Cinnamon Rolls: The Next Best Thing To Nanny’s



Nanny's delicious whole wheat cinnamon roll receipt.


If you like cinnamon rolls, your mind may not automatically go to “whole grain” goodness. For many, baked goods are all about tasting something sweet and fluffy and that usually means white flour, white sugar and butter. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, if you’re pre-diabetic, have high cholesterol, or need more fiber in your diet to reduce constipation or even lose weight, nutritionists suggest replacing white flour with whole grains in the bread and cereals you eat. And equally important, the use of whole grains can actually improve the taste!


If you’re here only to see our incredible 100% Whole Grain Cinnamon Roll recipe skip the next few paragraphs. Or you can click here if you want a quick print copy. Otherwise, stick around as I describe how these delectable little morsels all came about.


Hand me another of those healthy cinnamon rolls, would you?

Nanny didn’t use a glaze on hers like we did, but they were still delicious.

When I was growing up and would spend any extended period with my grandmother she would inevitably make cinnamon rolls. Those are fond memories. “Nanny” (as we called her) loved to cook for her grand kids and she’d usually enlist our help. She’d make these huge batches of cinnamon rolls—enough to feed a small army. In fact, there was never any shortage in spite of nine very active grandchildren all demanding their fair share.


Nanny was ahead of her time in many ways, but especially when it came to using real ingredients in food and using whole grains instead of plain white flour. The food she made would stick with you, unlike the sugary snacks we consume today.


I'm glad I got to know my grandmother. She taught me a lot.

Here’s a picture of Nanny back in the day. Besides great cooking she also liked to play cards. We sure do miss her.

Nanny’s cinnamon rolls were no exception. They were always made with at least some whole grains. I have a number of siblings and cousins and we all remember her recipe just a little bit differently. As I recall it, she had several different kinds of flour she kept in large metal tins and she’d add a variety to every batch. Sadly, none of my cousins seem to have her exact recipe. I suspect that’s no accident. Nanny would usually cook from memory and go by sight and touch. One of her favorite cooking suggestions was, “Just add what feels right.” That makes for great memories, but it’s hard to pass on to people who weren’t there to watch her. Believe me, you all missed out.


I do credit my Cousin Christie for trying to put Nanny’s recipe to paper, and my Cousin Kari for sharing it with me. Still, the recipe I was given was still more vague than not. Thus, my wife and I decided to do what we always do: Take a basic recipe and add our own special touch. I admit these rolls aren’t Nanny’s rolls. I doubt we could ever compete with all the memories that go along with those. Still, in the spirit of sharing we thought we’d name ours after her. I’m sure she’d like that.


Nanny Rolls


This recipe will make about one pan (9 x 13) worth of rolls—about a dozen. Figure on several hours to put it all together—to mix them, allow the yeast to work its magic, and enough time for baking. Don’t worry, there’s lots of time in between to watch your favorite shows.





The ingredients for Nanny Rolls.

Here all all the basic ingredients for the dough and filling. You’ll need to add some powdered sugar and vanilla if you want to make glaze.

2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water (about 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup coconut milk (substitute evaporated milk)
1/3 cup molasses (light or regular)
1/4 cup brown sugar packed
1 lightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons coconut oil (substitute extra light olive oil—light for mild taste)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (substitute oat flour)



2 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar lightly packed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon


Glaze (optional)

1 to 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla
4 to 5 teaspoons coconut milk




My yeast is ready what's next?

We’ll be staring with the yeast.

Before you begin, allow the yeast, milk, egg and butter to come to room temperature. Also, before mixing in the coconut oil, you can soften it in the microwave.


As you begin, turn on the oven for a few minutes and then switch it off. In a few moments, we’ll use the warm oven (door ajar) to give the yeast a nice warm spot to work its magic.


In a large mixing bowl (Nanny always used a large wooden bowl but any will do), add the yeast and water. Stir it together and let stand about 5 minutes.


I used regular molasses, but if color is a concern you can use light.

You’ll want to add the milk, oil, brown sugar, molasses, egg and salt to the yeast.

Next add in the coconut milk, molasses, brown sugar, slightly beaten egg, coconut oil and salt. Combine with a large wooden or plastic spoon.


Adding whole grain flour will give my recipe a lot more fiber. That' s good!

Don’t mix all the flour in at once. It’s easier to work it if you do a little at a time.

Stir in about half the flour. When well combined add in the rest. As you get toward the end of the flour it can get tough to stir with the spoon. Don’t be bashful about using clean hands to finish off the mixing job.


Kneading bread is great exercise. Whew! What a workout.

You’ll be kneading the bread for about 5 minutes…until the dough feels right.

Sprinkle a little flour on a clean surface and scoop the dough out on that. Now, knead the bread by hand for about 5 to 10 minutes. Using the palms of your hands you can push it and then fold it back on itself. This is a work out. If you prefer a mixer with a bread dough hook you can certainly use that. This dough looks dark (from the molasses) and will seem a bit harder to knead if you typically make your dough with plain white flour.


Once done kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel (to retain heat). Place the covered bowl in the oven we warmed up earlier. Keep the oven door ajar (we’re not trying to cook anything here so you don’t want the oven too hot). Let sit an hour and check. When the dough ball doubles in size you’re ready for the next step. If it hasn’t risen that much, recover and allow up to another hour to rise. Note: Whole grains can take longer to rise than non-whole grains so try to be patient. Or if you find it’s just not working, add more yeast the next time around. Start with fresh yeast. You don’t want something that’s been sitting in the cupboard or refrigerator a couple years.


If you want to expand the graphic below just click on it. You can use your browser to come back. The rest of the steps in today’s recipe are detailed below.


Bread rising and finishing graphic for whole wheat cinnamon rolls.

Here are the steps for finishing your cinnamon rolls.


As you get ready to build your rolls, grease a glass 9 x 13 pan and set it aside.


Mix the cinnamon/sugar filling in a small mixing bowl. Combine brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon and stir. Did you remember to let the butter soften? If not, place it in a small bowl and zap it a few seconds in the microwave.


Lightly sprinkle the counter with a little more flour and set your dough ball down in the middle. Using a fist, punch the center of the ball once. Now, flip the dough and let it rest a minute. When you’re ready, use a rolling pin and roll out the dough into a roughly rectangular shape. You’ll want this shape to end up about a quarter to a third of an inch thick. Now, spread the butter over the top and then sprinkle the filling evenly over that. Brush it around with fingers or a spoon as needed.


Roll the dough up. Start with one longer dough edge and roll toward the other edge. Pinch together on the top and pinch and fold the ends to hold the roll together as you slice it. Make small indents to approximate where to slice (remember you’ll want to end up with about 12 – 14 rolls). Slice with a sharp knife (serrated may work best). Carefully place the cut rolls in the pre-greased pan leaving some room between to allow for expansion. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes to an hour until the rolls nearly double Once again, this may work best if you place the pan in a slightly warmed oven—we’re still not baking them!


Flipping my whole wheat cinnamon roles.

These babies have cooled 5 minutes and are ready to flip. I can hardly wait to taste them!

Once the rolls have risen, remove them from the oven and then preheat it to 350 degrees F. Now, bake the rolls about 22 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand about 5 minutes to cool. Gently pry the rolls away from the edges of the pan. Place some parchment or waxed paper on the counter and quickly flip the pan over onto it (use hot pads to protect your fingers). With any luck the rolls should fall right out.


If you want to add a glaze, mix it while the rolls are still cooling in the pan and then put it on as soon as you flip them out on your paper. The glaze will work best if you apply it while the rolls are still warm.


To mix the glaze, measure out a cup to a cup and a half of powdered sugar, add the milk and vanilla and stir. If you have too much liquid add more powdered sugar. It’s easy to overdo the liquid when making glaze—it doesn’t take much—so start with a little and add as needed. A whisk works well for getting out any lumps. When you’re happy with the consistency, which should be fairly runny, drizzle over the top of the rolls.


Hey, that’s it! You’re done! Let cool a few more minutes and then eat.


A Little Math


Nutritionists tell us we should eat about 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories we consume. Thus, assuming you’re an average person you’d want to eat about 25 to 38 grams per day (Source: WebMD). That’s a lot of fiber. Just for the heck of it, I glanced at my package of white flour in the cupboard and saw that 1/4 cup of it has less than a single gram of fiber! I then checked my whole wheat pastry package and found the same quantity has 4 grams of fiber. That’s at least 4 times better!


Here's the flour I used in my cinnamon rolls.

If you’re looking to eat more fiber (and everyone should) check the nutrition labels on the side of product packages to find the grams per serving.

So how much fiber can we expect to find in each of our rolls? Let’s figure it out: 4 grams x 4 quarter cups of flour = 16 grams of fiber in one cup. We’ve got 4 cups of whole wheat flour overall so that’s 16 grams x 4 cups or 64 grams for the entire batch. Now, divide by 12 (our assumed number of rolls) and we get roughly 5.33 grams per roll. Using the same math you’d get less than 1.33 grams of fiber per roll for a white flour cinnamon roll, but we know the real test is how it tastes. We think you’ll be amazed these taste so good. Give ‘em a try. We know Nanny would be proud.




Additional reading:
Nutrition Action Health Letter –  The Whole Grain Guide – A good background on fiber, whole grains, diabetes and the like.
Web MD – How much fiber do you need? – Basic guide on fiber and why it’s important to get enough.


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