Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rebel Mormon Cinnamon Buns, if you want your house to smell like Christmas

Today I am sharing something that's very special to my family.  My roots come from Danish, Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah in the 1800's.  Details are few and hard to come by, but let me share with you the story of one of my most treasured recipes.  Cinnamon buns.  They aren't like any cinnamon buns you've ever had, unless you're related to me.  I originally shared this over at Inspiration Cafe when we were doing our series on recipes from our heritage.  Well, it's Christmas time, and that is the best time to have these, warm from the oven with a cup of hot cocoa.

This recipe was the creation, as far as we can tell, of my Great, Great Grandmother Margaret.  They are what my family affectionately calls buns.  As a child, I was always perplexed by the cinnamon buns with gobs of white frosting at the local mall. Because, our cinnamon buns never had frosting.  What gives?  If you ask me, they're a lot better without frosting.

I wanted to get the origins of this recipe as accurate as possible.  My Mom didn't know all the details so we called my Grandmother Evelyn, and her two older sisters, my Great Aunts to find out what they knew.  Aren't I lucky that I get to call them up for a visit any time I want!!  I cherish my Grandma and love to hear her talk about the "olden days".  

Here's what we know, Margaret was the daughter of a polygamist, and a rebel child at that!  Her family had to send her away to live with another family because she was too difficult!  Sometime in the late 1800's she came up with this recipe.  She made bread two to three times a week and one day decided to make a treat with her bread dough and these buns were born.  In my family, you just say you're making buns, and everyone shows up.

Margaret taught her son's wife, Catherine (My Great Grandma, let's keep all these greats straight, now) how to make buns.  Catherine taught my mother how to make buns (Grandma Evelyn makes pies, but respects the buns), my mother taught me and now I'm teaching my girls.  As far as we know, none of the other children of that old polygamist made these buns.  I am the lucky progeny that gets to pass them on to my young and am sharing them with you. 

It's interesting to me that when people talk about countries that have a deep connection and history with their food, they always say the US doesn't have that.  Well, to heck with that.  I have recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, that still get made to this day, even though they are old timey and a bit different.  I truly believe, that if you look closely, you'll see that Americans do have a historic food culture, but it's something that has to be passed down.  You have to make these things or they will get lost.  Get ready daughters of mine...this will be your legacy in twenty years or so.

This recipe really isn't hard to make, it does require yeast, which scares some people, and if you happen to have a starter, feel free to use it as that is what my relations always used.  I do not have a sour dough starter, so I use active dry yeast.  It does take some time, as with homemade bread, you have to let it rise, punch it down and rise again, but it is so worth it.  And, it takes some imagination because this recipe is....well, subject to interpretation.  Let's get to it!

Cinnamon Buns
1 quart milk (a quart is 4 cups, but I gotta use old timey measurements! Also, this is how my family makes the milk, you boil 2 potatoes really well in 2 quarts of water, then you take out 1 quart of the potato water, remove the potatoes and set them aside to be mashed in a bit, to the quart of potato water add whatever amount the directions call for on a box of powdered milk to make a quart of milk...why don't we just use regular milk?  I don't know!  My Mom says this makes it taste better and is what her Grandma did.  So potato water and powdered milk).

1 C. Sugar
1 Tbl. Salt
2 Tbl. Shortening plus more for greasing the pans and dough
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
1 Lb. raisins 
Light corn syrup (like Karo...well, this isn't exactly the way Gr. Gr. Grandma Margaret made it, a few alterations have been made thanks to science)
a bunch of white sugar and cinnamon

Place your raisins in a bowl and pour over them the hottest tap water you've got and let them sit and soak until needed in a little while.

Grease a 12 quart stainless steel bowl with shortening and set aside...if you don't have a 12 quart bowl, then use a couple large bowls and/or dutch me.  Use what you got.

Mash the potatoes in a stand mixer and to them add the "milk", sugar, salt and shortening and mix well.  Once this mixture has cooled to luke warm, add the yeast and let it dissolve. Mix to combine.

***here's where you've got to go with the flow...this is a pioneer recipe after all***

Using paddle attachment on your mixer, add enough all purpose flour so the dough is like a stiff cake batter.  Drain your raisins and add them in (they don't have to be patted dry, just drain them.)  Mix.

Now, continue slowly adding flour and mixing with the paddle attachment until it just pulls away from the bowl (My mother thinks it took about 12 cups of flour, but she is just guessing as she was using her sifter and sifting it in).  At this point, switch over to your bread hook and knead for 5 minutes.

You could of course, go full pioneer woman (not that pioneer woman) and not use a mixer, and just use brute strength, in which case you stir until you cannot stir any more. 
Place dough into greased bowl.  Grab a handful of shortening and smear it on top of the dough.  Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in size.  This will probably take a couple of hours....depending on how hot or cold your house is.

Punch the dough down.  You do this to de-gas it.

Let rise again until doubled... now, this is where you get all old timey again, you know your dough is done when you stick two fingers in and the marks stay!  If you look up at the picture at the top you can see where my mom tested her dough!

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease a bunch of 9" x 13" cake pans...and by a bunch I mean, as many as you've got.  This recipe will make approximately 4 dozen buns.

Mix up a pile of cinnamon and sugar.  Sorry for the vagueness.  I would say get 3 cups of sugar and enough cinnamon so that the color is light tan, or until it tastes good.  Take half of this mixture and put it in a small sauce pan.  Measure it because you need exactly the same amount of water that you have cinnamon and sugar.  So, if you have 1 1/2 cups cinnamon and sugar, you need to add 1 1/2 cups water.  Add in a large dollop of corn syrup.  This is to make your cinnamon syrup that gets brushed on top of your buns.  Place on stove, stir and bring to boil.  Once it has boiled, reduce heat to low and keep at a low simmer until needed.  The rest of the cinnamon sugar is going in the buns.

Spoon a bunch of cinn/sugar onto your very clean counter tops.  Cut off a hunk of dough.  How much is a hunk...well...let me put it like this, take your hand, grab some dough, that's a hunk.  Now's the fun part.  You are going to roll out snakes with your dough in the cinn/sugar.  Make sure to always have your dough snake rolling in the cinn/sugar.  You want to get them really well coated throughout. Once you feel it is long enough and cinnamon-y enough, then you coil it up and place it in your greased pan.

Now you need to let the rolled buns rise for a little bit, so here's what you do.  When you get a pan filled, set aside and cover with a tea towel. Fill some more pans and set on top of each previous pan, cover with tea towel.  Now that you've got your pans filled, take the bottom one and cook it while the others continue to rise.

Bake buns at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes until GBD (golden brown and delicious).

Once done, brush on your cinnamon syrup over each bun.

And then dump, upside down onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Hopefully if you greased them well enough, they'll just fall out easily...if you didn't grease might have to pry them out.

Let cool until you can't stand it any longer!   Unwrap the luscious coils a few inches at a time and devour.  The best way, is warm from the oven...and maybe dunked in hot chocolate!!  My Great Grandma would dip her's in her tea. 

p.s. These freeze really well!  Put them in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out and you will have buns at a later date when the craving hits...and it will, oh it will.

Grandma explaining that she expects these girls to carry on this tradition of making buns...

Something tells me they long as this mama has anything to say about it.

Thanks for reading!



  1. I still need to make these, I have had a valid excuse though. Now it will wait to winter...if I dont have an oven by then there will be trouble :)

  2. These look delicious!! Your girls are so adorable!! I think I pinned this recipe from when it was on Inspiration Cafe. I still haven't gotten around to making them, but I will.

  3. I remember this post at IC. You are so right about tradition, passing it down, and American food history. We can't let these recipes escape into the past. These look beyond amazing and so much fun to make!

  4. To smell you is to love you. I knew these looked familiar...I remember seeing them on the IC! This must mean we've been dating for around a year now. :P


  5. Loved every word written in this post. I love that you shared your family history and such a delicious recipe to go along with it. I also appreciate the humor you wove in to this post. And here I have to make another confession. I usually love the extra icing on too BUT your buns really do look like they don't need it. You might convert me :)

  6. These do sound great, and I love that they're a family recipe!

  7. Oh my word! I'm known for my cinnamon rolls around here. These look absolutely incredible! And the family history- oh to know family history. I'm definitely going to pin this post and make these rolls sometime soon. So much for my healthy eating plan!
    Harvest Lane Cottage


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