My weekday breakfasts are routine. Besides a cup of coffee I’ll have yogurt and fruit one day, eggs the next. That’s about it, alternating between one or the other. Something about this relatively healthy repeat comforts me. On the weekends, however, we fancy it up. Maybe homemade waffles or pancakes. An omelet with whatever leftovers we can find in the frig. Or even breakfast out, where someone else does the cooking. And very occasionally, especially on Sundays, I’ll step back to my childhood and bake the earliest breakfast I can remember – homemade cinnamon rolls.
Last week, my son texted to let me know he was making breakfast with his young daughters. The three of them were putting together eggs, fruit, and rolls to start their Saturday right. The rolls – the Pillsbury variety where you whack the tube on the counter and separate the rolls onto a cookie sheet – are topped with a distinctive orange icing my son remembers from many of his childhood breakfasts. Now he’s carrying on the tradition in his own kitchen, which warms my heart. But I also realized it’s time he joined the succession of family members who still bake our trademark cinnamon rolls.
If you’re hoping I’ll include a recipe at some point in this post – something with secret ingredients to make our cinnamon rolls the best ever – you’re about to be disappointed. These rolls are as simple as it gets. Begin with… Bisquick. Maybe you’re not familiar with this breakfast-in-a-box product from General Mills but it’s still on the shelf. You just add milk to the mix and voila, you’re making anything from pancakes to biscuits.
Our cinnamon rolls use the Bisquick biscuit recipe with the dough pressed out flat, adding sugar and spice, and then rolled up to be cut and baked in the oven. The process is designed to crank out the rolls in hurry, as for a family of seven on the clock before Sunday church.
Now here’s where I pay homage to my father. He steps into the story because he was the one who made the cinnamon rolls, almost every Sunday without fail. I’d shuffle into the kitchen bleary-eyed from the night before and there’d be my bathrobed, unshaven father, preparing what we affectionately called the “cims”. As soon as he rolled out the dough, a kid could help the rest of the way. Sprinkle brown sugar from one end to the other. Add raisins here and there. Dust with cinnamon for a final flourish. Roll up the dough from one side of the board to the other and cut into segments.
Some of my brothers didn’t like raisins so Dad upped his baking game a bit by leaving them out of some of the rolls. Eventually he even made “jelly rolls”, substituting the sugar and spices with one of our favorite flavors from Smucker’s or Knott’s.
Speaking of ingredients, our cinnamon rolls were brand dependent. Besides the essential Bisquick, the brown sugar came from C&H, the raisins from Sun-Maid, and the milk and butter from a local dairy called “Edgemar Farms“. Funny how those come back to me like yesterday, yet I never thought much about the names until now. “Bisquick” is literally “biscuit” + “quick”. C&H is the “California and Hawaiian Sugar Company”, their product refined from sugar cane (instead of beets). Their jingle still dances around in my head (“C&H… pure cane sugar… from Hawaii… growing in the sun…”)
Sun-Maid put the spin on “Made”, of course, but I never “made” the connection between the name and the woman in the logo until now. They’ve updated her image several times over the years the way KFC and Wendy’s updated theirs.
Here’s the real point of this post. My dad and the family cinnamon roll recipe are forever inseparable. Even though his sons (and their children, I hope) carry on the tradition, it’ll always be Dad and the rolls. One is not a memory without the other. I realize – all these years later – Dad made the rolls to give Mom a break from the countless meals she made the rest of the week. Honestly, the only memories I have of Dad in the kitchen are mixing drinks, tending to the barbecue, or making the “cims”.
Soon after my son texted, I sent him the cinnamon roll recipe. I hope he “cim-ply” abides as part of his Sunday morning routine. I hope he refers to the leftover dough bits as “collywobbles” the way my dad did and his dad did before him. I hope his daughters mispronounce “cinnamon” as “cimmanin” the way I used to (which maybe inspired the nickname “cims”). But most importantly, I hope he remembers his Grandpa every time he rolls out the dough, preparing breakfast for the family just to give Grandma a break.
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