This Cinnamon Roll Recipe Won the Iowa State Fair

When she’s not hauling ­purebred pigs across the country or ­working on her family’s 150-year-old farm, this Iowa mom is mixing up blue-ribbon baking recipes.

Cristen Clark chronicles her farm adventures and favorite recipes on her blog, Food and Swine. She’s known for her baking and likes to enter her best recipes into contests. In mid-August, when the Iowa State Fair takes place, all three of her beloved stand mixers are busy kneading batches of dough in her kitchen. There are 15 classes of homemade roll recipes at the fair—white, wheat, potato, whole grains, rye and more—and Cristen likes to compete in them all. “Yeast rolls are kind of my jam,” she says. She’s collected too many blue ribbons to count, starting with her first competition in 2010, when she took top honors for her cinnamon roll recipe. (Already craving ooey-gooey cinnamon roll recipes? We are.)

With the money from the win, Cristen bought a red female pig, a Duroc gilt, and named her Cinnamon. Then she and her husband, Mike, launched Clark Families, a purebred-pig farm. While those animals are raised primarily for breeding and fair showing, the Clarks also manage a larger commercial pig farm.

A Day in Her Life

Cristen Clark mixing ingredients in a bowlCourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

Morning: During the fall harvest, Cristen’s focus is on the corn and soybean farm near Prairie City, Iowa, that has been in her family for more than 150 years. Her great-great-great-great-great grandfather J.C. French settled the farm in 1869, and it’s been family-run ever since. Working alongside her father, she operates the grain cart that’s attached to her tractor. “In the fall I’m basically a grain jockey,” she says. “I chase the combine so we don’t have to drive it all the way across the field to empty the crops into the semis that are going into town. You’re burning the daylight to get as much done as quickly as possible.”

Afternoon: In late afternoon, her brother-in-law takes her place in the tractor and Cristen heads out to coach the basketball team her 12-year-old daughter, Halle, plays on, or to cheer her son, Barrett, 9, on the football field. “I was an athlete in high school and college, and once that’s in your blood, it’s always there,” Cristen says.

Evening: Back home at 7pm or so, she makes dinner. Even through the longest days of fall harvest, it’s important to Cristen to make family meals her busy crew can gather around. “I’m a big fan of skillet dinner recipes, like smothered pork chops,” she says. “My kids love them, too. Then it’s brush your teeth and get your bones to bed.”

A Family that Bakes Together

Cristen Clark cooking with her tow kidsCourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

Once harvest is over and she has a little more time to spare, Cristen will be back to sharing recipes on her blog, Food and Swine. And she’ll fire up those mixers again, perhaps teaching her daughter how to make yeast bread and “feel” when the dough is right. “Halle loves to bake anything she can dream up, and I really enjoy helping her,” Cristen says. “We entered a family baking competition, and she made patriotic pies that had red (raspberry), white (pear) and blue (blueberry) filling. She won $100 and will never forget that day!” Cristen’s son, Barrett, is an expert tester, too.

Follow Cristen’s farm adventures and find her favorite recipes at

How to Make Cristen’s Giant Cinnamon Rolls

“As a young newlywed I thought I’d take it upon myself to make cinnamon rolls because I thought that was the hallmark of a good baker. The rolls were like hockey pucks and somewhat flavorless. Our dear black lab, Annie, wouldn’t even eat one. I practiced for a couple of months and entered a contest at the Iowa State Fair. I won!” Here’s Cristen’s winning recipe:

Prep: 45 min. + rising Bake: 25 min. + cooling Makes: 1 dozen

For the dough:

  • 2 pkg. (1/4 oz. each) quick-rise yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 11/2 cups warm 2% milk (110° to 115°)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 71/2 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 11/2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • Dash salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

For the icing:

  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • Dash salt

Step 1: Make the dough

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and honey. In a large bowl, combine milk, sugar, butter, potatoes, eggs, salt, yeast mixture and 4 cups flour; beat on medium speed until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky). Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes.

Step 2: Let it rise

Place in a greased large bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down.

Step 3: Add the filling

Cristen Clark sprinkling brown sugar on cinnamon roll doughcourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

For filling, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 24×12-in. rectangle. Spread butter to within 1/2 in. of edges; sprinkle with brown sugar mixture.

Step 4: Roll it up

Cristen Clark rolling her dough up jelly roll stylecourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal.

Cristen’s tip: Brush off excess flour from the underside of the dough as you roll.

Step 5: Slice into rolls

Cristen Clark cutting individual slices from the main rollCourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

Cut into 12 slices.

Cristen’s tip: Use unflavored dental floss to easily cut the dough into slices while not flattening the dough. Side the floss under the dough then cross the ends over the top to slice through the dough. Place in 2 greased 13×9-in. baking pans (6 slices per pan), cut side down.

Step 6: Let them rise (again)

Cover with kitchen towels; let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 7: Bake

Plain baked cinnamon rolls in panCourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

Bake until lightly browned, 25-30 minutes, covering loosely with foil during the last 10 minutes of baking. Cool in pan 30 minutes.

Step 8: Add the icing 

cinnamon rollscourtesy Joseph L. Murphy

In a small bowl, mix icing ingredients; drizzle over rolls.

And there you have it! The Iowa State Fair cinnamon roll recipe winner. Enjoy!

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Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.