Tempting cinnamon rolls

Bob Shaw's favorite recipe plus many more from a new cookbook

Alison Highberger / For The Bulletin /

Published Feb 26, 2013 at 04:00AM

Some people celebrate with champagne. Bob Shaw, Newschannel 21's chief meteorologist and community affairs director, celebrates with cinnamon rolls.

He's perfected his recipe over 20 years, and his cinnamon rolls have developed a following among family, friends and lucky co-workers (see recipe, Page D2).

They're buttery, loaded with cinnamon and brown sugar, and topped with gooey, sweet, hazelnut cream cheese icing.

Shaw's four grown daughters expect them on Christmas morning with a big pot of coffee.

“The girls always like to wake up to those cinnamon rolls, but I think the highest compliment is from my wife. When I tell her I'm thinking about making them, she always says, 'No, don't make them. I can't stay out of them,'” Shaw said.

For someone who's on television every weekday morning, and stopped by fans all over Central Oregon, Shaw is a surprisingly down-to-earth, humble guy, but he can't help bragging a little about his homemade cinnamon rolls.

The inspiration for them came from Shaw's habit of killing time at Cinnabon whenever he and his family went on shopping trips to Eugene or Portland over the years.

“Shopping is my least favorite activity, but the girls love to shop, so I'd be the guardian of the packages, and I'd usually park myself at Cinnabon at the food court. One day I sat there and watched them make those cinnamon rolls, and thought, 'I could do this,'” he said.

The first recipe Shaw tried was disappointing.

“They were too bready. I didn't care for them. I found another recipe, tweaked it here and there, and added my own things to it. Based on the comments I get, I think I've arrived,” he said.

We wondered what people say when they take a bite.

“Most of the time, it's just groaning. Then, after the recovery period, it's like, 'OK, when are you going to make those again?'” he said with a laugh.

Cookbook author Judith Fertig baked a mountain of cinnamon rolls for her new book, “I Love Cinnamon Rolls!” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012), and came up with the ingenious idea of featuring eight dough recipes that can be mixed and matched with various fillings to create 50 different cinnamon rolls.

Her dough varieties include “Easy” (made with a package of hot roll mix), “Old-Fashioned,” “No-Knead,” “Thin Strudel,” “Whole Wheat,” “Danish Pastries,” and even “Vegan” and “Gluten-Free.”

“It was a fun project to do because cinnamon is kind of a universal flavor. Everyone likes it in some way, shape or form. Every step along the way of making cinnamon rolls, there's a way to put your own spin on it, from the pan sauce to the dough, to the filling to the icing. They're very customizable,” Fertig told us in a phone conversation from her home in Kansas City.

Fertig and Shaw shared some tips with us for making great cinnamon rolls.

Measure carefully

Shaw said if he's learned one thing from baking, it's to follow the recipe carefully and be precise with measurements.

Use instant or bread machine yeast

Shaw is used to using active dry yeast in his recipe, but Fertig told us there's an easier yeast option.

“The trickiest part of cinnamon roll baking used to be adding the yeast. If you made rolls with your mother or grandmother, you used active dry yeast that you had to sprinkle over warm water, and every time it would proof, it wouldn't look like what was described in the recipe. So use instant or bread machine yeast and stir it into the flour; it solves that problem,” Fertig said.

Dough rising dilemmas

Fertig said that when she teaches baking classes, people stress about whether their dough has risen enough.

“If you stick a knuckle in the dough and it rises gently back, like a pillow would, then you're good,” she said. If not, let it rise a little longer.

Rolling and cutting

Shaw said the hardest part is rolling up the dough so it's not too loose or too tight, and not too thick.

“Make sure the log is pretty uniform from one end to the other, then measure them when you cut them. I always cut mine two inches; then they all rise to the same level and look pretty,” he said.

Fertig said her students often worry that their rolls look “funny,” and one student asked her, “What if the middle one (in the pan) pops up?”

“Some people are type A and very precise, so I told my student, 'Reach in and press it down if it bothers you.' It's OK for your rolls to look homemade. You can pinch the ends of the log closed before you cut the rolls, but I don't mind some cinnamon and sugar escaping,” Fertig said.

Tools of the trade

You don't need special equipment to make cinnamon rolls, but it's nice to have a serrated knife or bread knife to saw through the dough to cut the rolls before you bake them, Fertig said. She told us she uses one special whisk.

“Part of making cinnamon rolls is the whole process. To me, it's kind of baking therapy. You're doing something for yourself and for your family, and it's more enjoyable to me if I use one of my favorite kitchen tools: a Danish dough whisk. It looks like an old Victorian-era carpet beater: a long wooden handle and on the end is a heavy wire mitten shape that works well for folding doughs together,” she said.

It's only fair to warn you, now that you have some great recipes for cinnamon rolls, and know that they're not hard to make (just time consuming), even hardcore cinnamon roll lovers like Shaw and Fertig don't dare make them very often.

“I make them three or four times a year. These things will kill ya! These are high gluten, high fat, high sugar — everything your doctor would recommend you avoid,” Shaw said.

Fertig told us she's still baking cinnamon rolls and teaching them in cooking classes. She keeps hot roll mix in her pantry so she can whip up some of her “Easy Cinnamon Roll Dough.”

“The hot roll mix is really good. It's pre-measured, but you doctor it up with eggs and butter. I always have a couple of boxes in case of a cinnamon roll emergency,” she said.

Origin of the cinnamon roll

Cinnamon has been a popular spice since Egyptian times.

In the 1700s, cinnamon became a pleasing addition to German, Austrian and Scandinavian baked goods. As people from those countries immigrated to North America, the cinnamon roll recipes came with them.

Rising dough effectively

Dough needs time to rest, and recipe instructions often specify that to happen in a “warm place” of about 85. “To achieve this in a cool kitchen, turn the oven to 100 with the door open. Place your covered bowl of dough on a shelf in the oven, and put a bowl of water next to it. Or make the dough using the dough cycle in a bread machine. Room temperature means about 72. If your kitchen is cooler, the rising will take longer.”

— From: “I Love Cinnamon Rolls!” by Judith Fertig, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012

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