Dump yeast, dry ingredients, and wet ingredients in the bread machine and use the ‘Dough’ setting for perfect cinnamon rolls.
It’s not the same recipe from the red and white tartan cookbook we pull from my parents’ bookshelf every Christmas Eve. It’s not going to yield fancy caramel topping, but the recipe’s easy and that’s what I want this year. I can turn off my brain and just follow directions.
I add the ingredients in the order the recipe instructs rather than the order I expect. Once the dough has made itself, I turn up the Christmas carols and steel my nerves at step six, the vague ‘let it sit if it looks wrong’ kind of step that everyone hates but recipe writers must feel obligated to add.
My dough does look wrong, but maybe it’s just because my dad always does this step for our traditional rolls. Thinking of him and the rest of my family gathered some 9000 miles away from me, I plow on.
They’re just cinnamon rolls.
I roll the dough in reasonably flat rectangle. This recipe has no dimensions on it, so the ghost of my brother holding my mom’s bright orange ruler to the dough doesn’t bother me. I spread the butter, cinnamon, and sugar mixture onto the dough. The familiar smell fills the kitchen, and I pretend it’s the cinnamon making my eyes water.
Peeling up the edges, I roll the dough into a long spiraling tube. The recipe says to use a sharp knife, but I know the best part of making cinnamon rolls is the snap of a thread meeting air as it pinches out a one-inch roll. I’ll trust tradition, just this once.
The rolls don’t completely fill both pans, so they slump and unroll with too much space. It’s the best I can do with what I have, and it’s the taste that matters, anyway.
I let them rise in the turned off oven and hope it’s warm enough. Today is certainly hotter than the snow that will fall around the rest of my family in just a few days.
An hour later, the cinnamon rolls are still surprisingly small, but I shove them in the hot oven anyway. Soon, smoke fills the kitchen as the cinnamon butter mixture oozes out of the pan and burns on the oven floor, but I cling to hope.
When I pull them out 25 minutes later, they’re still small and sloppy, and now I can see they’re too dense. I pour the icing over them anyway, desperate to save them with sugar. The first bite is gummy and moist in all the wrong ways, and I crumple.
All I wanted for Christmas Eve was a pan of cinnamon rolls just like my family always makes. Instead, I had inedible frauds. I rally long enough to take a photo and send it with the message, “My cinnamon rolls failed.”
My dad responds, “I’ve done that before with old yeast.”
I laugh as I throw out my container of yeast.
I stumbled across a tradition I didn’t even know we had.