Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Coffee

As I write this blog post, it's early Monday morning. The work week starts again (as if it ever really halted). My to-do list overflow-eth. And I need a cinnamon roll!

Today, I'll have to settle for the virtual kind as it's a writing, not a baking day. I'm fortunate enough to be part of a writer's group that will meet this afternoon. The other writers will be critiquing chapters from a culinary novel I'm working on.  And I have to critique their work as well.

Even constructive criticism, kindly given and much appreciated, can take a bit of a psychic toll.

So I need another cinnamon roll with a good cup of dark coffee.  Or maybe a cinnamon roll that combines the two, as in these Coffee Lover's Cinnamon Monkey Bread Rolls. Sigh. . . .

So all this leads me to the topic for this blog post--ingredients. Especially those that play well with cinnamon.

First up is cinnamon. It used to be so easy to select a cinnamon for baking. Now we're spoiled for choice.

Indonesian cinnamon (at the 6-o'clock position in the photo), the typical grocery store variety, is lighter in color and milder in flavor--with a slight citrus tone--than other cinnamons.  China Cassia  (at the 3-o'clock position in the photo) has more of a reddish tinge and a medium cinnamon flavor. My personal favorite, Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon (at the 9-o'clock position in the photo), has a darker color and a robust cinnamon flavor.

Dark brown sugar with cinnamon heightens the cinnamon flavor, while light brown or granulated sugar with cinnamon gentles it.

The deep flavor of chocolate can add another dimension to cinnamon rolls if you use it with a light hand. Too much chocolate, and it overwhelms rather than complements. Mexican chocolate, available in the Hispanic section of the grocery store and at gourmet shops, already combines chocolate with cinnamon and sugar as it's meant to be grated for Mexican hot chocolate.

Here you see the Ibarra or grocery store brand on the left as well as artisan Mexican chocolate you could find at a gourmet or chocolate shop on the right. The chocolate comes in disks or tablets that you then grate.

Here, you see grated Mexican chocolate on top of a typical cinnamon roll filling of cinnamon and brown sugar.

To let the filling flavor shine through, I'd use a simple vanilla-flavored glaze at the end.

There's another way to add chocolate--and coffee-- to cinnamon rolls. I found these espresso chocolate chips from the King Arthur catalog. I simply dot them on a cinnamon filling, then finish with a vanilla glaze.

Substituting brewed coffee for other liquid in a typical confectioner's sugar glaze, as the Pioneer Woman likes to do, adds a nuance of flavor that complements traditional cinnamon rolls.

Now, I feel better--part wake up and part comfort.  Ready to start the day. Ready for whatever this writing life throws at me.  

And I hope you feel the same.

Check out I Love Cinnamon Rolls! on

Behind the Scenes at a Cookbook Photo Shoot

I count myself very fortunate to still be writing cookbooks since my first--a Kansas City restaurant recipe cookbook--was published in the 1990s. 

Back in the day, cookbooks didn't include color photographs. As a writer, you had to describe the dish as best you could--and hope the reader was happy with the result.

Now, color photography provides that extra connection like an electric current between the reader, the food, and the cookbook author. When the photos are so vivid and warm and delicious that everybody wants to lick the page, you know you've got the real flavor of a book.

I want to take you behind the scenes of the photo shoot for I Love Cinnamon Rolls! last November in Kansas City.  

The rolls you see on the cover are Szechuan Pepper Cinnamon Rolls with Fresh Ginger Glaze. (And a deep, dark secret--they're made with doctored-up Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix.)

But to get that cover shot, you need people.  First of all, the writer (me) who has dreamed up the recipes.  Eagle-eye editors--Jean Lucas and Lane Butler. 

Then, art director Julie Barnes who knew the best "look" for the Andrews McMeel book and had assembled all the props. Here you see her with a vintage aqua baking dish on a burnt orange cloth.

Food stylist, Trina Kahl, made the food look great. And the amazing Ben Pieper photographed it at his studio.

Here is the Moroccan Rose Petal Cinnamon Roll recipe (an intriguing combo of cinnamon and black pepper in the filling, rosewater in the icing) that I made at home. This candid photo is the cookbook equivalent of being a movie star seen in public without make-up.

And here you see the same recipe after it has been art-directed, food-styled, and professionally photographed.

Lots and lots and lots of cinnamon rolls, both real

And virtual.  Lights. Camera. Action!

All in a day's (okay, a metaphorical day's) work.

Moroccan Rose Petal Cinnamon Roll Crescents

Thin Strudel Dough
This is the dough to make when you want thin, somewhat crispy layers in the Eastern European tradition of Rugelach. 
Makes 6 jumbo, 12 large, 16 to 20 medium, or 48 to 64 mini cinnamon rolls
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 ½ teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast
1. In a 4-cup measuring cup, combine the milk, sour cream, butter, sugar, and salt. Microwave on High for 1 ½ minutes or until warm. Whisk in the eggs.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment , place the flour and yeast. Add the liquid ingredients. Mix on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until the dough forms a soft ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Remove the paddle attachment and switch to the dough hook. With the mixer on low, start kneading the dough with the dough hook.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour from time to time to  keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. When the dough is smooth, not sticky, and springs back when you press it with your finger, you’ve kneaded enough (about 3 to 5 minutes). Place the dough in a large, oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place at room temperature (about 70 to 75 °F) for 45 to 60 minutes or until it has almost doubled.
4.  Then, proceed with a cinnamon roll recipe.

Moroccan Cinnamon Rose Petal Crescents
First you taste the elusive flavor of rose, then the spiciness of cinnamon, and at the end, a faint heat from the pepper. In Tunisia and Morocco, a dried combination of rose, cinnamon, and black pepper is known as baharat. I’ve substituted a combination of fresh rose petals in the filling and rosewater in the glaze. At the base of each petal is a white, bitter “heel” that needs to be snipped off before using. Enjoy these with a small glass of Moroccan mint tea.
Makes 64
1 recipe Thin Strudel Dough (above)
Moroccan Cinnamon Rose Petal Filling:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 cup edible rose petals, white “heel” snipped off, packed
Rose Glaze:
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon rosewater
Tiny drop of pink food coloring, optional
1. For the filling, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and pepper.  Set aside. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cut the dough into fourths. Roll out each fourth on a floured surface to 12-inch circle. Sprinkle each circle with ¼ of the cinnamon mixture and scatter with 1/4 of the rose petals. Pat the filling into the dough. Cut each circle into 16 triangles. Starting at a wide end, roll up each triangle into a tight crescent. Place on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Cover with tea towels and let rest in a warm place for 45 minutes (they don’t rise much). Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
4. For the glaze, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, rosewater, milk and food coloring together in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the warm rolls.