for. You also have to be careful how much cinnamon paste you put on the bottom of your pan; too much and you’ll have a boiled over mess in your oven!

  3. Joanne Says:

    @Frieda… Do you have a good recipe for cream cheese frosting? Would love to know how you make it, because I think we would like that better too. Thanks for the tips too.

  4. Frieda Says:

    Joanne, I use the cream cheese frosting recipe from Better Homes and Gardens:
    3 oz. cream cheese, softened
    1/4 c. butter or margarine, softened
    1 t. vanilla
    1 c. sifted powdered sugar (sift, then measure)
    Beat together cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy.
    Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well.
    Frost tops of rolls while slightly warm, but not hot.


  5. Joanne Says:

    @Frieda… Thanks! That sounds good, and I think for us it would work a lot better.

    I am enjoying baking these recipes, but I have never been very good at sticking to what the books tell me. I told myself when I started this I would do it exactly as written in the book to give me the most accurate results, but I am really thinking that I also have to consider that it is just Andy and I eating these! I think that the biggest issue I am running into is that he really can’t eat a lot of plain white flour, and that’s why I make a lot of whole wheat breads for him. Anyway, I might stray from the pack and try some of these with at least half hard white whole wheat flour.

  6. Chris Says:

    Freida –

    The family ate 3, and the other 5 huge tire rim sized buns were devoured by my seminar students, who if I didn’t know any better eat once a week. :)

  7. Frieda Says:

    :D I’m sure you are their favorite professor!

  8. Coz Says:

    Wow Chris, I think your cinnamon buns look better than Cinnabon. Here is my Cinnabon critique-I think they used to be awesome but a few years back I got one in an airport and it was so nasty I couldn’t eat it. I could tell that they were cheaping on the ingredients to make more money. I could taste the shortening in the buns, no butter-left that greasy feel in your mouth. Very dissapointing, so knowing that-rest assured-you made a better cinnamon bun then they do!!!

  9. Chris Says:

    Thanks, Coz!

    Isn’t this always the case with chains? As soon as they hit on something and draw the crowd, they try to capitalize on it by going cheap.

    I went a bit light on the frosting, actually. Reinhart says to use 4 cups, I used a little more than 2. 4 cups would have been just too many calories for me, so I scaled back. I suppose that 4 cups would have also led to a real thick glaze, which would have looked different in pictures.

  10. Joanne Says:

    Chris, I think your glaze looks fine, any more and it would have really made a big mess. They rose real high too, which is always a good sign that they were tender. In fact they made my mouth water…. cinnamon buns are one of my favorite treats, but they are so bad for you!

  11. saltandserenity Says:

    I had to laugh as I read your post! I am the exact opposite of you. I went for the sticky buns (more butter!!) and crammed mine full of nuts and raisins. I have never made cinnamon buns before, so only had bakery ones to compare them to, but I thought they were hands down, one of the best things I baked from this book. I made them for 4 weekends in a row last summer, but only when I knew we would be having company because I did not trust myself to be alone with them. I still dream about the caramelized sticky bits and the soft pillowy centres.

    Glad your 5 year old finally came to her senses!

  12. Coz Says:

    I got my cinnamon buns done. I have the thicker glaze on mine and just drizzled it back and forth, trying to get a cool look to it. I like to microwave my glaze before I put it on, it has a more runny consistency to it and then it sets up hard. Here is my post:

  13. heidet Says:

    I have been making both sticky buns and cinnamon buns for as long as I can remember. I now have a recipe I can mix in the food processor or bread machine and it is quite simple. I also use dental floss (non flavoured of course) to cut the rolled dough.
    The icing is 3 oz cream cheese, 4TB butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, a dash of vanilla and lemon juice. Beat for at leat 12 minutes until fluffy and put on cooled buns.
    If you are interest in the dough recipe let me know.

  14. heidet Says:

    forgot a photo of an example.

  15. jim Says:

    Chris those rose perfectly.
    I agree that this is a simple recipe to follow,easy,and rewarding for a
    beginner.I have made this type of bun many times,adding a variety of fillings.
    This time adding chopped walnuts and golden raisins as that is what we enjoy.I did add pure lemon extract to the dough and vanilla to the icing.
    They were delicious,can’t comment on Cinnabon, as I won’t purchase commercially made bakery.Having worked in the food industry for 45 years, I know there are not too many REAL ingredients in them.
    Gave half of the 12 buns to our neigbhors,before I took the photo.
    I do note that the instuctions say roll the dough to a 12×14 in rectangle 2/3 in thick.Huh..that’s almost 3/4 inches, no way will this volume of dough do this.So, again the directions are not clear,perhaps a typo?

  16. Joanne Says:

    Well my first attempt at 100% Whole Wheat BBA cinnamon buns is here Is it still considered a BBA recipe, if I made them with whole wheat rather than bread flour? I did have to raise the hydration level a lot. I substituted splenda for the sugar also, and I’m allergic to citrus fruits (actually most fruits but citrus are the worst) so I used Almond extract in place of that. They turned out really good, and my husband’s blood sugar readings weren’t to bad. He didn’t feel sick after eating them either, so that’s always a good sign. Must tell you, these were pretty awesome tasting even if they tasted different than a regular cinnamon roll. We had one with our breakfast too, and they were even better than last nights!

  17. Chris Says:

    Hey All –

    Sorry about the delayed comments. I just upgraded the software and now it keeps forcing comments into moderation. I’m not sure why. Thought I fixed it!

    Coz –

    Wow! Look at that glaze! How many cups of sugar did you use? It looks very thick. I used 2, for a lighter glaze.

    Heidet –

    Those look really good, but I’m not sure I could repeat your glaze recipe. Too many calories for me!

    Jim –

    Those look awesome. I’m with you – I think vanilla in the icing is the way to go. Lemon in the icing just strikes me as too much.

    Salt –

    My 5 year old saw me commenting on this thread and said “when are you going to put your head back into the cookbook and make those again?”

  18. DJ Says:

    The pictures look great everyone!! I still have to bust out the ciabatta, maybe I’ll work double time and get both in a day or two. I’m sure these homemade buns are much better then cinnabon’s. :) I look forward to seeing more pics!

  19. NancyB Says:

    Got a short post up with my cinnamon rolls:

    Summary: yes, easy recipe, and a nice take on cinnamon rolls. It’s not going to convert me from my old favorites, though.

  20. Joanne Says:

    Thanks Frieda for all the nice comments on my blog! I spent yesterday checking yours out and it’s wonderful! There is so much information, and many good links to other sites too. Love the tip on turning my bagels over with chopsticks, sounds so much easier than what I did!

    For those who haven’t visited Frieda’s blog, you really should!

  21. Chris Says:

    For those interested in checking Frieda’s blog out, it is listed in my “food blogs” list to the right, under “Freida loves Bread”

  22. Frieda Says:

    Joanne & Chris, Thanks for the shout out ~ You guys are great!

  23. Joanne Says:

    Can’t believe I didn’t leave a link to her blog…. Must be tired this morning!

  24. Coz Says:

    Hi Chris, I didn’t measure it but I feel I eye-balled the 4 cups like the recipe said but did just enough liquid to bring it together, then I microwave it and it gets more runny from the heat. I use it quick and it sets up like that.

  25. Joanne Says:

    @Coz… I will try heating it up a bit next time, sounds like a good idea.

  26. Chris Says:

    Coz –

    Clearly you had to heat it — it looks pretty thick! I can only imagine how hard it would be to get that glaze on at room temperature!

  27. DJ Says:

    My cinnamon buns are posted up at my blog! :)

  28. Geraint Says:

    Cinnamon buns completed:

    In Chris’ words, I was ‘Reinharted’. I added the lowest quantity of milk suggested, but it was sloppier than the 80% ciabatta dough. Foolishly perhaps, I attempted to get the gluten to develop with a mix of air-kneading & resting. After 2hrs, it was still far too sloppy, so I added flour gradually until I achieved a dough that wasn’t too sticky & could more or less pass the windowpane test. By the end I’d added an extra 100g (3.5oz flour). After bulk fermenting for 2.5hrs, I was so far behind the expected schedule, that after rolling & cutting, I proofed for only an hour before putting them in the fridge to retard overnight. We are babysitting for Tess’ niece this weekend, so this morning they finished proofing in the back of the car & were ready to bake when we arrived an hour and a half later.

    Apart from the flour issue, these turned out really well. Not too sweet & with a delicious aroma & flavour of cinnamon.

  29. Judy Says:

    As with everybody else, the cinnamon buns came out great! Nobody but family got to eat these because they were so delicious. Had to agree that the lemon extract was a little different. Next time and there will be a next time for this bread I would use vanilla extract instead.

    In case anybody noticed that I have posted comments for the Anadama bread thru cinnamon buns today it is because I finally got the pics off my camera and onto the computer. My memory card reader is flaky and only works if I take the computer cover off and pull out and reconnect the cords to the card reader. Because of this I don’t download pics until I need them for something or the card is full.

  30. Joanne Jones Says:

    @Judy Nice looking rolls, love how the cinnamon shows up so nicely!

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