I’m pretty certain that I spent a good portion of my late teens in line at Cinnabon with my friends. At the time, it was all new to us, and definitely “all the rage,” well, rightfully so — they are downright incredible cinnamon buns with the most addictive smothering of snow white frosting. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth. For me, cake makes the world go round and pies, cookies, and such certainly do their part, that’s for certain, but cinnamon buns, well for me they are the ultimate. So much so that I often trade the idea of my own birthday cake in for a box of fresh Cinnabon cinnamon buns. Literally. Don’t even worry about singing Happy Birthday; just put a birthday candle in one, and we’re good.
I have to admit, though, that one of two things has occurred since those younger days when I used to eat them so often: 1. The crafty folks at Cinnabon have gradually, as with many food chains, made their product smaller (and smaller), or 2. The cinnamon buns have remained the same huge size, but my appetite and sweet tooth have increased so much that as gargantuan as Cinnabons are, eating one just simply doesn’t cut it anymore. I fear that #2 is the harsh reality, and I find that just a tad disturbing. As seasoned as I was at eating them when I was younger, it would still take me an average of 2 sittings to finish one, and oh the price I would pay in bellyaches, but wow, was it worth it. Always. Remember how amazing that last bite, right in the middle, was?
When I thought about making cinnamon buns this past week, I knew in my heart that I wanted to find a recipe that was as close to the Cinnabon version as possible, but since I’ve never attempted any version before, it was tricky knowing how they would turn out, or how close I could get to the real thing. I spent a lot of time, over the past few weeks, searching for the perfect version, with high hopes of discovering some kind of clone recipe out there, and I’m excited to report that with a little bit of this one and a little bit of that one, these are really, really close!
They could even be exact, it’s hard to know, but I took them out of the oven last night around 11:00pm, and while my little family was sleeping peacefully, I engaged in what was the single-most heavenly dessert experience of my life: warm, buttery, gooey, fluffy cinnamony buns one-minute-old from of the oven. In all of my life I’ve never eaten a gourmet cinnamon bun fresh out of the oven like that. I had my frosting all ready to go (wait until I tell you about the frosting–incredible!), just moments before I took the tray out of the oven. I placed the tray onto the cooling rack, reached over for my little offset palette knife, and smothered one of them in the creamiest, fluffiest, cream-cheesey, lemony & vanilla-y, frosting ever created.
I’m pretty sure I wound up in a semi-conscious state of bliss-and-being at that moment, but I do recall telling myself that it was the best thing I had ever eaten. As in ever. I also recall repeating steps 1-4 a few more times, then putting everything away, turning off the lights in the kitchen and going straight to sleep. I’m sure that did a world of good for my part in the upcoming bikini season, but honestly, it was a force beyond my control.
Now, I know at first glance you might think that looks like too much frosting for one cinnamon bun, but trust me, this isn’t your average sugary-sweet white frosting. This is, I have to say, the highlight of these cinnamon buns — and that says a lot, considering the insane deliciousness of the buns themselves.
As I mentioned, it’s angelically light, lemony, vanilla-y, cream-cheesey, and overall like nothing that’s ever come out of my mixer in the past. I found a recipe online from the “Gordon Family,” through The Fresh Loaf, that was promised to be an actual clone of the Cinnabon dough, filling, and frosting. I actually ended up using the frosting recipe from them, and the actual dough and filling recipe from another source that vowed it was the ultimate recipe (I modified ever-so-slightly). So, as a result of combining some of the best recipes out there, these were as good as I’d hoped and, dare I say, really simple to make. I don’t know why I had it in my head that they would be complicated, or why I’ve never tried it before.
Call me old-fashioned, but baking homemade cinnamon buns for my little girls and watching them eat them up with glee together, makes me feel that same mommy bliss that folding and putting away little wee clothes gives, and assures me that it’s always worth the effort. That’s a lot of sweetness pouring out of a single photo.
If you would like to make these at home, here is the recipe (oh please, friends, make them!):
- 1 (7 g) package dry yeast
- 1 cup (237 ml) whole milk, warm
- 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (75 g) margarine (or 80% margarine 20% butter spread)
- 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3-1/4 cups (410 g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (105 g) bread flour
- 1 cup (220 g) packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons (36 g) ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup (75 g) margarine (or 80% margarine 20% butter spread)
- 1/2 cup (114 g) cream cheese, softened 30 mins
- 1/2 cup (114 g) margarine, softened 30 mins
- 1-3/4 cups (220 g) icing sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla flavour (alcohol-free, if possible)
- 1/8 teaspoon lemon flavour (alcohol-free, if possible)
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Add sugar, margarine, eggs salt then flour and mix well.
- Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, until it is approx 21 inches long by 16 inches wide. It should be approx 1/4 thick.
- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Spread the softened margarine over the surface of the dough, then sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon evenly over the surface, leaving about 1-inch untouched around edges. Gently roll into a fairly tight roll, trying to keep the filling inside.
- With a sharp knife, slice into 12 pieces. Place on prepared cookie sheet about 2" apart. Cover with lint-free cloth, and let rise for another hour.
- Bake in 400°F on rack just above centrer, for about 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.
- Cool on cooling rack and gently place into airtight container when cool.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese and margarine for 6 minutes on low speed (#2 on KitchenAid Mixer).
- Switch from the paddle to the whisk attachment and whip for 10 more minutes at medium-high (#6)
- Add 1 cup (125 g) of the icing sugar and mix for 1 minute on low speed. Add the remaining 3/4 (95 g) cup of icing sugar and mix for an additional minute. Add the flavors and mix for 1 minute on medium-high speed.
- Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Top warm, fresh-baked rolls generously with frosting.
*Microwave for 15-20 seconds to reheat.
[dough & filling recipe slightly adapted from Group Recipes]
[cloned cinnabon frosting source: Gordon Family]
- I came across an 80% margarine 20% butter spread at my local grocer, which is what I used for the dough, filling and frosting. If you can’t find such a thing, go with the recommended margarine or butter.
- Since this recipe was designed as a scientific mission to clone the Cinnabon frosting, you might enjoy reading it precisely as it was shared by the Gordon Family (here). In their words on the frosting: There are several steps involved in the preparation of the frosting. But it is not difficult, and you’ll be surprised at the wonderful results you achieve. For the fluffiest frosting, use Vanilla and Lemon flavors that do not contain alcohol. A total of 50 minutes is required to prepare the frosting, from start to finish. We normally prepare the frosting while the rolls are rising.
Photo Props: For those of you who have an interest in some of the quirky vintage food props I use on occasion, I wanted to share that the props in this post are my two favourite vintage baking items in my collection. The “Scanlon Bakery” wooden tray was something I found near me, in an antique shop in Orono, Ontario. I did some research on the bakery’s history (my history fascination is always in the back of my mind when antique shopping!), but all I could find at first attempt, was that it was a family-run bakery on Yonge Street in Aurora, Ontario (north of Toronto).
I read that a couple bought it and operated it in the 1960’s, which suggests that it’s been around a lot longer than that. I only discovered this last year (even though I’ve had it for several years) when I read an obituary for that woman. The tray used to sit on my kitchen counter with cookbooks in it, but I’ve since minimized the counter, and was happy to tie it into a photo shoot. Now who were the Scanlons and when did they open this bakery (which is no longer known as Scanlon Bakery)? This inspires me to go do more research and learn more about the original owners and when the bakery was opened initially. If I had more time, I could exercise my genealogy skills, and get to the bottom of it!
*Update: For those of you on the edge of your seats about my Scanlon Baking tray ;), I discovered that in 1950, there were 8 Scanlon Bakery locations across the Toronto area. I wonder which one it was from!
The “Sucre” tin is a gem I found, also in Orono (at a different shop), and is something they picked up from Montreal. Sadly, I don’t know anything else about it, aside from the fact that it rocks my world. It sits on my kitchen counter filled with sugar, next to my huge glass jar of flour. Just in case you were curious!
Good luck & enjoy!