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Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts

new christmas tradition

You're in charge of the carbs for Christmas breakfast.  Scones?  You're not inspired.  Muffins?  Muffins are so...the other 364 days of the year.  Look no further.  I don't care what your culinary plans for Christmas were. These are your new plan.

Tammy, loyal reader and hard-core promoter of In Praise of Leftovers, asked if I had a good cinnamon roll recipe.  I said no, but I'd work on it.  Three guesses what I did (and the first two don't count.)  I called my Mom, of course.  She rummaged through her recipe box and laughed that every recipe in there was from her friend Gayle.  Dear readers, that is good news for us.  Gayle is an excellent cook with a keen eye for good recipes. That's a skill I haven't talked much about here.  There's no shortage of recipes in the world--how many thousands of food blogs are there?  The trick is in being able to tell, after a minute of perusal, if a recipe is good or not.  I'm not sure how to teach that, but a lot depends on it.

So my Mom did it the old-fashioned way--she read the recipe to me over the phone, skipping parts according to the shorthand we have, and working up her own appetite along the way.  She made them the next morning, calling to confirm that yes, they were as good as she remembered and yes, I should definitely make them as soon as possible.

I brought them to my sister's house this morning and we attacked them.  Naomi decided to make them for Christmas morning. I'm telling you--these moist little rolls inspire changes of plans.  And you'll end up being more popular than Santa.  I made mine with pecans and orange zest, but can envision so many other combos--slivered almonds and almond extract; lime zest and toasted macadamias; little bits of dried fig and anise.  The dough is incredibly tender, you don't need to bother with yeast, and I'll stop trying to sell you on them. Because I think you might already be changing your plans.


Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts
I like these much better than any traditional yeasted cinnamon roll I've ever had.  In fact, I'm disappointed with cinnamon rolls most the time--too heavy, often too dry, with those annoying raisins clogging everything up.  The recipe, originally from Fine Cooking, directs you to put them in a 10" greased springform pan, which works beautifully.  If you don't have a springform, just bake them in a solid circle, edges almost touching, in the middle of a baking sheet.  You could leave the nuts out and be fine, I think.  My mom put chopped fresh cranberries in hers, and they were so delicious and festive.  Also, I didn't have all the spices around, so just used cinnamon, allspice, and some freshly ground nutmeg.

For filling:
3 Tb. melted butter
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/2 ts. allspice
1/4 ts. cloves
1/4 ts. cardamom
1 c. pecans

For dough:
2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1/4 ts. soda
3/4 c. 4% milkfat cottage cheese
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. sugar
4 Tb. melted butter
1 ts. vanilla

For icing:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
2-3 Tb. milk
1/2 ts. vanilla
finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 400 and butter a 10" springform pan.

For filling:  In food processor, combine pecans, brown sugar, and spices.  Pulse a few times until pecans are chopped semi-finely.  Set aside with melted butter in another bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.  Set aside.

In a food processor, mix cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla, pulsing for about 10 seconds until just mixed and cottage cheese is pureed.  Add flour mixture to cottage cheese mixture, pulsing in short bursts until dough is just beginning to clump.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, kneading a couple times until smooth.  Dough will be very soft and fragrant, but surprisingly easy to work with.  Roll dough out into a 12"x15" rectangle. Brush dough with melted butter, leaving a little border around the edges.  Sprinkle pecan spice mixture over dough.  Roll the dough up lengthwise, pinching ends.  Using your sharpest knife, cut dough into twelve rounds.  I didn't have any problem doing this.  They will squish a little bit, but don't worry about it.

Arrange in the springform pan (or in a solid circle in the middle of a baking sheet) and bake for about 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  This is super essential. 28 minutes max, depending on your oven.

Let cool for about five minutes, then whisk powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest to make your icing.  Drizzle icing over buns, let cool for about five more minutes, then unmold the springform.

Reader Comments (23)

Well, it's a tug but I'm staying with the chocolate-cherry bread I had in mind. Perhaps for another special morning.

My best to you and your family. I'm thinking about that break-in and it's got to be rough.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

i would attack them too! they look wonderful and perfect for xmas morning!

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkms

These look amazing, and I'm reminded not to be surprised; one of my favorite scone recipes has cottage cheese in it! (One does not think, however, that they might be healthy and nutritious, as eating one!) I'll be making them in the next 48 hours.
We missed you at church/Alternative Christmas yesterday, and I hadn't read until just a few minutes ago about your break-in. Big hugs, and we're so sorry! Much of the world is very, very good, and it's a bummer to encounter the desperate side. My best encouragement to Wyatt, and to each of you. You are a special, wonderful, loving family! Big hugs from Gary and Lynn.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn M

I have to make these!
Do you think I can use 2% cottage cheese? I have a big container in the fridge.
I love that there are no yeast, but I might sneak in a few raisins.....(are you a raisin hater?).
Please let me know what you think about the 2%.
Happy holidays.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstacey snacks

Hi Stacey! So nice to see you here so often. I think 2% would work just fine. Probably won't even be able to tell the difference. And I'm not a raisin hater, but I guess I just find there are so many other dried fruits that are more interesting.

Happy Holidays to you, too!

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

My husband has been begging for conchas on Christmas morning for MONTHS...but maybe I'll make these for Boxing Day :)

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCate

they look delicious! i am taking christmas into my own hands and making them no matter what! :)

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

Thanks Sarah! The girls and I made cinnamon rolls with yeast the other day...dry and all the other things you mentioned. Although we did have no problem eating them. :) These will for sure be whipped up for Christmas morning. Appreciate you much.

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTammy

These look awesome. I'm hosting a breakfast before church in January and these are now on the list.


December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEm

Gayle and her amazing recipes have saved me many times...I'll be making these for sure!

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelenarain

My husband is so excited! I am making these right now w/ my 2%!
Thanks for the reply Sarah.


December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstacey snacks

I can't think of a nicer gift than all of your posts bound into a BOOK!!! I'll order my autographed copy now!

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I'm hoping Santa remember I asked for the same gift Pam thought would be the nicest gift of all.
(the first edition of The Leftoverist 2oo9 . I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermfm

what a GIFT you have given us all! the excitement & joy of reading "THE LEFTOVERIST" each day has been a pleasure. trying new recipes & being thankful that you not only share your marvelous culinary & writing skills but also your emotions & dreams for the present & future has been delightful. I'll order my autographed copy as well.
also I agree with elenarain, gayle has saved me many times as well along with your very creative mom. thank-you sarah.

December 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterraeann

Yum! What do you think about making these the night before and baking them in the morning OR freezing at some point? Our toddlers are not yet cooperative kitchen helpers.

December 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLissa

Hi Lissa! Thank you for taking such good care of my son (and all the other students in your care). I hope you have a nice vacation.

I definitely think you can make these the night before--cut them, put them in the pan, cover with Saran wrap. I'd bring them to room temp before you bake them, though.

December 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

My momma's gonna make these for Christmas morning - can't wait!

You had me at "no yeast"! HI! I'm a first time seer of your blog (via foodgawker)... your French Onion Soup drew me in. I will most definitely be making these tomorrow morning! Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Worl

[...] lives in Seattle, is raising two young children and eating lots of leftovers. Try these cinnamon rolls so good they will make you [...]

I made these for New Year's morning and they were divine and so easy! One suggestion for cutting them is to use thread. Just slip the thread under the dough, hold it criss cross over the top of the dough and pull tight. Makes a nice cut. Thanks for the wonderful recipes.

January 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

I just made these for my 15 year old, who loves cinnamon rolls. He gave them 2 thumbs up! I love that I didn't have to wait for dough to rise and I love the more complex flavor than just cinnamon and sugar

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCora

FINALLY made these and they were fabulous. I left out the orange zest from the icing (because I'm lazy) and also left out the pecans. There's a little too much allspice for my liking, so I'd cut it in half next time. Otherwise a very tasty Sunday morning treat! Thanks, Sarah.

January 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersuddenly sahm

I made these and they are heaven! So tender...I must make more! Thanks for sharing! I want to make a double batch of dough and freeze one, do you think it would freeze well?

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

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