Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

“Our first customers arrive at six thirty and they want our Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head and I am the one who makes them. I put the dough to rise overnight and it is huge and puffy and waiting when I get there at four-thirty.”
“I [give] myself tendonitis trying to persuade stiff, surly thirty-hour-refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up….but I don’t mind. I love working with yeast and flour and sugar and I love the smell of bread baking.”

This is the big one. The biggest baked good in the list from a metaphorical, literal, anticipatory and alliterative perspective. They started my baked good obsession and remain my favorite food to make, sweet or savory. So I really should have built up the suspense and waited a bit to make them, but I couldn’t help it. This whole blog is an homage to these delicious creations.

But make no mistake: these babies take commitment. They require kneading and rising and assembling and patience. But the feel of warm, elastic dough under your knuckles is like the first sip of cider in the fall. The smell that wafts up from a damp washcloth after the yeast underneath has been basking in the sun is a million times better than the bread aisle at the store. And crumbling dark brown sugar and cinnamon on butter-brushed dough with your fingers is just about the best activity in the history of fingers.

Seriously, cinnamon rolls are worth the effort.

I tried a lot of recipes when I was first starting out, and I ruined a lot of batches because I didn’t know much about baking. So if it doesn’t work the first, second or fifth time, don’t despair. They’re tricky. And by batch three you’ll probably produce something that’s better than store-bought, even if it’s not exactly perfect.

So without any more ado we start with the most legendary baked good of them all:

Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head


1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
6 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese,
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.
I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.

Notes on the ingredients

Use fresh yeast. The worst part of making any kind of yeast food is waiting an hour for the bread to proof and coming back to lifeless blob of dough. Old yeast is just a bunch of dead yeast-y creatures in beige form. Fresh live yeast sometimes jumps around on its own and is a little terrifying if you think about it too hard. You can pick up a bag you will never get rid of for like $4 at Costco.

Bit of a snafu on the milk here, didn’t realize it was the wrong one until after I’d taken this picture. With the benefit of hindsight, the milk is noticeably sweeter than regular milk and might have caused the cinnamon rolls to be too sweet. Will have to investigate further.

Bread flour has more protein/gluten than all-purpose flour. It makes the dough more elastic, so the bread-y insides are fluffier and more fragrant. I usually use bread flour with yeast recipes. Supposedly you can buy vital wheat gluten to add to all-purpose flour, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t recommend it until I have. This recipe works pretty well with all-purpose if it’s all you have on hand.


Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the butter; stir until melted. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.


Proof the yeast in a small bowl. For active dry yeast, the water temperature should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Especially if you’ve never proofed yeast before, it’s worth using a thermometer until you can gut check the temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the milk/butter liquid along with some pinches of the sugar and stir until the yeast has dissolved. In about 5-10 minutes it should be foamy on top and triple the size. 

Delightful and a bit of a relief.

If this doesn’t happen, you either have yeast that’s too old or the temperature is off. (Too cool and the yeast won’t activate. Too hot and it kills it.)

In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture, yeast, white sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour; stir well to combine.


Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

Dough hook time

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.


I used the dough hook for a few minutes to cheat a bit on the kneading (I know, I know, poor form) since the dough was a bit wet.

Wet dough

Because the dough was so wet it took roughly 3/4 cup of flour to make it manageable.

Kneaded dough

Place dough into an oiled bowl with a damp washcloth over the top. Set in a warm place for 2-3 hours to rise. For simplicity, I just stuck it back in the mixer bowl and put the bowl in the sun.

Resting dough

Rising dough

While you’re waiting, you can clean a bit, watch an episode of Downton Abbey, go to the store to buy ingredients you forgot about and/or prep the filling. The difference between two and three hours is pretty much what fits into your schedule. There will be another chance for the dough to rise, so don’t stress about the timing here too much. And for cinnamon’s sake, don’t just sit around and wait–let the little yeasties to do their thing and get on with your life.

The Filling

This is the tipping point of the recipe for me. Starting from this point onward, everything is amazing. The smell of just brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl is unbelievably intoxicating. Then you melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave and the whole kitchen starts to smell like kitchens were always meant to smell. Utterly marvelous.

Continue reading Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

Jamdandies the Dandyjams Edition

“Yolande was fitting the tea cozy over the pot when I came in. There were cups on the table. I knew where her cookie plates lived, so I got one down and put my offerings on it: chocolate chip hazelnut, Jamdandies, Cashew Turtles, plus butterscotch brownies and half a dozen muffins.”
– Sunshine

For the inaugural baked good, a lot of friends and family were eager to encourage a hobby that would keep them in sugary treats for months. Most still have no idea (and no intention of understanding) what “that book” is about, but flour and butter and sugar is the universal sign for yum, which means for this first post, I have lots of help.

My friend Laura and my cousin Jo want to help me kick start this. Jo’s cuter-than-a-button-covered-in-jam daughter would be sampling the results so I wanted to start with something kid and fun-friendly. The First Dessert? *drumroll* Jamdandies.

It’s also one of the Class 4 Don’t Know What It Is desserts, which allows me to play around a little. As I’ll be doing this a lot, I’ve come up with some “rules”.

The Kinda Incontrovertible Tenants of Making Up Recipes:

1. It must be delicious.

This is really an all-encompassing life rule.

2. It shouldn’t be too fussy.

In theory, these are recipes that one person could make for a whole coffeehouse. Individual chocolate typography is not going to happen.

3. From scratch as often as possible.

If you make it yourself, it’s going to be better. Icing from a jar will taste like icing from a jar. That said, store bought jam or vanilla extract is much more practical than starting the canning process or 2 months of staring at a vanilla bean in a jar (in a dark cupboard).

4. WWSD (What Would Sunshine Do?)

The first and last resort question of every recipe.

 So with those tenants firmly in mind, what in a baker’s dozen is a Jamdandy?

My one-pack-a-day elementary school cookie Judging by the name and the contextual quote, it’s a jam-related cookie. Since Sunshine is one of those practical baker types, I’m thinking it’s her version of a fancy-fied jam-related cookie–which to me refers to something in the family of those thumbprint jam shortbread Knott’s Berry Farm staples. Dandifying this childhood classic can really only happen in two places: the ingredients or the appearance. Let’s go with both ‘cuz why not?

Cleaner and smaller is as much effort as a coffeehouse baker would go through to inject class into a cookie. Here’s where it gets kid-friendly: tiny cookie cutters!


Put back the candy cane and pumpkin.
Dug out some fancy shapes from the back of the cupboard.

Since my usual method of baking cookies involves blobs and chunks and impatience, these things have not seen the light of day since I bought them. There was quite a bit of box and bag opening to find ’em pretty as a picture with their stickers still on, no dough stuck under the metal lip, no corners bent out of place.

Shortbread is already pretty fancy, but there are ways to kick it up a notch. For the cookies you can play with the dough AND the jam. Combo recommendations: Raspberry Jam with Vanilla Bean Cookies, Cherry Jam with Almond Extract Cookies, and Blueberry Ginger Jam with plain Shortbread. So here we go!

Jamdandies: Attempt 1

Adapted from the Food Network

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg
1/4 cup powdered sugar (for decoration)

For Raspberry Vanilla Bean
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pod
1/3 cup raspberry jam

For Cherry Almond
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup cherry jam

For Blueberry Ginger (or other Fancy Jam)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup blueberry ginger jam

Ingredients sans vanila Continue reading Jamdandies the Dandyjams Edition

Introduction to the Undertaking

Just in case there’s any confusion, this is not officially affiliated with Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. This is just the ill-conceived idea of a (probably too-intense) fan. There is an official Robin McKinley blog and there’s an official Robin McKinley recipe blog. There’s even an actual post from the authoress herself on the subject of a recipe collection for everything delicious from Sunshine. (Spoiler: There isn’t one) And thanks to the contents of that post and the diligence of a fellow reader who compiled all the baked goods to be found in Sunshine, I had myself a Julie and Julia moment. Only instead of butter I have Buttermost Limit and instead of Julia Child, I have Rae and Mel and Charlie.

It was Sunshine that got me into baking in the first place. It’s the first book I reach for when I’m sick or when it rains or pretty much any time I have a blanket and tea and a spare afternoon. And every time I blink up from the pages desperately craving pillowy cinnamon rolls, indulgently dramatic desserts or just a really well made chocolate striped cookie. Every. Single. Time.

You would think that the resulting Cinnamon Roll Crusade over Christmas break (the causalities were a dozen or so batches and hundreds of cinnamon rolls) would satisfy even the most curious mind, but foodstuffs like Triple Ginger Gingerbread and Bitter Chocolate Death still tug at my imagination until I can practically taste the sugar crash.

If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? And if you’re here not because you’ve read and loved the book but because you know me and were curious, here’s a snapshot of Sunshine (and why you should absolutely read it): The book is a fictional first person story about a coffeehouse baker. It’s set in a reality where the most desperate patrons of black market anti-were drugs are not werewolves, but were-chickens. It’s my favorite kind of fiction, where life isn’t necessarily made better because of the fictional elements, just more complicated (the way life does). Yes, there are vampires; there is also cosmetic surgery to implant fashionable peri demon features, grotty homeless people, ultra hardy cockroaches, and a very real girl in unreal circumstances. With a healthy dollop of the warmth that can only come from freshly baked cinnamon rolls. If any of those elements appeal to you, read it. If not, sit back and enjoy the pictures.

So here I am, declaring to the intertubes (so I don’t chicken out) that I am going to try and make every food mentioned in Sunshine. This means testing, tweaking and inventing a bunch of recipes. By my count there are 54 food items. Many have delightful names, but not much else. If anyone actually ends up reading and/or following this blog, hopefully I’ll have some help. (Any ideas on what Glutton’s Grail might/should be?) If effort, sunk costs and potential public disappointment don’t prove my dedication, here’s my final gesture of good faith: I have cleaned my kitchen. Only those who have tried to cook in this kitchen and found more food on the counter than in the fridge will understand what a Herculean effort this was. The lack of a “before” picture was very, very deliberate.

Just look at all that baking space!

So now I look like I know what I’m doing, and I (allegedly) managed to produce cinnamon rolls, but there’s a lot of technique and skill in baking and I possess frightening little of ’em. There is also bound to be some stuff lost in translation, so if anyone from the UK wants to slap some knowledge on my profoundly American lexicon, please do. Master bakers, ditto. Any and all aboard, really!

Let’s begin with The List:


  • Banana-Nut Honey Bread
  • Maple Cornbread
  • Oatmeal Bread
  • Orange-Date Tea Bread
  • Pear Gingerbread
  • Pumpernickel Bread
  • Rye bread
  • Tea Bread (Category)
  • Yeast Bread (Category)


  • Chocolate chip Layer Cake w/Butter Icing
  • Ginger Pound Cake
  • Hell’s Angelfood
  • Honeycake
  • Lemon Lechery
  • Marbled Brown Sugar Cake
  • Triple Ginger Gingerbread w/ Cream Cheese Sauce


  • Brown Sugar Brownies
  • Butter Bombs
  • Buttermost Limit
  • Butterscotch Brownies
  • Cashew Turtle
  • Chocolate Butter Alphabet Cookies
  • Chocolate Chip Hazelnut
  • Jamdandies
  • Killer Zebras
  • Scones


  • Blueberry
  • Bran and Corn and Oatmeal (separate or one whole muffin?)
  • Bran Raisin
  • Cranberry and Sprouted Wheat
  • Oatmeal Applesauce Allspice
  • Orange, Carrot and Oat
  • Pumpkin


  • Apple Pie
  • Cherry Tarts
  • Chocoholica
  • Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head
  • Fig Bars
  • Glutton’s Grail
  • Lemon Lust Pastry Bars
  • Meringumania
  • Sunshine’s Eschatology
  • Walnut Sticky Bun


  • Caramel Cataclysm
  • Death of Marat
  • Indian Pudding
  • Rocky Road Avalanche


  • All Day Breakfast
  • Egg and Romaine Sandwich on Pumpernickel Bread
  • Garlic-Rosemary Buns
  • Hash
  • Chili
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Tweedle Dumplings
  • Succotash Pudding

Anything I’m missing?

And for the record, this is just for kicks and crumbs, with all the food names from the brilliant Robin McKinley. Mrs. McKinley, if you want it (read: depending on how this all turns out), there’s a bakery box with your name on it. Just say the word.