This vintage recipe is a real keeper. Buttery, sweet rolls full of cinnamon and raisins come together in about an hour for a tasty brunch or satisfying breakfast to brighten a rainy day. Serve as written or top with cream cheese frosting or an orange glaze for a particularly decadent treat.
This vintage recipe, found in my great-grandmother's recipe collection, was titled "Mystery Chef's Cinnamon Buns," and rather than yeast, uses baking powder as a rising agent. I believe that at least some form of this recipe originally came from a pamphlet cookbook called "The Little Book of Excellent Recipes and Cooking Tips." This book was published as a form of promotional advertising by the R.B. Davis Company in 1934. All of the recipes in it utilize either Davis Baking Powder or Cocomalt, a chocolate flavored powdered drink made until about the 1970s.
My great-grandmother kept this recipe on a small index card with sparse instructions, carefully organized along with the others, in a steel recipe box. Through some research, though, I was able to find this book. And given the title at the top, and the use of baking powder, I think it's a safe bet that this recipe is at least a variation of the one in that publication. With this recipe being published in the early 30s, I would also wager that many of the yeast-free cinnamon bun recipes we see today evolved from the one in this book. But that's research for another day.
Making this recipe
My great-grandmother's recipe card didn't have much in the way of instructions, but I've made a few different cinnamon bun recipes, so I treated it similarly. The difference with this recipe, of course, is that it doesn't contain any yeast, so it doesn't require the long rise time that traditional recipes call for.
The first thing I did was make the dough. This part was very straight-forward. Combine all dry ingredients in one large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine. My inclination here was not to knead the dough, but to pull it together gently like you would with scone or biscuit dough. I was worried that, without yeast, creating too much gluten might make it hard and less likely to rise; so I treated it gently. If you find that there is some dry flour that just won't join the rest of the dough ball that's ok. I had some leftover flour as well and discarded it without any issue. Try to work as much in as you can, but don't worry if you can't get it all into the ball.
Once I had my dough in a rough ball shape, I squished it into a square and began rolling it out. I didn't expect the rise to be huge using only baking powder, so I didn't go thinner than 1/4 inch here. I think even 1/2 inch would be a reasonable thickness. After it was rolled out evenly into a large rectangle, I cut off any jagged edges or areas that stuck out beyond the rectangle. This made it easier to roll up.
For the filling, the recipe did not specify how it should be applied. I've made recipes where you spread the butter on first and then sprinkle in the cinnamon, but for this one, I opted to mix the butter, cinnamon, and sugar together and spread them all on at the same time, then sprinkle the raisins on top. I found that this method worked very well to distribute everything evenly, so this is what I've written below.
The instructions on Gram's index card said to add butter and cinnamon to the pan, but it didn't say how to do so. Here, I've opted to melt the butter, mix it with the cinnamon, and then pour it into the pan. I then moved the pan around until the butter evenly coated the bottom. I did this to avoid having chunks of dry cinnamon in my finished product because that sounded unpleasant.
The first time I made this, I used unflavored, unwaxed dental floss to mark the dough log and slice it. While this worked with yeasted cinnamon buns I've made, it left a bit of a jagged top on this version. The second time around, I used a very sharp knife to slice them instead, and that worked much better. Once they've been sliced, transfer them to the prepared pan and cover with a tea towel. Allow them to rise for about 15 minutes. They grew in size a little during this time, but did not completely double like yeasted cinnamon buns would.
While they were rising, I had to decide on the temperature at which to bake them. The temperature I've specified below is 425 F. As you can see on the original recipe (below), only a "hot oven" is specified for temperature. A "hot" oven in older recipes refers to an oven temperature of 400-450 F, so I selected a temperature right in the middle to make timing a little easier the first time. To my delight (and surprise) they were ready at exactly the time indicated on the card at this temperature.
When the cinnamon buns finished cooking, I saw that the melted butter mixture (along with some of the sugar and cinnamon), was still at the bottom of the pan. Not wanting that to go to waste, I decided that an inverted presentation would likely work best. To do this, I place a wire cooling rack upside down on top of the pan. Using two oven mitts, I flipped it upside down and positioned it above a platter. You can also put some wax paper or parchment under it instead if you have an awkwardly sized platter/cooling rack combo. Just be sure to place it on a heat proof surface because any liquid coming out will be very hot. I had very little liquid actually drip out, however; almost all of it dripped into the buns. I left it this way for about 30 seconds- just enough time for the "sauce" to drip down from the pan. I then turned it back over, removed the cooling rack, and replaced it with my platter. I flipped the whole thing back over (so the the plate is right side up and the cake tin is now upside down on the platter). Then I just lifted the cake tin to reveal several gooey, brown cinnamon buns.
These cinnamon buns, which had expanded in size enough to touch each other, were buttery and delicious with just the right amount of fruity pop from the raisins. The texture was a little denser than a yeasted bun, but still very tender. My various taste-testers commented that the texture reminded them a lot of sticky buns (which I think I agree with).
No Yeast Cinnamon Buns
3 Cups all purpose flour
6 Tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tsp salt
1 Egg, lightly beaten
3/4 Cup milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter + 4 tbsp for pan
1 Cup brown sugar
2 Tsp ground cinnamon + 1/2 tsp for pan
Preheat your oven to 425 F.
Melt 4 tbsp of butter and add to a 9 in. cake pan. Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and mix well.
Tip the pan to ensure the bottom is evenly coated with the butter mixture; set aside.
In a small bowl, prepare your filling. Combine 3 tbsp butter with brown sugar, and 2 tsp cinnamon; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
In a separate, smaller bowl, combine milk and egg.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients to the dry. Combine using a fork until it is cohesive enough to use your hands.
Tip the dough onto a work surface and, using your hands, encourage the dough to form a ball by pressing it together; do not overwork. You may have a little dry flour left over once your cohesive ball is formed.
Flour your work surface, mold the ball into a rough rectangle and roll out using a rolling pin.
Roll it out to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness and about 12 inches long by about 9 inches wide, trimming any irregular edges.
Add your filling by spreading it evenly over the surface of your dough, leaving about 1/2 inch boarder around the edge. Spread raisins evenly over the top of the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Starting from the bottom, roll up your dough until you reach the top edge, forming a log.
Using a very sharp knife, slice off the rough edges of the log (about 1/2 inch on each side) to reveal the swirl of cinnamon filling.
Slice the log into 8 equal pieces.
Carefully transfer the sliced buns to your prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for about 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, remove the tea towel and put the cake pan in the center of the oven for 25 minutes.
Buns are ready when they are deeply brown and the liquid in the pan is bubbling.
Cover the cinnamon buns with a wire rack or platter. Using oven mitts, invert the cake pan for about 30 seconds to allow the "sauce" to run back into the buns.
Remove the wire rack, replace with a serving platter, flip and remove your cake tin to reveal your cinnamon buns.
Optional Orange Glaze: To make a very quick orange glaze, Combine a few tablespoons of powdered sugar with a teaspoon of orange juice. Mix well, and add additional orange juice a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.
Note: Cinnamon buns are best served hot out of the oven, and may stiffen up as they cool. Store for 2 days in an airtight container, and reheat before serving. To reheat, cover with a damp towel and microwave for 20-30 seconds.