A backstory before the recipe
Years before I crossed blogging paths with the Pioneer Woman, I married a man whose mama was the Queen of the Kitchen. Sarah’s Southern cooking may not have been particularly calorie or health conscious, but it was legendary. Everything she cooked was so darn delicious, I begged for each recipe. I never thought about it before, but many of the recipes I have of hers are transcribed conversationally, written out long-hand with me sitting at her kitchen table, listening as she described the process and details that made her dressing sensational and her country-fried steak foolproof.
It’s been a long while since I’ve tasted Sarah’s cooking by her own hands. Dementia stole that from her among a series of heartbreaking losses and ultimately her life. It is rather beautiful (and brutal) that I first noticed her illness in the kitchen. It was there I sensed something was off long before anyone attached a diagnosis or name. As someone who had apprenticed under her watchful eye, I noticed subtle changes in behavior that were understandably missed by others. Unless you had cooked alongside her, how could you know?
This will be the first Christmas we celebrate without Sarah’s physical presence, but the reality is she hasn’t been with us for years. Confined to bed and unable to speak for the past two years, and unable to cook for more than twice that long. I wish I could remember the last meal she made for us. Had I known it was going to be the last, I would’ve made note.
As sad as all these things sound — and they are — I’m not sad. I’m thankful. Sarah’s impact continues in the lives of many; I know it does in my own. She made holidays special in simple ways that mattered. She taught me the value of tradition. And, one thing I’m especially grateful for is I’m able to replicate many of her recipes! It’s a high tribute to her every time I make her chicken stew, squash casserole, a poundcake, or butter mints . There are many more, but those are some of my favorites.
And at Christmas time her cinnamon rolls were a family favorite. I’ve made them sporadically over the years, and today Stephen, my youngest asked, “WHY ARE YOU NOT MAKING THESE EVERY YEAR??” And with that, a new/old tradition is sealed, and from this day forward I will celebrate my sweet mother-in-love and make my family very happy with the making of these sweet treats. They’re not difficult at all if you follow the recipe, but they do take a little time. The Pioneer Woman’s recipe is similar, a bit more complicated, and makes a larger serving, but Sarah’s recipe is my favorite–mouth-watering and easy. Ready to try it? Let’s go!
I’d recommend first reading through the directions all the way through and then beginning. It really helps to know what to anticipate next.
Noni’s Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients (Cinnamon Rolls)
- 1½ cup milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ cup Crisco shortening
- 2 packages yeast (I use the regular, not the rapid rise, but I guess you could substitute)
- Two eggs, beaten
- 6½ cups all purpose flour, separated
- Light brown sugar
- Butter cut into small squares, about 3 tablespoons
- 1 box of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar (16 ounces)
- 4 tablespoons of butter, softened
- Up to 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond flavoring (this is altogether optional but I love the scent and taste of vanilla so always add it)
- 2-3 ounces of milk (about a quarter of a cup or a little more)
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Mix together and heat to lukewarm the milk, ½ cup sugar, 2 tsps salt and ½ cup Crisco; remove from heat.
- Sprinkle the 2 packages of yeast into ½ cup of warm water. Set aside and DO NOT STIR! Let it float on top of the water. (Important Cook’s Note: respect the temperature of the water you dissolve your yeast in:100°–110° F. Use a candy/meat thermometer if you’re unsure of the temperature. I have had to throw out a complete batch of dough because it didn’t rise, and THAT will bring tears of anguish. Learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make your own! Okay…moving on… 🙂 )
- Add the two beaten eggs to the milk mixture.
- Mix the yeast into the water (it’s okay if there are gooey glops in it), and then add to the milk mixture.
- Pour 5 cups of all-purpose flower into a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir until well mixed. Gradually add more flour (up to 1½ cups more, maybe less). Stir until you need to work with your hands.
- Knead 5-10 minutes until smooth, adding the extra flour a little at a time (if needed). Dough should be smooth, not sticky. Shape into a ball.
- Dump out any flour crumbs from the bowl and oil the inner sides of it (vegetable or canola, not olive oil); then, roll the dough ball around until it’s lightly oiled.
- Cover the bowl and let dough rise until it doubles (away from any draft for 1-1½ hours). Punch the dough ball down and turn in all corners. Turn it over, cover again, and let it rise again until double in bulk.
- Cut dough in half; remove half to roll out and leave the remainder in bowl, covered.
- Lightly flour your surface and then roll dough into a large rectangle (should be 1/4 – ½” thick when rolled out).
- Generously sprinkle the surface of the dough with light brown sugar. Follow that by sprinkling with cinnamon, raisins, and dots of small butter squares. Use your judgement and preference as to how much–if you like a lot of sugar, raisins, and/or cinnamon, go crazy! Skip the raisins if you no likey. You’re the boss of your rolls!
- Starting on the long side farthest from you, evenly roll dough toward you like a jelly roll. It’s okay if some of the sugar mixture seeps out. No harm, no foul. Seal the seam by lightly pressing in, and then cut the dough in ½”- 3/4″ rolls.
- Put in a greased baking sheet or brownie pan, barely touching each other. Cover and let rise again, up to 45 minutes.
- Cook in a preheated 375° F oven for 20-25 minutes. Ice while still warm.
- Mix together powdered sugar, butter, vanilla flavoring, milk, and salt until smooth and creamy. Icing should be thick but pourable. Add a little more milk to get it to your preferred consistency.
- Using a large spoon or pouring from a spouted measuring cup or bowl, generously drizzle over warm cinnamon rolls making sure to drench all nooks and crannies. Mmmmm!
- Dough rises faster in a warm kitchen and may take longer if your kitchen is cold (which I realize is relative, but still…room temperature affects rising).
- Make sure not to overheat milk mixture! You don’t want it to boil!
- Respect the temperature necessary to activate yeast! Too cool, and nothing will happen; too hot, and you’ll kill it. I can’t repeat this often enough.
- The first time you make them, check rolls at 15 minutes; some ovens cook faster than others.
- Serving size: This recipe makes about two 9″x12″ dishes, depending on how thick you slice your rolls. You can always make in aluminum pans for delicious and memorable gift-giving!