This spectacular cinnamon roll is the centerpiece of our Christmas morning breakfast and is greeted with the same anticipation at our holiday table as the Cratchit’s plum pudding is at theirs.
The recipe relies on using store-bought frozen bread dough, thawed, and an overnight rise in the fridge while Santa makes his rounds. Pop it in the oven while opening presents and the scent of warm cinnamon throughout the house is what a holiday morning is all about.
Of course, the cinnamon roll is delicious and a showy presentation in itself, but for our family, the tradition of making it together means much more.
Beginning almost twenty years ago, my two little toddlers boys had the fun of rolling out dough “snakes” with sweet cinnamon sugar-coated fingers after Christmas Eve dinner. When those little hands became bigger and more interested in video games than helping in the kitchen, I became blessed with the memories of my mom, who has since passed, and my mother-in-law, standing over the pastry board at midnight sharing a private giggle while they rolled out ropes of dough ironically while the Pope presided over mass in the background.
My boys’ adolescent years once again welcomed their participation mostly with the encouragement from their father telling them to “help your mother” but it inevitably became a family project by turning off the TV and playing holiday music. I must have been on the “nice” list these years. Thank you, Santa.
With my boys now returning home from college, I find they have also returned to the kitchen on their own terms. I imagine this is due in part for a desire for home cooking where the fridge is stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables and milk and in part to reconnect where we, as a family, spend most of our time talking and catching up but I’ve also seen another change. A couple years ago in one bleary-eyed Christmas Eve moment where I had already spent the entire day on my feet in the kitchen, I dared to suggest the idea of making drop biscuits Christmas morning instead of the cinnamon roll. It was met with the wide eyes of two reminiscent toddlers - “but it’s tradition!”
And so the tradition continues in our kitchen, amid friendly brotherly banter from spending months apart, where dough snakes wind their way through melted butter and cinnamon sugar, the night before Christmas.
“God bless us, everyone.”
The Best Giant Cinnamon Roll Ever!
- 2 – 1 pound loaves of frozen bread dough, thawed
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon vanilla
Lightly butter a 14” solid bottom pizza pan (non-perforated) with shallow sides. Set aside. On a lightly floured surface cut each one pound loaf of thawed dough into four equal pieces.
You’ll have a total of eight sections from the two loaves.
Form each piece into a rope about 18 inches long.
Brush each rope on all sides with melted butter or roll them in a baking pan where the melted butter has been poured into.
Combine the brown and granulated sugars along with the cinnamon. Place the mixture in a shallow pan or on a sheet of foil.
Roll the buttered ropes one at a time in the sugar mixture, coating it well. We used to call these “snakes in the sugar sand.”
With the first rope, coil the sugar-coated rope starting in the center of pizza pan.
Pinch the ends of a second rope to the previous rope making sure they are sealed together. Repeat with remaining ropes. All the ropes are now coiled together and need to rise in either the fridge over night or in a warm location until doubled in size, around 40 minutes.
Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over the assembled cinnamon roll and sprinkle the nuts on top.
Doubled in size and ready to be baked.
Remember what I said about making sure the end of one rope was attached well to the next rope end? When the dough raised it pulled two ends of apart. They can be put back together before baking.
If there is any more leftover sugar you can sprinkle more on at this point. I usually do because I like my cinnamon roll gooey and glorious.
If baking the next morning – cover loosely with plastic wrap so the dough can rise and expand. The next morning, take it out of the refrigerator. If it has doubled, let it stand 20 minutes to take the chill off before baking. If it needs to rise more, place in a warm location and let it rise more.
If baking the same day as assembling – cover and let rise in a warm place till nearly doubled, 30-40 minutes.
Bake in a 350 degree oven 30 to 35 minutes. To prevent over browning, cover with foil the last 10 minutes.
Cool about 15 minutes before drizzling the icing.
Icing Recipe Directions
Shift powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add vanilla and enough milk to make icing into a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over baked and slightly cooled cinnamon roll. Resist the urge to sample the cinnamon roll before it gets to the table. Warning: this is nearly impossible.
I’ve enjoyed sharing our family recipe and tradition with you! I hope it becomes a tradition in your home too. Enjoy! :)
Updates: The photos below are from YOU! Thank you, lovely readers, for sending photos of your cinnamon roll success using the recipe. I love seeing them and sharing them with everyone else.
Lauren from South Pasadena.
Nancy from Seattle.
Jen from central California. How adorable are her helpers?
Kathy from New York. Love the festive sprinkles!
Nancy from Seattle made two more with her grandchildren for New Years.
Love the monkey bread, Nancy!
Great job, bakers!