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Cinnmon Magic

How one mom bridged the generation gap ... with cinnamon buns. Plus, her chef tips for home bakers.


At the ripe old age of 40, I am feeling old. No thanks to my 13-year-old son, who is, I'm convinced, the coolest kid on the face of the earth (or real close, anyway).

But apparently the coolness factor doesn't travel both ways. He takes great (and increasingly frequent) pleasure in pointing out how little I know about what's really happening in the world of style, music and which 13-year-old girls are attractive.

Optimist that I am, I'm convinced we are going to survive this stage and move into the one where the kid goes back to revering his mom, or at least cutting her a little slack. (Right, Josh?)

The truth is, I have it on good authority (and no, I won't reveal my source) that I'm considered one of the "cool moms" in my son's class. This is probably because a lot of his friends feel comfortable confiding in me. Kids, at least boys at this age, consider you safe if you are a good listener and aren't horrified by what they say. They basically want to be heard and accepted. Some things never change.

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful morning when the expanding generation gap between my oldest son and me actually disappeared. And the magic bridge that spanned the gap was a tray of cinnamon buns.

It was my son's best friend Rob's birthday. Rob is wild about cinnamon buns, and I mean any and all of them, including (yuck!) Burger King cini-minis. I decided that I needed to make cinnamon buns--real cinnamon buns--for Rob's birthday.

After all, the sweet, yeasty aroma of cinnamon buns is a powerful thing. I'm convinced that world leaders in deadly opposition should be locked up together in a room with a couple of freshly baked cinnamon buns and coffee and maybe a few pictures of their kids before anyone starts talking about sending troops anywhere.

The night before the birthday breakfast I prepared the filling and the dough. I still haven't bought a mixer after leaving behind my career as a professional baker, and I'm still convinced that less really is more, that I am better off without a mixer in my home kitchen.

I guess it fits with what has become my world view: There are two kinds of people, those who like to finger-paint and those who don't. Needless to say, I am a life-long lover of finger painting. I love the feeling of paint oozing between my fingers and the feeling of control when the paint itself is right in my hands--without the intrusion of a brush.

The same goes for baking. Getting my hands right into the dough is the surest way for me to be in control of its consistency. And I've come to believe that a mixer only diminishes the relationship between me and the wonderful living creation that will eventually grace my table. I think of the lovely-sounding Yiddish expression "golten hinteles," which means golden hands, when I bake without a mixer. Belief in one's ability to work the dough with one's hands and a love of doing it are crucial to success as a baker. Besides, it's a lot more fun. (Finger-painting haters should, of course, use the mixer.)

With the dough made, I turned to the filling. The first thing you need to know about cinnamon buns and kids is that most kids don't like raisins or nuts or dried cherries or any other fool thing that might interfere with the unadulterated heaven of the bread and sugar experience. Take it from me, save the clever, original addition for some other recipe or for someone who is not your child or somebody else's child.

Finally, before going to bed, I had to do some negotiating with my son. Sleep--as many hours as possible--is the holy grail to 13-year-olds. We won't even discuss the pitiful attempts at breakfast on school days, but weekend breakfast at our house is generally an enormous bowl of cereal wolfed down at an hour that looks an awful lot like lunch time. On this night, after designating the importance of the next day's birthday event, and with the ceremonial acknowledgment that early rising represented a major sleep sacrifice for my son, we agreed that we would go for a 10 a.m. breakfast.

Needless to say, this meant that I awoke at 6:30 a.m. to roll out the dough and assemble the cinnamon buns. I cut them and placed them in three aluminum pans for a total of 27 buns.

Then I had to figure out a realistic way to get them to rise, considering that the air conditioning was cranked to Arctic blast--this was during September's horrible heat wave, and it was already 90 degrees outside at 7 a.m. But you don't spend your entire adult life in the restaurant business without becoming pretty darned resourceful. I decided to crank up the clothes dryer, place the trays on top and heat up my laundry room.

Not a bad idea, if I do say so myself, but it wasn't working fast enough. So after a while, I opened the dryer, which was really warm by then, laid the pans inside and closed the dryer door. (Yes, the dryer was off.) Success!

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