Anyone can make a good cinnamon roll. A box of Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix makes the task so easy, you could almost make a serviceable roll in an Easy Bake Oven (not the kind that uses a light bulb, however; I tried!).
The art comes from making the perfect cinnamon roll, and that requires knowing a few essential secrets. Lenexa-based author Judith Fertig shares quite a few of those in her new hardback book, I Love Cinnamon Rolls ($19.99 Andrews McMeel Publishing), which was released last month.
"You can't overwork the dough or it will leave the finished rolls tough and chewy," says Fertig, who cringes when she watches a neophyte roll maker "knead" the dough by aggressively punching and folding it. "You knead it lightly so the dough is light and fluffy even before it rises."
Another secret? Be very, very picky about the cinnamon. The spice we know as cinnamon is ground from the inner bark of shrubby trees (several varieties, all in the genus cinnamomum; a prized commodity since biblical times, it's mentioned in the Book of Exodus). But different locales, Fertig says, produced very different qualities of the spice. Fertig prefers the darker Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon for baking: "It has the most fragrant aroma, very bold and spicy," she says. Next is Chinese cinnamon, which has a reddish-brown cast, followed by the more mellow Indonesian cinnamon and the slightly citrusy Ceylon cinnamon. It's rare for bottles of cinnamon in the supermarket to list the country of origin, but certain spice shops, like Penzey's Spices (7937 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park) that sell in bulk, will have specific cinnamon selections from Vietnam, Ceylon, Indonesia and China.