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Cinnamon Rolls & A Special Little Girl

Cinnamon Rolls

I look at the little girl in the photographs below and I see so much of myself in her. And I hope she’ll beat to the tune of her own heart as I try to. I hope she’ll tell the people in her life, close or distant, how much they matter as I do. As often as possible. Because in the end, it’s what counts. Truly. I hope she has the courage to take chances, get hurt, and love again. To be imperfectly alive. As my friend Brene says "it will confuse and terrify people" but I will be there if she needs me.

She is a part of me. My niece Lea. She’s turning ten on Monday and this post is for her. Being ten is a big deal. I know! I see so little of her over the years that everytime I feel like meeting a different person. I love how my brother and his wife are raising her and her sister. It’s chaotic, it’s loud and imperfect and it’s full of laughs and love, hugs and stories.

I was so happy to spend some time alone with her while visiting my parents this summer. We took some time out to go about their village, talk about life and take some pictures. We also spent an afternoon baking up a storm together! First there was this lovely Mirabelle and Almond Frangipane Tart and then we made a couple of batches of cinnamon rolls. I had made them for the family one Christmas 4 years ago and knowing how much her dad loved them, she insisted we made some more.

I’m warning you right now, these are not gluten free. I was tempted but I was not home, did not have everything I needed on hand, the equipment and oven were different so I stuck to the original recipe, a knock off version of Cinnabon™ Cinnamon Rolls. For a gluten free equivalent, please check out Shauna’s cinnamon rolls here. Magic.

Please, meet my gorgeous niece Lea in this cinnamon rolls 101.

Happy Birthday Sweetie – Joyeux Anniversaire ma belle!

Lea Flouring

Once your dough has risen and is ready to use, flour your work surface abundantly.

Lea & Dough

Get your rolling pin and your smile on – this is going to be good!


No reason. I just think she’s beautiful…

Lea & Cinnamon Sugar

Liberally sprinkling dark brown sugar and cinnamon over the dough.

Lea Rolling

Rolling the dough into a log.

Lea Cutting

Cutting the log into roll size pieces.

Lea & Camera

As I was taking pictures outside before a huge thunderstorm hit us, I looked over my shoulder and this is what I saw. And my heart jumped with excitment…A budding food photographer. Yes!

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnabon™ Knock-off Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 12 rolls

For the dough:
1 pkg. active dry yeast (1/4 oz. size or 2 1/4 tsp.)
1 cup warm milk (105º to 110º F.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

For the icing:
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup (2 oz.) cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the dough:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large bowl.
Mix together the sugar, butter, salt & eggs. Add flour and milk and mix well
Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands lightly dusted with flour. Put in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough flat until it is approximately 21 inches long and 16 inches wide. It should be about ¼ inch thick.
Preheat oven to 400º F and position a rack in the middle.

Prepare the filling:
combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the surface.

Form the rolls:
Working carefully from the top (a 21 inch side), roll the dough down to the bottom edge.
Cut the rolled dough into 1 ¾ inch slices and place 6 at a time, evenly spaced, in a lightly greased baking pan. Let the rolls rise again until doubled in size (about 30 min.). Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden on top.

Prepare the icing:
While the rolls bake, mix the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then add the milk and flavorings. Mix on high speed again until the icing is smooth and fluffy.
When the rolls come out of the oven, let them cool for about 10 minutes, then coat generously with the icing.

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Pilar October 2, 2010 um 5:25 pm

What beautiful photos, congratulations for your niece! and the cinammon, in the week I make the recipe!

RecipeGirl October 2, 2010 um 5:28 pm

Simply put: "Very Sweet!"

Magda October 2, 2010 um 5:50 pm

Happy Birthday to Lea! She is definitely following her aunt's footsteps. You must be very proud!

Jennifer October 2, 2010 um 6:24 pm

What a sweet darling! Happy Birthday to Lea! You must be one proud Aunt!

Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo October 2, 2010 um 6:28 pm

How lovely this post is!!!Happy birthday to Lea,kids are really inspiring:-)

Nina Timm October 2, 2010 um 7:07 pm

With a roll model like you, why am I not surprised that she is so inspired!! Happy Birthday young lady!!!

Unknown October 2, 2010 um 7:24 pm

Happy Happy Birthday for Lea! She is wonderful!

Toronto Girl West October 2, 2010 um 7:54 pm

A lovelier post I could not think of. Happy Birthday to your darling niece! :o)

rosa October 2, 2010 um 9:08 pm

dreaming my little B one day will do the same, with the same love for cooking.

rebecca October 2, 2010 um 9:11 pm

For some reason, this totally made me cry 🙂

Sally Pasley Vargas October 2, 2010 um 10:26 pm

What a beautiful young lady. You are so right, turning ten is a big deal and it only seems to accelerate at a heart-stopping rate after that. It must be so exciting for you that she takes an interest in cooking and photography! I see a lot of girl bonding your future.

Lisa Johnson October 2, 2010 um 10:37 pm

Belated Happy Birthday to Lea! It looks like she had a great day with you. What a wonderful post! I remember my 10th birthday so well. For me it was a huge deal too. : )

Helene October 2, 2010 um 11:28 pm

Anali: her birthday is this coming Monday so right on time 🙂

The HealthNut Corner October 2, 2010 um 11:41 pm

Now i am feelin to go make a cinnamon swirl

Anonymous October 2, 2010 um 11:43 pm

Happy Birthday!

I can see why you have such a proud Aunt.

Dee D. October 3, 2010 um 12:03 am

Just made them like two seconds ago, and I love ur recipe 🙂 the cinnamon rolls turned out excellent 😀

Adriana October 3, 2010 um 12:28 am

What a beautiful story! 🙂

Mo October 3, 2010 um 1:15 am

I'm just letting my cinnamon buns rise for the second time right now! What are the chances? Great post.

Maria October 3, 2010 um 2:04 am

She is precious. Happy Birthday to the birthday girl. Don't you love being an auntie? It's the best job!

Cakebrain October 3, 2010 um 2:33 am

yum! I make these all the time! I love how decadent they taste! Such sweet photos…

Abby October 3, 2010 um 2:35 am

So sweet! I have two little nieces whom I adore, too.

Shauna October 3, 2010 um 3:20 am

Oh darling Helen, she's beautiful. This really made me teary, seeing the love you have for your niece. It also made me ask my 7-year-old nephew out for a hamburger this week. I want more time with him too.

thank you for linking to my cinnamon rolls recipe. you're the best.

Jessie October 3, 2010 um 6:15 am

Helene, this is a very sweet and warm post with equally great pictures. She's lovely.

I'd love to make cinnamon rolls too, but my family isn't that fond of cinnamon, so i always think twice before i add any in my baking.

Snooky doodle October 3, 2010 um 6:46 am

oh how cute. It s nice to have such an enthusiastic cooking buddy 🙂 those rolls look good.

Anonymous October 3, 2010 um 8:55 am

I loved this post, I have the same feelings for my 5-year-old niece, I just think she's so beautiful!

Julie from ProvencePost October 3, 2010 um 12:59 pm

I really enjoyed this post. I love the concentration and the pleasure on her face…I love her on the chair with the camera! Thanks for sharing…

Megan October 3, 2010 um 1:33 pm

I think it's time your beautiful niece gets her own blog! You can see the dedication and fun in her face! Love the cinnamon rolls!

Stella October 3, 2010 um 2:17 pm

Looks like you had a really fun session with her!
Love it!

Ana October 3, 2010 um 4:47 pm

Bellísima!!! y los cinamon preciosos y exquisitos…

I like yor blog…

Un saludo!!!

Liska October 3, 2010 um 4:50 pm

Love it! Lea reminds me of my daughter – she's six but she loves to bake as much as Lea does. It's so good we can keep these moments on photos. At least. Happy Birthday, Lea!

Gen October 3, 2010 um 8:05 pm

Elle se débrouille comme une chef! Et j'adore les cinnamon rolls, voilà bien un goûter vraiment parfumé!

Kamille October 3, 2010 um 10:23 pm

This makes me so happy:) I have two little girls and you remind me of their auntie. I'm always amazed at how much she loves them like her own. It's one of life's greatest blessings to know they have more than us parents to love them like that!

boogie October 4, 2010 um 2:48 am

awww… so sweet! i CAN NOT wait until my niece & nephews are old enough to bake with me! and i LOVE LOVE LOVE cinnamon rolls. our town fair is in 3 days!!! i cannot wait to get my hands on some cinnamon rolls

Caroline October 4, 2010 um 4:46 am

What a beautiful post! She has got the best role model to look up to.
Thank you for the recipe! I'll have to try this one soon!

Dana October 4, 2010 um 4:48 am

How sweet! What a great way to spend some time together, bonding in the kitchen. I bet that you made her feel very special. I hope she has a happy birthday.

Archana Srinivas Pottery October 4, 2010 um 8:28 am

This is so sweet:-)

I am visiting after a very long time and I must say I have a sweet craving now.

Cinnamon rolls seem just the right thing:-)

Your photographs rock!


Jamie October 4, 2010 um 12:52 pm

This is a really sweet post! I love when kids take to cooking and baking and fall in love with it. Lovely!

lucyinvacanzadaunavita October 4, 2010 um 1:11 pm

Also my little son loves to take picture of his dishes… Wonderful cinnamon rolls and wonderful little girl too!! Happy birthday to your little foodblogger and see you soon. Lucia

oneordinaryday October 4, 2010 um 1:42 pm

They look gorgeous, but I especially love the serious expressions on your niece's face as she made them. And how cool that she photographed them too!

Blandine October 4, 2010 um 2:56 pm

This is a beautiful post. Cooking with kids is something I find amazing.

Cat October 4, 2010 um 3:17 pm

These look delicious! How long will they keep for if stored in an air tight container? Should they be refrigerated?

Nic October 4, 2010 um 3:18 pm

Aww, what a sweetie! Good to see her starting so young, and with the photos too!

Debbie October 4, 2010 um 5:46 pm

This is darling! I love that you caught her photographing her Cinnamon rolls, can't wait to try them!

Unknown October 4, 2010 um 6:13 pm

That is such a cute story. I love the recipe.

Amanda Lee October 4, 2010 um 6:38 pm

I'm just starting to learn how to make breads and was thinking of cinnamon rolls. This cinnamon roll recipe couldn't come at a better time. Thank you Helene!
And happy belated birthday to Lea, the budding baker & photographer!

steph- whisk/spoon October 4, 2010 um 8:52 pm

she is beautiful…and already a good baker, too! happy birthday lea!

terri October 4, 2010 um 9:00 pm

Happy Birthday, Lea!

Notes from Holly St. October 4, 2010 um 9:35 pm

so sweet!

Anonymous October 4, 2010 um 10:16 pm

What a sweet post 🙂 Your niece is adorable! Kudos to nurturing her food bug.

JoLeasure October 5, 2010 um 2:13 am

Very touching post! Happy Birthday to Lea!

Truly Smitten October 5, 2010 um 2:33 am

Wow! She looks like a pro in the kitchen! Happy birthday to your lovely niece =)

Kristen October 5, 2010 um 3:12 am

She is gorgeous, your photos are gorgeous and those cinnamon rolls are gorgeous!

Cookin' Canuck October 5, 2010 um 3:34 am

What a lovely post about your sweet niece. I love the line about their lives being loud, chaotic, and imperfect. It looks as though your niece enjoys baking as much as you do.

Magic of Spice October 5, 2010 um 4:39 am

Talk about your future stars…Happy Birthday to our future 🙂 Wonderful post…

Anonymous October 5, 2010 um 7:32 am

Happy birthday Lea! your Cinnamon Rolls seems delicious…

Heidi – Apples Under My Bed October 5, 2010 um 7:51 am

This is so sweet 🙂 What a lovely post!
Heidi xo

fragolina October 5, 2010 um 7:58 am

Lovely story. And she does look adorable. She has a good photographer teacher…! The rolls look so delicious. I love cinnamon rolls.

Unknown October 5, 2010 um 8:35 am

I love cinammon rolls, and your nices is so cute, she bakes like a professional!!!!Lovely pics!!!

Shilpa October 5, 2010 um 3:33 pm

Keep up the great work!! The little girl is really adorable…Can't wait to try the cinnamon rolls…

Kristybee October 5, 2010 um 6:23 pm

These photos are so beautiful! I have a recipe I use for these too…they are just too yummy!! I usually make them for Christmas morning 🙂

a. maren October 5, 2010 um 8:03 pm

aw she is just beautiful. ten is such a funny age, just between girl and teenager. it looks like she is having a great time here, thanks for the window on this lovely moment!

keighley@thebellalife October 5, 2010 um 11:07 pm

What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

emy October 6, 2010 um 9:42 am

Thanks for sharing. My mom loves cinnamon rolls so much I have to try and bake some for her!

Scarlett October 6, 2010 um 10:13 am

this post really made me smile-thank you!

shaz October 6, 2010 um 10:20 am

Awww, I had tears in my eyes reading this (my own daugther will be turning 8 soon, it goes too quickly). Happy belated birthday Lea, you're gorgeous! I love that shot of her taking a pic of the food, she's following in your footsteps eh? 🙂

Patricia Scarpin October 6, 2010 um 1:11 pm

She is adorable, Helen! And talented, too! Her cinnamon rolls are perfect – I feel like baking right now! 😀

kitchenarian October 6, 2010 um 8:48 pm

My 12 year old son came to me yesterday with one of my cookbooks wanting to make cinnamon rolls and then I read your post about the same thing. We have plans to make them this weekend, and I will be using my camera! Some of my favorite memories as a child involve cooking.

LeAnn October 11, 2010 um 12:57 am

Just lovely.

Katie October 11, 2010 um 4:04 am

Nice job! Those look really delicious. Looks like she might have her own food blog soon!

chika October 19, 2010 um 11:03 pm

kitchen bonding time, sweet!!
and she sure does look a lot like you!

a very happy (belated) birthday to Lea, the budding food photographer ^___^

Mar October 24, 2010 um 1:38 am

Maravilloso post, felicitaciones!

Elsa November 16, 2010 um 12:36 am

I made these and everyone loved them! Smell delicious too! This recipe is a keeper 🙂

Laetitia January 31, 2011 um 10:41 am


Merci tout d'abord pour votre merveilleux blog, tout donne envie:))

J'ai fait cette recette pour l'anniversaire de ma mère.
Ils étaient très bon mais je pense qu'ils auraien peu être meilleur.

En effet, la pâte n'a pas levé comme indiqué.

j'ai utilisé de la levure classique, croyez vous que de la levure de boulanger aurait mieux fonctionné?

Merci d'avance

Helene January 31, 2011 um 3:15 pm

Laetitia: la recette liste la levure de boulanger (yeast) pour les faire monter. La levure classique est "baking powder" en anglais.

Laetitia January 31, 2011 um 10:17 pm

Voilà où s'arrête l'étendue de mon vocabulaire anglais… la différence entre "yeast" et "baking powder" :-s
Merci de vos précisions :))

Vos photos et recettes sont de plus en plus belles.
Can't wait to read your upcoming enrichir mes mon vocabulaire 😉

Anonymous December 27, 2011 um 1:59 pm

Bonjour tartelette!
un petit mot pour dire que ces rolls sont tout simplement exquis! Et que dire du glaçage..une pure merveille! J'ai déjà essayé plusieurs recettes des rolls mais celle là définitivement elle a le palmarès #1!!! merci pour la recette!


Cindy Le January 8, 2014 um 4:24 am

My class is having a potluck the upcoming Monday, and now, I know what I'm making… CINNAMON ROLLS!! Mmm mmmmmm, I know that everyone will enjoy this. Thank you!

The Spoon and Whisk January 11, 2015 um 12:48 pm

I just love love love your food styling and your book has helped me a lot with teaching me the tricks of the trade on making my photos look better! Thank you

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