Today, I’d like to talk about cinnamon rolls and ugly cookies. The two don’t seem related, but bear with me. First, I’d like to introduce you to my Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls:
Aren’t they beauties? This is the tried-and-true recipe from my childhood. Don’t expect me to share many of my Mom’s recipes. She has her secrets. She has a sugar cookie recipe that you’d have to literally marry into my family to get.
They’re pretty no-nonsense as far as cinnamon rolls go. There aren’t any extravagant steps or ingredients. For me, these have the comfort of knowing exactly what to do and exactly what I’m going to get each time. I don’t tend to make the same recipes over and over again. I’m always on to something new. But these…these are worth repeating.
Cutting cinnamon rolls can be a little tricky. You want to cut through them without squishing them into odd shapes and/or losing your filling. A bread knife with a thin blade works nicely for this (see pic of the one I use below). Just don’t be tempted to push down while cutting. Saw back and forth for that perfect cinnamon roll swirl.
I’ve seen “kitchen hacks” (the term makes me cringe) about using dental floss to cut cinnamon rolls. Maybe it works, but all my floss is minty and I have a knife in my kitchen that works.
This recipe does take some time (1.5 hours rise and rest time in addition to prep time), but these are well worth the effort. I bake mine on a silpat (link [here]) to save me cleanup time after that ooey, gooey brown sugar caramelizes on the cookie sheet.
Once they’re baked and cooled, each cinnamon roll is slathered in cream cheese icing. And I mean slathered. The one departure I make from my mom’s original recipe is that I DOUBLED the amount of cream cheese icing. So feel free to be generous. When you start to feel like maybe there’s too much icing on the cinnamon roll, that’s when it’s about the right amount. 🙂
So, ugly cookies. This a term that is well known in my family. My mom also loves to bake (Hi, Mom!). Christmases were always a whirlwind of flour and butter with sweet smells hanging in the air. My mother would (and still does!) make dozens and dozens of cookies to gift to family and friends. But…there was no eating any of the deliciousness happening in the kitchen before the holiday. There was one and ONLY ONE loophole to this: the ugly cookie.
Only the pretty cookies could be gifted. We would wait eagerly, listening for an “Oh, shoot!” or a “Well, that’s not good!” from the kitchen. THIS was the sign that at least one cookie had achieved ugly cookie status. The ugly cookies could be eaten immediately by whomever was fast enough to get there first. When I was in college, I received a care package one December brimming with this goodness. I opened the box and squealed “UGLY COOKIES!!!” with glee, causing my roommates to question my sanity. Moments later, their own ugly cookies in-hand, my roommates were in full agreement.
The ends of my Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls? Those are your guaranteed ugly cookies. Don’t throw those babies away. Bake them up in their misshapen, uneven glory. Those don’t need to go on a serving tray. Those are for you…and with enough cream cheese icing, they’re not even ugly anymore. Enjoy.
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Mom's Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 pkg yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
- 1 cup warm whole milk (105-110F)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups flour
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3 Tbsp ground cinnamon (see note)
- 1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature (4 ounces)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Combine yeast with warm milk (see note). Set aside for five minutes.
- In a mixer bowl, mix sugar, melted butter, eggs, and flour. Add milk mixture and mix until combined.
- Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in covered bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.
- After dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16"x21" rectangle (about 1/4" thick).
- Spread softened butter over entire surface of dough using an offset spatula. Top with brown sugar and cinnamon (see note).
- Roll dough from its long edge. Cut into 14 rolls (each about 1.5" wide; see note). Place rolls on parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets. Cover and let rest 30 minutes. The cinnamon rolls will not rise much during this time.
- Preheat oven to 400F. Take the end of each cinnamon roll and tuck underneath so that they don't unroll while baking. Bake cinnamon rolls 10-15 minutes or until golden.
- Cool cinnamon rolls completely on pans on wire racks before removing from the pans (caramelized sugar will be HOT and warm cinnamon rolls are likely to unroll).
- Combine cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until smooth.
- Sift powdered sugar into bowl, one cup at a time, mixing to combine after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix to combine.
- Spread cream cheese frosting on top of cooled cinnamon rolls. This recipe makes enough frosting for a generous helping on each roll. 🙂Enjoy!