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13 December 2009

gluten-free cinnamon rolls, an update

these didn't work at all

I may be getting sick of cinnamon rolls.

For the past week, I have made at least seven batches of gluten-free cinnamon rolls. Sometimes I have made them with Little Bean standing on a chair at my side, and I have talked with her as I combined flours and tossed in softened butter. Other times, I waited until she was napping, to go faster, racing against the waning light outside.

Not one of them has been perfect. They've all tasted good-to-great. None of them will be the final recipe we will post on this site next week.

However, I have learned something important from every single batch. That's part of why I love baking — the celebration of what is happening under my hands, instead of wishing for something different. None of this has been a waste.

The ones you see above were my attempt at adapting The Pioneer Woman's famous cinnamon rolls. I love Ree. (Lord, let's face it, who doesn't at this point? Did you know that her book hit The New York Times bestseller list? And that one recent post on her website got 28,000 comments? The woman is a powerful small nation on her own.) Meeting her in San Francisco was one of the true delights of that trip. She is as authentic and funny-as-hell as I thought she might be from reading her site all these years.

(I have to tell you that I have this little dream that Ree will invite me, Danny, and Little Bean out to the ranch some day. We'll experience a life we never imagined living and Danny will cook them world-class meals all week. I wonder if they'd mind being gluten-free for a few days?)

Anyway, Ree's cinnamon rolls are hugely popular, gooey with glaze, and look like my Platonic idea of cinnamon rolls. She also had this unusual method I had never encountered to put together these puppies. She heats up milk, oil, and sugar, lets the yeast sit on top to bloom, then adds 8 cups of flour. (Yep. 8 cups. Her recipe makes 40 to 50 cinnamon rolls.) After the dough rises for an hour, Ree adds baking powder, soda, and salt, and rolls them out.

Hm.

What drew me to the recipe, aside from the enticing photographs, is that the ingredients list is structurally the same as the first batch of cinnamon rolls I baked. Add back the dairy and there it is — the same recipe, essentially. So I cut the recipe to 1/4 of its original size. (Who needs 40 to 50 cinnamon rolls that don't taste good, if it didn't work?) I converted the all-purpose flour to my favorite blend, weighed it out, and started to bake. Full of anticipation, I waited for the dough to rise.

Yeah, that didn't work. As you can see from the photograph, these were mis-shapen, lumpy, and not at all attractive. The problem was using this method with gluten-free flours. The first-rise dough was too firm for me to easily stir in the other ingredients. When I flung it back into the KitchenAid to get them in, the whole thing collapsed. Gluten-free dough is delicate anyway. No need to beat it up.

Well, Little Bean ate a few bites of these, at least.

I still think the recipe might work, gluten-free. Convert the AP flour to GF flours, in the same weight. And then combine them all together at once, instead of a two-step process. Add an egg, for extra protein and binding. See what happens.

Next!

cinnamon roll dough

One of the basic problems of gluten-free baking is that you expect the batters and doughs and final products to feel the way you are used to them feeling under your hands. Did you know that gluten-free bread dough, if it's going to be successful, should be soft, almost like a cookie dough? Took me two years to realize that. After I let the bread be itself, instead of an attempted imitation of gluten bread, then it started to become great.

The same is true for cinnamon roll dough. It took me a couple of tries to remember this: good cinnamon roll dough is essentially a white bread dough.

See that rising dough up there? It's too stiff for a good gluten-free dough. It looks firm and whole and ready to go, right? (It also looks like a brain to me.) Bake up this dough and it's impossibly too dry 30 minutes out of the oven.

Good gluten-free dough has to be softer than you would expect. It took me half the week to remember this.


dough for cinnamon rolls III

This is a good gluten-free cinnamon roll dough. See how soft it is? It's not sticky — that's important. You're going to roll it out, eventually, even if you'll be doing it in a different way than you expected. It's a ball of dough, instead of exhausted parts trying to get far away from each other. But it's softer than you would think. That's Little Bean pushing the spatula into it.

That's what you're aiming for — a dough so pliable that a 1-year-old can reach the bottom of it with a kitchen tool.

cinnamon roll dough II rising

I learned another trick this week, something vital to good cinnamon rolls in this kitchen. I tried rolling out the final doughs on the countertop, between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. With those dry doughs, I got length and width, but I got bupkes for rolling-out ability. That fragile dough irritated the hell out of me. When I tried to cut the log of dough into rolls, it fell apart even more.

Sigh.

However, someone, somewhere (and forgive me that I can no longer remember where in this frenzy of cinnamon, almond flour, and softened butter) suggested rolling the dough out on a sheet tray. AH!

If you don't have a Silpat yet, and you are serious about baking, please buy one. Now. They make any baking easier. More and more, however, I am finding that using these with gluten-free baking is essential in this kitchen.

I began rolling out the dough on the Silpat, covered with plastic wrap. That way, the dough didn't stretch too wide or too thin. Just right, as Goldilocks might say. And then — here is the key part — I use the edges of the silicone mat to nudge the dough into rolling.

Remember (and I had to remind myself) that good gluten-free dough has to be softer than you remember gluten dough feeling. This is part of what keeps the final rolls moist and soft. But if you try to roll soft dough the way you would traditionally, it will fall into mush much easier than you wish.

Instead, let the mat be your guide and nudge it into rolling well. Believe me, this makes everything easier.

butter and cinnamon sugar

Ah, cinnamon sugar and melted butter.

I didn't really learn anything from this. I just like this picture.

Well, that's not entirely true. As much as I love a plain cinnamon roll, with nothing but butter and cinnamon sugar inside, we found that the best rolls this week were a bit gooier inside. Molasses. Brown sugar. Golden raisins. Walnuts. You know — lots of stuff.

the latest batch of cinnamon rolls

By the middle of last week, I had created a recipe from scratch that made these cinnamon rolls. They had a lovely crust, a soft inside, the faint scent of cinnamon worked into the dough. They went fast. Little Bean begged for more. (We didn't let her eat all the cinnamon rolls she wanted, though.) Danny approved.

However, by the end of the second day, they looked like this. Alluring, at first, but starting to dry out.

You might be thinking, "Who saves cinnamon rolls until the next day? Don't they all disappear immediately? And you don't have much frosting on those."

True. You see, I've been pretty spartan about these rolls in the testing. Not too much filling. No frosting, or only a bit. You could put an ooey-gooey goodness in the middle of cardboard and frost it with cream cheese frosting and take a few bites before you decide to put it down. I want these rolls to be good on their own.

And then add the butter and sugar and caramelize the bottoms and fill them with melted gooey deliciousness.

Like these.

ooey gooey cashew cinnamon buns




These were the next-to-best rolls, warm out of the oven. Our friends who eat gluten ate three of these each. They loved them. Danny agreed. He said I was done.

Almost, I said. Almost.

today's cinnamon rolls

Finally, these arrived. With slight tweaks, a new flour, and dogged persistence, I pulled these out of the oven and sighed. Oh yes.

See the crust on the outside? The soft warmth of the inside? These had hardly any filling. No frosting. They were baked on a sheet tray instead of nestled together in a pie pan. And they were wonderful.

Even after all these batches, and failed attempts, and pans of cinnamon rolls sitting on the counter, I wanted these. I could have eaten them all by myself.

I think we have a recipe.

After one more try....

Next week.

47 Comments:

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Ali said...

Shauna,

Loved reading (and seeing) your work in progress. I have recipes like that too; where I just can't quit until I have the end result I am imagining. The flavors, textures, finished presentation are all there for me in my mind...now just how to get there. Sometimes it takes 5-10 attempts and sometimes 1, you just never know!

Cinnamon rolls are one yummy thing to keep creating, huh! ) I have revamped my cinnamon roll recipe to use part superfine sweet rice flour in addition to whipped potatoes. They don't fluff up as much as your last photo shows, but they are still great.

Thanks for sharing all of your baking wisdom and pitfalls along the way! Hope all is well! -Ali :)

 
At 9:06 PM, Blogger Julie said...

Please consider cross-referencing the Cook's Illustrated recipe for "Overnight Sticky Buns" and see if any of their research and results help you in this quest. Certainly, that's the best recipe I've ever found for *glutened* cinnamon rolls -- perhaps there will be nuggets of info in their recommendations to aid you in creating your final recipe. Good luck!

 
At 9:33 PM, Blogger Tartelette said...

I don't know if I am the one who told you first but I remember telling you that rolling my puff pastry dough base on the silpat had been a lifesaver with all the different foldings!!

Can't wait to try these puppies one day Shauna! Thank you for experimenting over and over again so that we can eat well and be happy!

 
At 9:36 PM, Blogger Gaile said...

I love your persistence and desire for perfection! it's such an inspiration. And I love that you say that you can slather cardboard and make it good, but you want these to be better. This is a good way to live life, isn't it? :)

 
At 10:00 PM, Blogger Jen Yu said...

You are amazing, you know that? Your efforts, your determination, your dedication - they all make me love you more. Wow, Shauna. F'ing WOW.

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger Dr. Jean Layton said...

Thank you for being so persistent. Your dedication to the right roll inspires me.
I can't wait for the next chapter in the cinnamon roll roundup.
And I would love to have Ree invite my family to her ranch as well. Maybe we can convince her to hold a Blog Her campout?
Hope all your Christmas preparations are going well.
Love the new pics of Little Bean.

 
At 11:33 PM, Blogger Tammy said...

This is the frustrating thing to my daughter and I as we explore gluten-free recipes ... We'd expect if a recipe is presented with gluten-free flours and such that it would turn out each time. However, such is not the case seemingly. We keep working with each one and some day we'll develop our own methods! Thanks for sharing all your trials and successes!

 
At 2:24 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

If anyone is on the fence about gluten-free baking, you've pushed them over the edge. These look awesome. Maybe one day little bean and my brood will get to share them for breakfast.

xo

 
At 2:46 AM, Blogger Shuku said...

Cinnamon rolls. You know, I never thought I'd -ever- want any (I'm not fond of cinnamon, was overdosed on it in university) but I do want some of these now. And it is so, so good to know that I'm not alone in making mistakes in the kitchen where baking is concerned - never was much of a baker to begin with but I got along fine until the diagnosis, then I just -stopped- baking till I ran into your blog.

I am very much looking forward to seeing how these turn out. It gives me courage to try and fix the unglutened ginger chocolate chip cookies I tried last night from www.101cookbooks (they came out fantastic tastewise, but the batter was way too loose, and I was debating the wisdom of trying them again some day just to get it right. Once again, you've been my inspiration. Thank you!

 
At 4:00 AM, Blogger Meredith said...

Thanks for sharing your work in progress with us, and how your brain is processing the information you have to work with. It helps a lot! I've been gluten free a almost 2 years and I was very proud of my baking skills before diagnosis. It took a while to get used to GF flours and sometimes I still resign myself to dry crumbly food. Seeing that other people have the same frustrations and plow through is a big kick in the pants for me to keep going too! (plus those are some great pictures!)

 
At 5:34 AM, Blogger Suzann @ The Olive Cottage said...

I have loved this story.

I'm new to your blog and gluten free,

Thank you for your amazing recipes and your diligence.

 
At 5:52 AM, Anonymous kate said...

oh good lord, how i am following this cinnamon roll series. it makes me want to weep :) my gluten intolerance has moved into visious candida, and i know it's from cheating with wheat because i'll want something delicious and sweet and can't find anything that tastes like it "should". but i read your post and think: maybe i could actually bake something, and it would be good, and not the crumbly dust or packy brick it has been in the past when i've attempted gf baking. you love ree and i love you :)

 
At 6:21 AM, Blogger K8E said...

Oh my goodness, I love Ree and am so very happy that you've tackled converting this recipe!

 
At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Jenn said...

Great post - I never thought about rolling out on a spilpat, awesome idea! I may have to ask for one for christmas. I applaud you at being able to create so many different attempts in such a short time. I keep having to remember that it is going to take many tries to create the right recipe (and to not get bummed out when it doesn't work the first time), and you seem to have great patience to do this. Looking forward to your cinnamon roll recipe once you decide you've gotten it perfect!

 
At 6:41 AM, Blogger Lori said...

I have to tell you, I breathed an enormous, (and I'll admit dramatic) sigh of relief when I saw that you were working on a cinnamon roll recipe. This is the first year my husband of 4 years and I will not be spending Christmas with our families and over Thanksgiving the DH mentioned(about 5 times) that Christmas morning just wouldn't be the same without cinnamon rolls. I have had no idea what I was going to do, because I knew the recipes I've used before just wouldn't cut it. Your recipes have saved the day so many times before. So I'm patiently waiting for this one, too. And thanks, in advance, for the amazing rolls.

 
At 6:47 AM, Blogger T.S. said...

It is SO COOL to walk through this process with you. It's all the learning without the messy kitchen or tossed food, a gluten-free American's Test Kitchen. Awesome! Thanks!

 
At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna! I too love Ree! After a few attempts at making cinnamon buns - I finally have a great recipe. I too heat the milk, sugar, and add the yeast to proof. As well I use cornstarch, millet, potato and sweet rice flour. These are divine - and great the next day too. The batter is very sticky! I also found that if you whip the egg, you get a fluffier texture. It was almost the texture of an old fashioned donut, but better! If you want my recipe you can contact me at inagawne@islandnet.com Thanks for sharing your recipes! Ina

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger Julie said...

Oh, it was incredibly helpful for me to read about what gluten-free dough should look and feel like. Softer, more fragile. I've been trying to make them look like their gluten equivelant for too long!

Thank you, as always, for sharing here.

 
At 7:30 AM, OpenID glutenfreeislife said...

I can't wait for the recipe! You made me hungry just reading that!

Kim

 
At 7:35 AM, Blogger Claudia said...

Shauna, you should be the Cook's Illustrated GF Tester! They make 50 batches of everything before they find that right combination... so don't give up, don't stop trying. We're all rooting for you!
Claudia

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger B and B said...

Thanks for this most informative and helpful gf baking lesson. I am on my way to buy silpat. I hope you have a recipe before Christmas.:) I would love to surprise our daughter with cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. It is one of her favorite childhood memories from grandma's house and she misses them dearly now that she lives in a gluten free world. It would be a true gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 
At 9:12 AM, Anonymous molly said...

Way to persevere. I'm not even gluten-free, but had to read all the way to the ending, what with all that suspense, plus a healthy dose of gumption in dogged pursuit of gooey. Congrats.

 
At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Andrea said...

wow, Shauna, your persistence is absolutely inspiring, especially with a little one vying for attention. way to go, you are a rock star.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger Laura Sue said...

OMG! That is the sexiest post I've ever read. My anticipation of the final recipe is almost painful. And who knew you read Ree. But as you say, at this point, who doesn't?

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Jenn Sutherland said...

Bless you, Shauna, for doing all this testing for us so that we can all enjoy GOOD GF cinnamon rolls. I know they'll be on our menu for Christmas morning!

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous StuffCooksWant said...

I cannot wait for this recipe because my GF bread attempts have ranged from "rock hard" to "blah". Nothing like warm bread from the oven!

P.S. Please don't tell me I have to buy 42 hard-to-find flours to make these..... please!

 
At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

I agree about the frosting, but I have to disagree about gooey-ness: I like 'em gooey. My mom's cinnamon rolls were the best: cinnamon and raisins and chopped toasted walnuts rolled up tight in the dough, sliced, and put in a pan with a nice healthy(!) amount of melted butter and brown sugar in the bottom, left to rise and baked and there were never any leftover! I have adapted her recipe to be gluten free and although mine aren't as pretty as hers, they taste great.!

On the double rising: I've experimented with two risings in making breads, but GF flours don't seem to need it--no gluten to develop--and it's usually a disaster. You lose all that precious air by stirring it around. So now I stick with just one rising. Saves time and frustration. But it's tricky getting the rising just right, as my many collapsed bread loaves will attest to.

 
At 12:09 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

You know I hate the expression, "Monster of Determination." I will revise it. You are a "Mistress of Determination."

You have the ability to will cinnamon rolls into delicious gluten-free existence. You will dream them into being. I'm sure your house smells divine from all this marathon baking.

We will all be waiting with eager anticipation... Treat yourself to a hot bath or something, huh, mama? Break out the bubbles.

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger suz said...

It's so encouraging to see your trials and almost perfects. Makes all my experimenting seem worth while. Can't wait for that recipe!

 
At 3:58 PM, Blogger Christina said...

I can't wait to see the recipe! This is our first Christmas gluten free and we've alway had homemade cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. Thank you for explaining your process. I'm an avid baker, but new to GF so your tips are so appreciated.

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger Rosiecat said...

I love this post! I would have gladly been one of your taste-testers throughout this baking adventure. You rock!

PS I love these two lines:

"Ah, cinnamon sugar and melted butter.

I didn't really learn anything from this. I just like this picture."

Indeed :-)

 
At 7:40 PM, Anonymous GF PATISSERIE said...

YEY FOR SILPATS!

Without them i would have thrown in the towel & spatula long time ago.

An incredible time saver.

 
At 8:38 PM, Anonymous lisawhip said...

When you crack the dough code, I will use it to make my grandmother's Polish poppyseed roll so my kids can grow up with the same tradition I did.

Now we need a Panetonne for their dad's side ;)

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Kathy said...

Nice pictures for instructions. When
we finally find the perfect combination to make it work, then we
really get a sense of accomplishment, eh? I'm looking
forward to the final recipe.

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for walking us through the process. As I am just beginning to think about GF baking for my son, the insights about the way the dough should feel etc. I can see in advance are going to save me much frustration!

They look delicious! I can't wait to see the final recipe.
Sarah

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Cheryl Arkison said...

You are remarkably tenacious and patient! The whole world, not just those who eat GF, need to thank-you.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger April said...

I am new to eating Gluten free and I have found in the process that not only does gluten not agree with me, but niether does tapioca starch. My final challenge is that my son has a nut allergy and so many supplies and foods that are currently gluten free are made in a facility that uses nuts...

It made me realize that I still have a lot to figure out and work on. In the mean time I just stay away from all grains and even gluten free flours until I get some confidence. I am quite certain that I am going to need to buy your book and get encouraged a bit.

Although since I figured out my gluten issues on my own and had good results (I thought) I wanted to be possitive that I really had the need to be gluten free. I went to a ladies tea and ate all the yummy things that they serve like scones and little sandwiches...yep it all tasted good, BUT that night I was tired and my stomach did not like me! I was glad that my deductions had been right and I no longer can enjoy foods with gluten.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with your post, but I did want to thank you for your honesty out here. It does nothing but help me feel that I not alone in my walk with this!

Thanks!

 
At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Cassie Rice said...

Shauna,

Those cinnamon rolls look great! Also it is true that the dough for the bread has to be more like cookie dough, even somewhat thinner.

Have you tried adding dough enhancer to your breads or cinnamon rolls? It might help them rise a little bit more and it might help improve the texture.

 
At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Sarah Caron said...

Beautiful! I love seeing your painstaking process of finding the perfect recipe. And you made me remember that it's been forever since I last ate cinnamon rolls.

 
At 6:49 PM, Anonymous gaelle@whatareyoufeedingyourkidsthesedays.com said...

Hello, I am new to your website. I'm not allergic to gluten but I am so curious about trying new products to diversify our diet that I will follow you and try some of your recipes! It can only make us feel better to eat less gluten, no? So far, I'm dying to get the recipe of the cinnamon rolls. I love Ree's blog but can't get myself to putting all the butter/sugar/flour she sometimes uses. Maybe if I lived on her ranch and were burning 4,000 calories a day?

 
At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Alisa said...

hi Shauna,
i cant help a darn with your dough as is still am on the just buy the bread or try the mix mode, but I don't know if this will work or not but i was taught to crumble the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together (sometimes would add nuts and raisins and a spoon or so of flour) and sprinkle it or scatter it to say on to the dough. My husbands grandmother made hers that way and her dough was so very soft that we used a sheet like yours to roll it up with(oiled plastic wrap over a tea towel, she was very old school) very similar to a poppy seed roll. then back into the oven with the light on and a boiling cup of water beside it. good luck and i cant wait to see the final result as i have been missing those comforts. i wanted to say that i really enjoyed your book and thank you as you have made it all so much easier to move forward.
Alisa

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Just a thought on when rolling them out.
Back in the 80's I worked at McDonald's, in the days they actually made the biscuits on site. following the directions(mind you the mixing was all pre-measured - open a bag of flour mix, pour in a thing of buttermilk and blend) my biscuits would rise so high for the biscuit sandwiches they'd have to take out the center so it would fit in the wrapper. a co-worker doing one thing different would be flat and not rise at all.
The difference was to not push down on the rolling pin. wrap hands around the handle from under and gently pull down as you rolled. I wonder if that would make a difference on how GF rolls would rise.

 
At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Thank you for working so hard to bring us cinnamon rolls. Yes, Ree is a force of nature and funny too. She lives about an hour and a half north of me, and my daughter, Diva, wants her cookbook for Christmas (cause she doesn't have to eat GF/CF yet, anyway.)

Thanks again.~~Dee

 
At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Christa said...

Elana sent me over, and I am glad she did! I love your writing and cannot wait for the final. Bless your heart - your dedication is amazing!

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very interested to find out your final recipe. I probably will have to adapt your recipe because I can't have yeast, but it is so much easier to tweak the recipe after all your work. I bake more now than ever because I love to eat sweets and bread is my all time favorite! Thanks. Teresa

 
At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Cynthia said...

I found this post from a google post for GF cinnamon rolls. Love your blog. Did you ever get the cinnamon rolls developed to what you were hoping to accomplish?

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger CassidyS said...

I can't believe it! I did the exact same thing this week before even reading your post or cinnamon roll recipe. I've been trying to convert Ree Drummonds cinnamon rolls to be gluten free and have run into the same problems as you. I'm getting really close to my final product. Maybe I should just use your recipe..mmm...
cookingglutenfree.blogspot.com

 

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