I can’t recall exactly the first time that I had my mother-in-law’s cinnamon twists, but it was probably the first time I visited her home. Over the last decade, cinnamon twists have been there for every trip I’ve taken to central Illinois – summers, falls, springs and winters. Like home itself, cinnamon twists have no particular season. They are just as delicious fresh as they are frozen and reheated. If they aren’t out on the island counter waiting for you when you wake up, check the fridge for a bag that has been thawing overnight. If you can’t find them in the fridge, head downstairs, past the dome-hockey table and the laundry room. Open the basement freezer and you’ll more often than not be lucky enough to find not just one but a stack of ziploc bags containing a dozen twists each, ready to be warmed in the microwave and shared alongside your morning coffee.
Even though they’ll last in the freezer, they never stay around that long. As a testament to sweet, doughy, motherly love, Diane prepares for her children’s homecoming by spending a few meditative hours in the kitchen, baking a giant batch that yields about five dozen twists. Before her children start their journeys home from four different cities across America, she combines yeast and warm water milk and salt and sugar and eggs and shortening and flour.
My mother in law checks airline numbers and connecting flights while she waits for the dough to rise. While you settle into your car or airplane seat and smile to yourself and think of home, she flattens the dough into rectangles and brushes on a melted swirl of butter, cinnamon and sugar. When you stop to refill the gas tank or to transfer flights, she folds the dough onto itself over and over, enveloping warm pockets of buttery cinnamon inside. While you gather your bags and leave the airport, she pulls chewy, cinnamon-sugar-laced piles into long snakes that get twisted into infinity. The symbolism isn’t lost on me.
The twists are baked for a perfectly quick seven minutes while the house fills with the smells of butter and cinnamon and love. There are so many pastries that they have to be laid out on every surface of the kitchen to cool before being drizzled with handmade icing. Hope that you make it to the house in time to get one out of the oven before they are tucked into bags and saved for the morning, but like I said before, it really doesn’t matter.
The proper length of time it takes to reheat a cinnamon twist in the microwave is an ongoing family conversation. Diane will say to be sure to put the microwave on half power first, but my husband insists it’s fine to eschew this warning and go full voltage. My husband and his brother will really go for it – upwards of thirty seconds – to get their icing nice and melty. If you are like me and are too anxious to dig in, you might burn your tongue on a twist that hot. My sister-in-law and youngest brother-in-law have it down to a science. I know this to be true because my father-in-law always proclaims that he doesn’t “eat that stuff”, but he usually can’t resist a fork-full from one of their plates.
The first time a member of the family asks you advice on how long reheat a cinnamon twist, you’ll be overjoyed because it means you officially belong to this incredible tribe. From years of experienced guidance, I’ve learned that my go-to is 12 seconds for twists from the counter or the fridge and 22 seconds from frozen, depending on the size of the cinnamon twist in question. A fortuitous pick from the batch might take you as long as 28 to 30 seconds to heat through. Be sure to pour your coffee while you wait.
- ¾ cup warm water
- 3 packages active dry yeast
- 2 ¼ cups lukewarm milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tsp salt
- 3 eggs, well-beaten
- ¾ cup softened shortening
- 10 ½ - 11 cups flour
- BUTTER/CINNAMON SUGAR MIX
- 2 sticks butter or margarine, melted
- 2 cups sugar
- 8 tsp cinnamon
- ICING Mix:
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 3 Tbsp milk
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla
- In a small bowl, add warm water to yeast. Let sit for five minutes, then stir. In large bowl, mix milk, sugar and salt. Add yeast. Stir in eggs and shortening. Mix in flour. Knead 5 minutes (until smooth). Work in flour as needed. When flour is incorporated, put into large completely greased bowl. Turn over so top side is greased also. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until double (about 1 ½ hours). Punch down and turn over. Let rise again until almost doubled (about 30 minutes).
- BUTTER/CINNAMON SUGAR MIX:
- Roll ¼ of dough into rectangle. Brush middle third or rectangle with butter/cinnamon sugar mixture. Fold one side over, press down and brush with additional butter/cinnamon sugar. Fold over again. Cut into ½ inch slices. Twist each slice into a figure 8 and place on greased cookie sheet. Repeat with other sections of dough. Let rise until double (30 minutes). Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned (about 7 minutes). Drizzle with icing.
- ICING Mix:
- Iced twists can be placed on cookie sheet and flash frozen (put in freezer uncovered for 30 minutes or until firm and icing is no longer sticky). Remove from freezer and bag in large ziploc bags. Refreeze.
- Makes about 5 dozen.