Thursday, August 9, 2012

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Rolls

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Roll
The macadamia nut side.
Yes, this cinnamon roll is made with croissant dough.
Well, today is the first day of the Iowa State Fair 2012, which means it's also the day of the Tone's Cinnamon Roll Competition. This is the first year in six that I won't be competing. Part of it is because I just got back from a month in California (working and visiting family), and part of it is that I think I'm still bitter from last year's competition (see German Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls). 

Since this is my blog, and I can say what I want, I'm going to take the time to go into my sad "first world problem" story. I realize that in the light of eternity, this is not even a grain of salt, but I'm going to indulge myself. Skip down to the recipe if you don't want to know the sordid details.

When I moved to Iowa back in 2005, I was not yet eligible to enter the competition for that year. So the next year I entered, and my big winner was Nanaimo Bars. That year I realized that the BIG prize was in the Tone's Cinnamon Roll Competition. There were two classes in this certain competition: Cinnamon Rolls (sticky-caramel, with or without nuts)  and Cinnamon Rolls (plain-frosted or unfrosted). First prize in each class was $500, and the overall winner got $3000. That means that if you won overall, you really won $3500 in all, because you have to have won first place in your class to be in the running for best overall. I wanted the big money, so I got to work on making cinnamon rolls. 

My first year I made a macadamia nut sticky bun and honey wheat cinnamon rolls. They were reasonably sized and delicious. Well, they both went immediately to the reject table after being tasted. Bum-mer. When I checked out the winning rolls later, I noticed that they were ridiculously large. Other than that, they left me unimpressed. 

The next two years I tried to go bigger, to no avail. I still went to the reject table. I also tried to mix things up by using croissant dough for my sticky buns and I sometimes used pecans, sometimes macadamia nuts. I was frustrated. I knew my cinnamon rolls were delicious, but so were most of the other ones presented to the judges. How was I ever going to stand out? What was the secret? These thoughts consumed me most of the year as I tried roll after roll out on family and friends. They weren't complaining, but I knew there had to be some secret I wasn't in on.

Well, when the premium book came out for 2009, I noticed an addition to the cinnamon roll classes: Non-Traditional Cinnamon Rolls. Had they taken note of my crazy efforts to stand out and decided to make an entire class for these non-conformist but delicious rolls? I like to think they did it for me, but I have no evidence.

That year, I decided to make these rolls. My inspiration, obviously is from Mrs. Field's white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Trial runs turned out well and got good reviews from family and friends, and the day of the competition they turned out perfectly. Golden brown, buttery, flaky, with a nutty caramelized bottom and a little white chocolate drizzled on top. One of the judges said they transported her to Vienna, where she imagined eating one while sitting at a cafe. 

In the end, they won first place in the Non-Traditional Cinnamon Roll class, and I was $500 richer. The judges loved them, and I felt vindicated. Sure, I didn't win the big prize, but then, once that happened, I wouldn't be allowed to enter any more. This way, I could keep on entering. 

So the next year in my preparation, I was leaning toward a bacon sticky bun--you know, using fried bacon bits instead of nuts. Only a few people really LIKED those rolls. They mostly had the novelty of bacon going for them. Then, it came to me: pulled pork cinnamon rolls. I made them; they won; and I started this blog (see Pulled Pork Cinnamon Roll post for details).

Having won two years in a row in this new class, I might have gotten a little cocky. I really expected to at least make it behind the velvet curtain, but my entry the following year went straight to the reject table. I was ticked. I guess I still am a little bit. (Again, see German Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls post.)

So, this year, instead of entering the competition, I am at home with my son, making this older winning recipe and blogging about it. Maybe next year I'll have the time and the will to enter again, but for now, I feel good about not entering the fray this year. One day I really need to write a post about the darker side of food competition. It might just be cathartic for me. For now, I will nurse my bitterness and make more people fat. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Thanks for listening.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Rolls
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Egg Wash
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup finely chopped roasted macadamia nuts
  • 3 ounces white chocolate
The Dough
1.  Whisk 3 cups flour together with the yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.  Place the milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and kneed at low speed until a ball of dough forms.  Cut the 2 tablespoons butter into small pieces and add to the dough.  Continue to knead until the butter becomes fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, begins to form a ball, and clears the sides of the bowl.  Add up to ¼ cup more flour, one tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky.  Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.
2. Place the 2 ½ sticks of butter and 1 tablespoon flour into the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat until butter is uniformly smooth and creamy. 
3. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface.  Roll dough into 10 x 14-inch rectangle.  Spread butter evenly over the bottom 2/3 of the rectangle.  Fold unbuttered third onto the middle third.  Brush away excess flour with a clean pastry brush. Then fold that onto the bottom third.  Seal edges with side of your hand.
4.  Using a rolling pin, gently whack the dough, starting at the center of the dough and go outward.  Then gently roll the dough into about a 7 x 12-inch rectangle, and fold into thirds again.  Make sure that the butter doesn’t break through.  IF it does, sprinkle with flour.  Fold the square into thirds to form a long rectangle, brushing away excess flour as you fold.  Wrap in wax paper and then place in an unsealed gallon size plastic bag. Refrigerate for about 30-45 minutes.
5.  Remove dough from refrigerator and remove from bag/wrap, and on a floured surface, gently whack and roll into a 10 x 14-inch rectangle.  As in step four, fold dough into thirds and then fold one last time so you have a square again.  Wrap and refrigerate again for 2 hours to overnight.

Forming  & Baking the Rolls                                                             
6. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork and set aside.
7.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
8. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into a rough 16” x 16” rectangle about ¼” thick. Evenly spread the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the surface of the rectangle, leaving about 1 inch clear at one end. Gently press sugar down with the flat palm of your hand. Starting at the edge opposite the unsugared edge, roll the dough into a log.  Gently pinch the seam to seal.
9.  With a very sharp knife, trip off ends.  Cut log into 12 equal pieces. Press one side of each roll into macadamia nuts.  (If not many pieces stick. Sprinkle 1- 1 ½  tablespoons nuts onto baking sheet before placing roll on top.)  Place rolls on prepared sheets, nut-side down, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes. *Note: you can make these without the nuts as well. Just skip this nutty step and place cut rolls on the baking sheet, let rise, and bake the same.
10.  Preheat oven to 400°.  Place one pan in refrigerator until the other is done baking.  Whisk egg wash ingredients in a small bowl and brush each roll with it, on the sides and top.  Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a deep golden brown color all over.
11.  Remove pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Slide parchment with rolls onto wire rack to cool.  Allow to cool at least 10-15 minutes before frosting.  Repeat with other pan.
12.  Melt white chocolate in microwave then drizzle over tops of rolls.

Makes 12 cinnamon rolls

Just so you know what it looks like unbaked.


  1. What an interesting story. I live in Iowa too but have never tried to enter anything in the State Fair before. (We're 2 1/2 hours from the fair grounds.) I've done my local county fair three years running, but never at the state level before. I had to go look it up--wow, $3k for cinnamon rolls! Amazing. Your rolls look out of this world.

    1. Jerilea, you should enter something next year at the State Fair! They usually post the premium book and start taking entry fees in March or April, I think. You have to pay entry fees by the first of July. It's really a fun experience! :)

  2. I'm an avid baker, but have never attempted croissants. These look delicious, but I am a tad confused about rolling the dough out and then folding it. In step 4 I'm confused about the direction that I'm rolling the dough in. Do you have pictures of the process of folding/rolling? These look amazing by the way!


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