Sunday, September 4, 2011

LAL's Cinnamon Rolls

Quest for the Ultimate Cinnamon Roll: Completed!

A friend and I have discussed cinnamon rolls for months now. In fact, more like a couple of years. Here is the current revision of the recipe.

What we talk about really is how amazing TJ Cinnamons® cinnamon rolls were, and how sad it is that you can no longer get them. We alternated trying recipes. We tried Alton Brown. Tried an old recipe I had saved long ago. Tried one from the Bread Baker's Apprentice. Tried the filling from King Arthur Flour. I've lost track of all the recipes we tried. They mostly make good cinnamon rolls, and our family and friends enjoyed eating them. But, somehow, they always missed the mark. I started to doubt my memory of the amazing rolls, now lost to a fast-food chain, and modified beyond recognition. Googling for TJ Cinnamons® turned up dozens of copies of the same recipe that, just from reading it, I knew by now was not worth trying. So I looked instead for old recipes, and found one called "Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls" by Amy on October 11, 2009.

Finally, this sounded about right.
The key was that the butter is softened (NOT MELTED!!!), spread, and sprinkled with the cinnamon and sugar. I took that recipe, played with roll size and quantity of filling, and have finally produced a roll worthy of the memory. I am even still playing with the roll size, and methods for preparing them for breakfast without being up all night. I still need to compare fully-baked and frozen then re-warmed, vs risen over night and baked fresh in the morning. Here is the recipe.

LAL's Cinnamon Rolls

This recipe is dedicated to the memory of the original TJ Cinnamon’s Original Gourmet Cinnamon Roll®. It’s been too long to recall for certain how they tasted, but the haunting memories of over-the-top cinnamon gooey goodness, relentless irresistible aroma, and heart-warming contentedness remain. We feel that this recipe is standing up to that memory quite well, plus it’s baking in our own kitchen! It is a pleasure unravelling the rolls and devouring them from outside to soft, lovely center. Eat a whole one in the morning with an egg and coffee to balance the sweetness, and I’ll bet you won’t need lunch.


Yield: 18 rolls

Time: variable*

*There are three options for timing, so you can get a good night’s sleep and still have them ready for breakfast. See highlighted sections for details.

**King Arthur All-Purpose flour is a very consistent product, and is the flour that this recipe was developed with. Using that flour, the ingredient measures listed produce a very consistent dough texture, requiring little to no adjustment. Why? The amount of gluten-forming proteins in various brands and types of flour can vary significantly. Gluten formation absorbs water. A higher gluten bread flour will require more liquid than a lower gluten flour like White Lily, and others made from “soft” wheat. Cake flour is right out; not enough gluten. For whole grains, use some bread flour (at least half) also, to keep it light. The bran tends to cut up the gluten structure, which reduces the rise.

***Size variation: Instead of 12”x12”, roll out to 18”x8”. Fill and roll into an 18” long log. Cut into 9 rolls, and arrange in an 8”x8” square pan. Yields 27 rolls that are the same height as the original recipe, with smaller girth.



  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 lb All-Purpose flour, pref King Arthur**
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp yeast

Filling, Divided into Three Batches

  • 3x:  1/3 cup butter (do not melt or mix with other ingredients)
  • 3x:  2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3x:  1/3 cup sugar
  • 3x:  4 tsp cinnamon, pref Penzey’s blend or Vietnamese
  • 3x:  1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon


  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ½ c milk
  • 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
  • lg pinch of salt, to taste


  1. Cut the butter for the filling into pats and lay out on butter wrapper so it can soften for later. DO NOT melt it, DO NOT microwave to soften it. A stone or aluminum surface is especially good at softening the butter.
  2. Grease three 9” round pans, or one 9” round and one 9”x13” pan, with cooking spray. Extend the sides of the pans to about 3” deep by making a parchment collar. If you have a reusable baking liner or removable bottom from a similar sized pan that will fit the bottom, that may make construction easier.
  3. Scald milk (heat to almost/just boiling). Add butter to the hot milk, stir to melt/cool the milk, then add this and water to the mixing bowl. When the mixture has cooled enough to hold your (clean) finger in, add the eggs and salt.
  4. Add flour, reserving 1 cup if you use something other than King Arthur All-Purpose flour**. Make a well in the top of the flour mound. Stir sugar and yeast into the flour well.
  5. Mix with regular beater until ingredients are combined into a mass (about a minute). Flour may be added at this point if dough is too slack for the dough hook to pick up. Switch to a dough hook and knead for 7 min. Add water or reserved/additional flour as required to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.
  6. Let rise until double in an oiled, covered bowl, about 30 min in a warm place. Mix three batches of filling by combining brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon (NOT the butter), and set aside.
  7. Dump risen dough out onto a lightly floured rolling mat. Do not knead, fold, deflate, or otherwise work up the dough.  Cut into three pieces.
  8. Pull and roll one dough piece into a 12” x 12” rectangle. Add as little flour as possible to aid in handling the dough. Non-stick rolling pins require very little, if any, flour as compared to wooden pins. Try to square up the edges, and keep the thickness even.
  9. Spread dough with softened butter to the edges.  Sprinkle with one batch of filling mixture to the edges, as evenly as possible (don’t worry if some falls off).
  10. Roll into a 12” long log. It will likely stretch slightly to around 14”. Don’t bother trying to seal the edge.  Cut with dental floss into 6 even rolls, ~2 ½-inch thick.  Place into the pan in a ring, i.e. no roll in the center. Place twelve rolls total (2/3 of the entire batch) into the 9” x 13” pan, if using. Sprinkle any filling back onto the rolls, but try to leave bare dough edges showing, to keep them pretty. Repeat for each dough lump.

  1. Options:
    1. Make WAY ahead and bake fresh: Wrap tightly and freeze up to 2 months (maybe more). Remove the pan after they’re solid, if desired. The night before serving, set the rolls (in the pan) on the counter, mist with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. They should be doubled and ready to bake in the morning. If not, put in a warmer place and continue proofing.
    2. Make a day ahead: Mist with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Do tack down the edges to prevent air circulation, but in a way that the dough can lift the wrap if it rises that high. Place in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours (e.g. overnight). Set in a warm place until doubled and warmed up, 45 min to an hour. Baking while still cold will result in uneven done-ness.
    3. Make them NOW or fully-bake ahead: Mist with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double, about 30-45 min.
  2. Bake (convection is fine too) at 350° until the internal temp is 190°, about 30 minutes. Cover with foil if needed to prevent over-browning before they’re done. If you’re going to freeze after baking, use foil the entire time to prevent browning.
  3. For glaze, melt butter.  Add sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in milk. Adjust ingredients to taste and to desired consistency.
  4. Allow to cool a few minutes, then invert the pan to allow any oozed filling to flow back into the rolls for a few minutes.  
  5. Options:
    1. Eat NOW! Turn upright, and drizzle with glaze while still warm.
    2. Save for Later, “Quick” Reheat: Let them cool all the way, wrap, and freeze up to a month (this is a guess). Remove pan once they’re frozen, if desired. The night before, put back into the pan, cover with foil, and thaw on the counter top. In the morning, with foil still on, put into a 250° oven. Try 20-30 min or until the aroma drives you crazy. Uncover and turn the temp to 350 to brown the tops.  Invert briefly, in case the filling runs again, then turn back over, glaze, and serve. Or, pull one out and carefully microwave.


  1. These are wonderful! I am the friend that Lynn so graciously shared her newest recipe of cinnamon rolls with and I can tell you that they do indeed bring back memories of T.J.Cinnamons. But somehow I think that these are better and not just because I know that Lynn uses better ingredients. These rolls are special because of the love and attention to detail that Lynn puts into each and every thing that she makes! Try these and I doubt very seriously that you will be disappointed!

  2. I was lucky enough to see these buns being made when TJ Cinnamons opened a store in Macys in Herald Square NY in the 80's. They had an observation window. In addition to the cinnamon bun, they made a pecan cinnamon bun that had a thick caramel sauce in the bottom. Your recipe is like the buns from back then, and where baked in square pans. The only difference is the butter. Instead of spreading the butter out, they put the pats of butter spaced out on the dough with cinnamon sugar mixture, then rolled up the dough. Do you think it would be OK to do the pats of butter instead of spreading it out?

    1. Sorry I missed your comment. Pats of butter would probably work, did you try it? I never watched them being made.

  3. I'm going to try your recipe. But one thing I remember from TJ Cinnamon's was that used a higher quality cinnamon than what was available in the grocery store. As I remember it wasn't a powder, but more of the consistency of crumbled cinnamon. Maybe Vietnamese cinnamon??

    1. Please let me know how they turn out! I have tried a variety of cinnamons, from Penzeys Spices: Korintje, China Cassia, Vietnamese, and Ceylon. Whichever kind you get, fresher cinnamon has a stronger, better flavor. Korintje is the "grocery" variety. Vietnamese has the same taste but is much stronger and better. Ceylon is the only "true" cinnamon, and reminds me of red-hots candy; not that it is hot, it's just a different note. I actually like a blend, and Penzeys blend is very nice. The crumbly consistency would be due to other ingredients blended in, probably to help control it better while spreading it on; good cinnamon is ground into a fine powder.

  4. One of my teachers in school was Jerry Rice. He was the brother of either T or J in TJ cinnamon. They originated here in KC. I always thought one of the ingredients were "red hots" candies.