Fire Roasted Cinnamon Rolls

So, I went camping over this last weekend, which is normally not a super interesting thing to say, but this also happened to be the first time I’d gone camping in several years. Throughout those several years, many things have changed. I’ve started this website. I’ve started to pay attention to good stuff. One piece of good stuff happens to be food. You see, I think last time I went camping, we brought things like chips, trail mix, beer, and sodas. For most people, that’s a fine meal plan. Add some meat, some steak or chicken perhaps, and you’re fine right? Maybe, but it’s friggin boring. If there’s anything I’ve learned over several years of eating at strange restaurants experimenting with food, it’s that you have to have fun with your food. And what’s more fun than taking something you’ve prepared and created hundreds of times, and doing something completely different with it.

The Pitch

Cinnamon rolls are great, right? You can easily pick up a Pillsbury can, throw the swirly lumps of dough and cinnamon on a baking sheet, and throw them in the oven for 20 minutes or so. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and best of all, they actually resemble real homemade cinnamon rolls. But what if you want to have cinnamon rolls while camping? Well, I suppose you could bring a bunch of flour and eggs and cinnamon and sugar and crème and whatever the heck you people use to make cinnamon rolls in a much more complicated manner than is really necessary. You could also just pop open a can and stick it on a camping stove, and that would probably work just fine, but it’s friggin boring. Plus, camping stoves tend not to have a low, medium, and high. Just off and on. So, there’s always the chance that you’ll burn the bottom of your rolls while trying to cook out the doughiness of the center. Finally, when you go camping, you should have a damned fire. If you don’t have a fire, you’re a fool. So while I’ll usually like to bring a propane stove, I like to use it as little as possible, because you’ve conquered fire and you damn well better use it.

Therefore, I introduce to your unsuspecting minds the concept of fire roasted cinnamon rolls. How do you manage this sorcery, you ask? There are several ways to do this, but by far the best and most fun is to use the same forks that you used last night to roast your marshmallows. Nothing says “I’m getting over last night’s s’more sugar high” like grilling up some fresh dough cakes and slathering icing on it. But damn it, you’re camping. This is the one time that you can indulge and not feel awful about it. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste that indulgence with chips and candy. You should do something interesting with your indulgence, and I’ll tell you how.

You may think that sticking a cinnamon roll on a stick and putting it over a fire sounds simple, but there’s actually a technique to this delectable camping breakfast. We learned through many failures that you can’t just hope to cook a ball of dough by sticking it over a rather unpredictable fire. First of all, there’s preparation. You need the right cinnamon rolls. And unfortunately, Pillsbury as seen it fit to make this much harder. A few of the cans of original cinnamon rolls had rolls that looked a lot like this:

What is this terrible monstrosity before me, you ask? I don’t know. It sure ain’t a cinnamon roll. It looks like doughy pavement, or the scaly hide of some clam-sized monster. Either way, it’s frightening. However, this is, in fact, a cinnamon roll. If you stick it in an oven, you will get something that tastes vaguely like a cinnamon roll. It’ll even sort of look like a cinnamon roll. But if you stick this thing on a fork and roast it over an open flame, you’ll get nothing but small doughy crust surrounding a dough sandwich. This this is way too thick and most worrisome of all, it has fake “swirls” that don’t actually unfurl like a normal cinnamon roll.

So far, I’ve been unable to discern the difference in packaging that refers to this new terrifying design of Pills rolls, but I have noticed that the rolls with different icing flavors (like orange) still have the standard design. However, if you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these freaks of nature, don’t despair. There is a way to fix it. The best way to fix this awful situation is to turn this terrible thing to the right and turn it into the below.

The important thing is to keep the flavor on the inside. Roll it between your palms, pull occasionally, until it reaches the desired length. What? Why are you laughing? Oh, right. Well it doesn’t have to look…like that. You should definitely not have that round clump at the end. It should be long and straight. Twisting it into a braid is optional, but fun. Gah, you’re still laughing. Fine, whatever.

Anyway, the point is that you should make sure you cinnamon roll can become a long rope of doughy cinnamon goodness. The best way to get that though, is to have the right cinnamon rolls in the first place. And by that, I of course mean these:

Notice the all-important characteristic of this roll. Each swirl separates and retains the cinnamon sugar flavor. When you unfurl it, it should look like one giant strip of dough and flavor. Now, you want to wrap the unfurled rope of delicious doughiness around your marshmallow roasting fork from the bottom up.

This is important. Bottom up. Remember this. Because if you don’t, when you inevitably point the end of your roasting stick towards the fire, your cinnamon roll won’t unfurl and fall into the fire. You see, the disadvantage about roasting dough is that it starts to lose its stickiness as it hardens and gets crispy. But if you manage to create a perfect latticework of dough on your stick, you will end up with an evenly browned pretzel of dough that will become an icing receptacle. Witness the perfection of my first perfect attempt at making such a wonderful piece of art.

Look at them marveling at my genius. That is a perfect piece of roasted cinnamon roll perfection. Crispy with a slight wood fired char on the outside, soft yet not doughy on the inside. The secret is to start from the bottom and thinly wrap the dough around the stick. Then, when you’re done, generously slab some wonderful icing on the roll and enjoy.

Look at that, isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that way better than any cinnamon roll you’ve ever had before? Of course not, because you haven’t had it yet. But when you do, you’ll know the genius of this simple design.

But, I do have to be honest and say that this is still not the best method for preparing these wonderful treats. There is another who did this much more masterfully than I did. She created an incredible latticework of doughy cinnamon pretzel, which caused it to cook even more evenly and allowed the entire roll to have that fire-roasted char, that wonderful crispiness, that beautiful light brown toastiness. Here, I present to you a masterpiece of cinnamon roll engineering:

I mean, jeebus, that thing already looks beautiful and it’s not even cooked. You can see the cinnamon sugar trying desperately to escape the dictatorship of dough. But inevitably, the fire will ensure that the cinnamon sugar’s wonderful magical powers will spread throughout the entire delight. And when you combine this beautiful latticework with an even and patient cooking, you will be rewarded with this:

There is no way that any cinnamon roll you’ve ever made in your life can look as amazing or taste as amazing as this. It’s not even a cinnamon roll at this point. By rolling it up and imbuing it with the power of a wood fire, the cinnamon roll ascends to something much more incredible and important. It becomes a crust desperately trying to hide the glory of bready cinnamon. It almost seems a shame to put frosting on such a work of beauty.

Except that frosting is about as wonderful as an ascended cinnamon roll.

But anyway, I might try figuring out new ways to deal with cinnamon rolls at home. It’s kind of hard to create a wood fire in an apartment building. Management tends to frown on such things. But, I feel like my eyes have been opened to the alternative world of pastry preparation. And hopefully yours have been opened as well. The best part of this plan is that it’s easy. Maybe next time you go camping, you should stick a few cinnamon roll cans in your cooler and try it out for yourself.

Mike Lohnash