Whose rolls will reign supreme?
Cinnamon rolls scream cozy breakfast. Or, since they’re so soothing, they whisper it. Twisted sweet dough. Warm spices mingling with sugar and butter to form the filling. What could go wrong? Well, as I learned from this celebrity recipe throwdown, a lot. A lot can go wrong.
In one corner we have the recipe for Cinnamon Rollin' from From Crook to Cook: Platinum Recipes from Tha Boss Dogg's Kitchen by Snoop Dogg. In the other corner, we have Norwegian Cinnamon Buns from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. These two contenders seemed like they’d know their way around a cinnamon bun, a treat that has satisfied many cases of the munchies—either induced by weed or late-night cravings.
I started with Snoop. The recipe told me to heat milk and water until warm, pour it into a bowl, then sprinkle one packet of instant yeast over the mixture. I was nervous about the lack of sugar to feed the yeast, but I decided to trust Snoop.
Then I stirred in granulated sugar, an egg, and softened butter. All purpose flour and salt are to be gradually added and just combined. Snoop recommends switching to the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer or kneading the dough by hand for 8 minutes. I used a mixer, and then transferred the dough to an oiled bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, the dough had not doubled in size as I was told it would. I gave the dough another 30 minutes, as the recipe suggests. No dice. I wondered if the yeast was dead, but also wanted to finish the recipe once before deciding to remake it. I rolled out the dough on a floured work surface. It felt much more like pizza dough than cinnamon roll dough, which made me nervous for several reasons.
I pressed on. I brushed the surface of the dough with melted butter, then sprinkled on a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon. It was moist and sticky, like the carpet at a bar. I rolled up the carpet and sliced it into 12 buns. Into a buttered baking dish and then a 350ºF oven they went.
Nigella’s recipe was quite different. She suggests combining all purpose flour, granulated sugar, salt, and 3 packets of instant yeast in a bowl, then mixing in melted butter whisked with milk and eggs. The dough is then to be kneaded by hand or with a dough hook “until it's smooth and springy,” which wasn’t wildly helpful, so I did about the same time in the mixer as I did for Snoop’s rolls. I then transferred the dough to an oiled bowl and let it rise for 25 minutes. And rise it did. This let me know that the yeast I used in Snoop’s recipe probably wasn’t dead, which was a relief.
Nigella says to take one third of the dough and roll or stretch it out onto the bottom of a parchment-lined baking dish, which seemed weird and was also tricky, as this dough was very sticky and tender. The rest of the dough is to be rolled out into a large rectangle which, again, was difficult considering the texture of the dough, but worked eventually. I spread a paste of granulated sugar, cinnamon, and softened butter all over. I rolled the dough into a log and sliced it into 20 pieces. Before sliding the buns into a 450ºF oven, I brushed them with beaten egg.
Snoop’s rolls came out of the oven having leaked their filling all over the pan, which looked like also happened in the ones for the book, so I figured it wasn't my fault. I covered them with a glaze of powdered sugar, heavy cream, and bourbon, which immediately melted. This is not what happened in the photo of the dish, so I decided the rolls in the photo were actually fully cooled and not “served immediately” as the recipe instructs.
Guys, Snoop's rolls were not good. I wanted them to be, but they weren’t. The filling solidified into a hard caramel almost instantly, and the rolls weren’t puffy. They were the texture of a soft pretzel but not in a good way. The glaze wasn't anything except sweet.
Nigella’s rolls puffed up immensely and turned a lovely shade of golden brown. She recommends pulling off rolls and going to town while they’re still warm. So I did. And they were… fine. But the problem is, they weren't cinnamon rolls. The filling mostly disappeared into the buns, leaving just a whisper of cinnamon. There was no ooze. No goo. Not a finger to lick! Did they taste good? Sure. They just weren’t cinnamon rolls. If this were a sweet dinner roll throwdown, Nigella would’ve won in an instant. But that isn't why we're here.
Snoop’s hard-as-rocks rolls sadly had no better place to end up than the compost bin. Ultimately Nigella’s rolls were much better and were eaten by several members of the Extra Crispy and Food & Wine teams. That does not, however, make them cinnamon rolls. So, for the first time in the four-week-long history of this series…