THE Best Cinnamon Rolls….. A Family History Tribute

ok folks.

I KNOW what foods are healthy. I really do.

BUT———> Every now and then, I do indulge in an American favorite.


The presumed origin of Cinnamon Rolls is Sweden, of which, I have many ancestors.  But you can find variations of this sweet pastry all over Europe, down through France and Germany rank at the top.

And the particular recipe I am going to share with you today is from a woman that ultimately is the reason I am here today! I am going to share with you just a few tidbits of fun family history in addition to this recipe. WHY???? Because I have discovered through my training in Culinary School (yes, I did a two year Culinary Program) and from coaching people to eat healthier—- that the skill of cooking is being lost. More and more we rely on commercial bakeries and plastic wrapped packages and colorful boxes to deliver our foods. When really, you can make anything from “scratch”! And no—– “scratch” is not an ingredient. Some of you may scoff that I even mention that- but I have had a young mother ask me what “scratch” was. I am NOT kidding. And I have learned NOT to assume that people know anything about cooking any more!

But for most people, unless they have the opportunity or desire to attend a culinary school program, the art of cooking and understanding your way around the kitchen and making things from scratch are simply handed down, from parent to child, as just another byproduct of teaching by example in the family setting. What has happened, is that not only are families falling apart which is associated with people not having enough time to cook due to working long hours to make ends meet—- but other families that have the blessing of sticking together are so busy and preoccupied with the speed of life many parents no longer have time to cook and create their own foods for lack of time- relying on commercial fast foods to get by (And I don’t exempt myself….. there are DAYS……). SO—-> the art of cooking is being lost to time. That is the bottom line here. This recipe and way of life has been handed down to me, and I am perpetuating it today, right now, in my house. And boy does it SMELL GOOD!!!!


Onto the cinnamon rolls…….

Now, I don’t like the crusty on the outside, tender on the inside, heaped with white vanilla kind of cinnamon rolls……..

My kind of cinnamon roll is SOFT all over. Ooey, gooey goodness that just bursts with cinnamon and that yeast roll flavor and a hint of vanilla icing in every bite! My icing is a simple GLAZE you put on the rolls when they are still warm so that it soaks into the roll! Nope–no more trying to make the frosting last over the whole roll….. the ENTIRE roll is a treat from head to toe (well, if Cinnamon Rolls had toes…. or heads………) 🙂

So this particular recipe “takes the cake” for me.

Lets go back to the 1860’s for just a second, to where my Great-Great Grandmother was born in Bayern, Germany. Katherine Gessel Sheiss learned many great cooking skills, and taught her daughter Rachel the basics of cooking and making pastries after they immigrated to America in the 1890’s. Fast forward to the 1930’s, and Rachel became the mother of my grandfather, David Christensen who tells great stories of his mother’s cooking. Rachel and her husband Arnold Christensen raised 9 children in Cache Valley Utah. Fast forward to the 1950’s, and David was living in Logan, Utah around the time this history makes it’s debut….. Dave was a muscular young man with a smile that caught many women’s eye— but he was just a touch shy….

Here is the other half:

Shirley Mae Hensley was also living in Logan, Utah and working at JCPenny’s Department store. She had a great friendship with a fellow worker, a rather bubbly gal named Neva Anderson. The two had a great friendship, and enjoyed decorating the mannequins and getting the store displays to look “gussied up” so people would buy things. According to Neva, Shirley had a great talent for making anything look beautiful, and had an eye for great design.

Neva on the other hand, loved music and was known to go dancing 3-4 nights of every week and often would hold impromptu dance parties in her basement! She grew up on a farm, and dreamt of a day when her knight and shining armor would come and take her away and they’d dance through life! She also loved wearing the latest fashions and working at JCPenny’s was a good outlet from farm life. On Valentine’s Day 1953, the small farming community had a dance and dinner celebration and Neva was there (she wouldn’t miss one of those for the world!) as was her friend, Shirley.

David Christensen was also there. 🙂

Shirley had met David Christensen a few weeks before, and she introduced him to their little group and he danced on and off with Neva, Shirley, and a few other gals that evening. At 10pm, the party was to end, but Neva, who had decided that the night could simply NOT end at 10 pm, invited a group to come to her basement for an extended party! David was included, and ended up at Neva’s house that night as well.

About half way through the party, David’s date had gone, and Neva felt bad that he looked so lonely, so she made it a point to dance with him the rest of the night. The next week, David asked Neva to go out with him again, and the rest is, as they say, HISTORY.

Dave and Neva Christensen are my grandma and grandpa, and they live in Cache Valley Utah at this time. 🙂

BUT———> What does this have to do with Cinnamon Rolls?????? I mean, seriously Robyn… come on!

Well, it just so happens that Neva had an uncle, that was just a few years older than her (the youngest sibling of her mother’s, and as such they were pretty good friends) named, Ervin Anderson, who was also invited to that late night Valentine’s Dance in 1953. At which time, Neva introduced Ervin to Shirley Mae….. and a few years later Shirley and Ervin were married as well! Shirley embraced farm life, and decorated their upstairs apartment at the farm house “just beautifully”…. but what many didn’t know, was that Shirley was an amazing cook…… when the families in the little community would get together for potlucks or other family gatherings, Shirley’s contributions started taking notice. Neva and Dave didn’t live in Cache Valley at this time, but Neva knew that Dave loved a good Cinnamon Roll, and had heard rumors of Shirley’s cinnamon rolls from more than one friend back in Cache Valley…. so she called her up and got the recipe!

Fast forward to about 1980’s and I can remember that Grandma Neva Christensen ALWAYS had 5 gallon buckets of Cinnamon Rolls and Orange rolls packed for our annual deer hunt trips and Lake Powell family reunions. We all loved them, but especially my Grandpa Dave! And grandma still makes up a batch every now and then.

So ladies and gents——– that is the history behind these Cinnamon Rolls I am about to share with you. Without Shirley Mae, I’d virtually not be here since she introduced my grandparents, and if my grandfather hadn’t loved cinnamon rolls so much, my grandma wouldn’t have asked the amazing Shirley Mae for her recipe, and I probably wouldn’t have it in my possession today. YOU my friends, are LUCKY. 🙂

Here you are my friends, the ORIGINAL RECIPE (I’ll share my adjustments further down)

Shirley Mae Anderson’s Famous Cinnamon Rolls
(This version of the recipe was written down by Shirley about 1985)

Yeild: approx 4 dozen large rolls

1. In a large bowl, dissolve:
    4 tbsp dry yeast
    1 cup very warm water
    1 tsp of sugar
2. Scald 4 cups of milk and add:
    1 c. shortening or butter
    1 heaping tbsp of salt
    1/2 c potato flakes (opt)
    6 eggs
    2 c. sugar
   10-12 cups flour

3. Let rise til double. Punch down, and roll out. Spread with lots of butter, cinnamon, sugar and raisins if you want. Roll up; cut with thread. Let rise on cookie sheets. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes.

4. Frost with a powdered sugar frosting while warm and sprinkle with nuts if desired.

-Shirley Mae Anderson

Now, if you are not accustomed to making yeast doughs, these instructions may seem a bit vague. But not to worry, I’ve got you COVERED! I’ll walk you through it! I always HALF THIS RECIPE because 4 dozen is just way too much for us. 2 dozen is just right to have a few at home, and take a few plates to neighbors. 🙂 ALSO—–> I did NOT use the potato flakes in this round. Honestly I don’t keep them on my shelves, so i don’t think I’ve ever included them. But I am sure they would make them even more amazing!

Here goes:

Step one: dissolve the yeast, warm water and tsp of sugar. Easy peasy.

 Step 2: Scald milk you say? How about putting the shortening INTO the cold milk, in a microwavable measuring cup with the milk and microwaving it for 2 mins….. works for me! Add it in with the other ingredients!

 Step 3: Adding the flour, cup by cup, making sure to get it JUST sticky enough to pull away from the sides—- but NOT so much that it is already a ball of dough and too hard to mix by hand. HAND MIXING is my trade secret. No big mixers in my house for yeast doughs. NOW—–> If I was making a hundred of these a day or something, yes. You’d find one in my kitchen. But for right now, this is MAGIC!

 Step 4: After the dough starts pulling away from the sides, and starts to be a lot less sticky, its time to flour up a circle on your counter top and turn out that dough for some beating! haha!

 Step 5: KNEADING. You will probaby add another 1/2 – 1 cup of flour during kneading if your dough was soft enough coming out of the bowl. I knead for about 2-3 minutes until the dough  has a nice smooth finish as you see here.

 Step 6: Then BACK into the bowl it came out of for RISING! I spray the inside of the bowl with non-stick spray so it will come out easy, and I spray the top of the dough as well, so it wont stick to the plastic wrap I cover it with. I have found that plastic wrap keeps in the heat of the dough and helps it rise faster. 🙂

 Step 7: RISING! My dough usually takes less than an hour. I like to put it in a nice sunny spot or a place my heat will blow on it. With the plastic wrap, I have no worries of it drying out.

 Yes, this is my dough next to my sliding glass doors on a December afternoon. 🙂

Step 8: A five year old boy is a great addition to this process as well. Just sayin’….
Gently press your dough down into the bowl to release the alcoholic, yeasty smell from the bubbles in the dough. Then put a little flour on the counter and roll that baby out!

 Step 9: Spread your large rectangle (I roll mine out to about a 1/3″) with butter, LOTS of cinnamon, and for this batch, I did just over a cup of brown sugar. (NEVER WHITE sugar… it just doesn’t taste the same!)

Step 10: ROLL em up, pinch the seam together and CUT em! String, floss, thread— they all work great to cut soft roll dough. Have fun!

Step 11: Place cut rolls onto a greased cookie sheet or “jelly roll pan” to be precise…. 🙂 And I always flatten them with the palm of my hand to give them some spread so they don’t just rise out the top like Mount Crumpit….. 🙂 I love a nice wide roll… not a tall one….

Step 12: NOW is the time I actually turn on the oven to 350 F. And I let these babies rise for about 15 minutes, or until the oven is ready.

Step 13: While the rolls bake, and I know Shirley’s recipe says 20-25 minutes, mine always only take about 17 minutes… so watch your first pan to see when they are done! They will be JUST a bit browned on the top and bottom. And should bounce back immediately when lightly poked when they are ready. I also clean up the kitchen at this time. I find that a large chef’s knife is quite handy for scraping off the dough/sugar residue on my counters. I KNOW, I know. There are other handy kitchen knick-knacks that do that too…. but this is how I do it. And it works for me. 🙂

Step 14: The ROLLS are out of the oven, and looking amazing!! TIme for the glaze!

I simply put about 1.5 cups or so of powdered sugar into a bowl, and add about a tsp of Vanilla extract, and probably about 1/4 cup water and mix with a spoon. IT WILL BE LUMPY. But mix until the lumps are fairly small. Then just pour over the rolls as you see here.

Step 15: EAT THEM. Oh my goodness. 
And this is the END RESULT:

Sooooo……. who is going to make these now?????
Let me know if you do and post a picture!