A Satisfying Swirl: Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls
Chef Sydnors Cinnamon Rolls. Photo by Anastasia Murphy

One of the many joys of food is its ability to evoke memories through taste, smell, and experience of prepping it. The scent of the sweet spice of cinnamon rolls may cue up memories of baking alongside grandma, just as barbecuing in the August heat signals that a new school year is about to begin. As for cinnamon rolls, this American favorite can induce various visions from childhood — breakfast after a slumber party with friends, the joy of popping open a store-bought refrigerated canister of dough, or stealing packets of icing for some self-indulgence. Like many of us with personalized memories of the confection, the way rolls have been and are made and eaten differs by geographical region.

Cinnamon — the spice that makes the roll what it’s known for — is believed to have been introduced by Roman spice traders to Europe. The Sri Lankan cinnamon spice eventually made its way, in the 17th century, into what we now call a cinnamon roll, though it was used in similar treats before then.

Generally, a cinnamon roll is made of a yeasty, leavened dough brushed with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, then rolled up like a log, sliced, and placed, with ample space in between, on a baking tray. From there, it’s baked then drizzled with a sugar glaze while warm or frosting once cooled. Occasionally, some are topped with raisins, others with chocolate chips. 

Also called a cinnamon bun, cinnamon snail, or even a kanelbolle in Sweden, the Swedes claim responsibility for the first iteration of the cinnamon roll. Rolled up pastries had been enjoyed for years until Swedes added cinnamon, giving rise to the kanelbollewhich has a unique flavor profile because of the use of cardamom. Haga, a district in Sweden, is well known for its very large cinnamon rolls, which measure a foot across. One remarkable version from Sweden is called a butterkaka (butter cake) or, in Finland, a Bostonkakku (Boston cake), which comprises multiple cinnamon buns baked close together in a round cake pan. The result is one grand cinnamon roll cake.

In the 1920s, cinnamon rolls were introduced to America, specifically the South, where they gained popularity and spread nationwide. In 1999, October 4th was deemed National Cinnamon Bun Day. Many countries and even states have different opinions on the best way to bun. Residents of states in the American Midwest, particularly Nebraska and Kansas, enjoy cinnamon rolls with a bowl of chili. In Canada, the preference is to self-glaze rather than enjoy pre-iced buns. And the dose of cinnamon used in Canadian cinnamon rolls is so high that the buns are known to be spicy and hot. 

Many argue about the best way to consume a roll. Some argue outward in, saving the soft core for last, and others say go for the gold, eat the center first. However it’s devoured, a cinnamon roll is best enjoyed with memories or creating new ones.

Chef Sydnors Cinnamon Rolls

Recipe: Cinnamon Rolls