Cinnamon rolls are a Bercher family tradition. It all started with my great grandmother, Frances Bercher. Born Frances Schuster in Germany, she immigrated to America with her family in 1908 at 13 years of age. Eventually she married my great grandfather and settled along with other German immigrants in Arkansas, where most of our family still lives today. I never knew Grandma Bercher, but she was a legend in our family and in the town. She was famous for her cinnamon rolls, but even more famous for her welcoming, generous spirit. A devoted Catholic, she baked trays and trays of cinnamon rolls for parish functions. Sugar was rationed during the Depression before Word War II, but that didn’t stop her. She and Papa Bercher tended a vegetable garden in their yard and people would bring their sugar to trade for home grown produce so she could continue baking for the community.
My mother has memories of going to Grandma Bercher’s house for kaffeeklatsch, where the women of the family would bring their children and gather for kaffee (German for coffee) and klatsch (a bit of gossip). The large dining table was completely covered with trays of cinnamon rolls, baked in every pan she owned. Grandma Bercher was a pinch and dash cook and never measured her ingredients. No one in the family could ever seem to recreate the magic of her baking. Everyone always said it was Grandma Bercher’s loving spirit that made the cinnamon rolls taste so good.
I was born 10 years after she passed away, but my mom carried on the cinnamon roll tradition. My mom didn’t bake cinnamon rolls at home, though. Instead, we picked them up from the local German bakery. We always had cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, a ritual I continue with my family today. I’ve taken Grandma Bercher’s cinnamon rolls recipe and made it my own. The technique is the same; mostly it’s just a couple of ingredients that have changed. I use real butter while she would have used shortening, plus I’ve added vanilla and nutmeg, which probably would have been a luxury during her time. Whenever I bake these cinnamon rolls I’m reminded of her legacy. I think of her kind, generous spirit and find comfort in the thought that her best qualities are in me too.
Grandma Bercher’s Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12 rolls
My great grandmother, Frances Bercher, was famous for her cinnamon rolls. I’ve taken her recipe and made it my own, carrying on the cinnamon roll tradition for my family. Don’t be daunted by the process, baking your own cinnamon rolls from scratch is simple and this recipe foolproof. These rolls are best eaten just after coming out of the oven, but will also be delicious stored in the fridge and reheated the next day. Just make sure to spoon over the glaze immediately before serving.
For the Dough
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) plus 1 teaspoon whole milk
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) water
- 3 1/2 cups (450 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 teaspoons (or a 1/4 ounce pack) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (55 g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter, room temperature (soft)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Vegetable oil for greasing
- 8 tablespoons (115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature (soft and spreadable)
- 1/4 cup (55 g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (65 g) raisins
- 3/4 cup (90 g) powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons (40 g) melted butter
- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons (20-30 mL) whole milk
Heat the water and 1/2 cup of the milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat until warm. (The liquid should be no warmer than a baby’s bottle.) If it gets too hot, pour it into another container and stir until just warm.
Pour 2 1/2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and nutmeg into a large bowl and whisk to combine evenly. Break the butter into small pieces and use a spatula to stir it into the flour mixture until the texture is crumbly and the butter is well combined with the flour. Pour over the warm milk and water, stirring until combined, then beat in the vanilla and one egg for a few seconds until the mixture is fully incorporated.
Add more of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. It should be soft and easy to handle. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Shape into a ball. Grease a large bowl with oil and add the dough, turning to grease all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with butter. Gently punch down the dough, then roll it out on an oiled surface to an 18 x 10 inch rectangle. (If you rub the countertop down with vegetable oil the dough won’t stick and you won’t have to add any extra flour.) For the filling, spread 8 tablespoons softened butter over the dough, leaving a 1 inch border on the long side farthest from you. Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the butter, and then the raisins.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting at the long side of the rectangle closest to you, roll the dough tightly into a log, toward the 1 inch clean border on the other side. Using a knife cut the log into 12 pieces, each 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the cinnamon rolls in the greased baking dish and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (Alternatively place the rolls into the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and put them straight in the fridge to rise overnight. Remove the rolls from the fridge the next morning and let them finish rising in a warm place for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, while you heat the oven and continue with the next step.)
Whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon milk and brush lightly over the top of cinnamon rolls. Bake the cinnamon rolls on the center rack for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk the glaze ingredients together. Drizzle over the warm cinnamon rolls and serve immediately.
This article and the accompanying recipe was originally featured on the Food52 Heirloom Recipes column. Click the Food52 icon to see the piece and save it to your Food52 recipes.