We Made the Cinnamon Rolls from Martina McBride’s New Cookbook

Grandma's Cinnamon Rolls are warm, sweet and smell like heaven—exactly what I'd been hoping for!

When I heard Martina McBride had a new cookbook, I went looking from some country comfort food. Martina’s Kitchen Mix (which comes out Oct. 30) has the country star’s own recipes plus a handful of vintage recipes from her family members. I was hoping for something delicious, and that’s exactly what I found in Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls, a recipe that Martina’s grandma used to make.

How to Make (Martina McBride’s) Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls

  • 1 (1⁄4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon plus 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup warm water (100° to 110°F)
  • 1 cup milk at room temperature
  • 1⁄4 cup shortening (such as Crisco)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄2 cup softened butter
  • 3⁄4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Initial Thoughts

I immediately noticed the shortening in the dough. (Yes—shortening is different than butter.) I knew that meant the filling should pack a punch of butter flavor and boy, was I right. There’s a whole ½ cup of butter spread over the dough before rolling. It also jumped out that the only relief from all the sugar in the recipe was ½ teaspoon of salt in the dough.


Step 1: Start your dough

To make Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls, the first step is to activate the yeast with warm water and sugar. I used an instant-read thermometer to make sure the water temperature wasn’t too high for the yeast.

While the yeast got to bubbling, I stirred together the sugar, milk, shortening and salt. I was surprised that there was no step to melt the shortening. Because shortening is solid at room temperature, the mixture was a lumpy mess.

This is where I put my trust in Martina. “Follow the recipe, don’t worry about the lumps,” I thought to my (somewhat perfectionist) self. When the dough came together beautifully, without a lump in sight, I knew I had done the right thing. Whew!

Note: Make sure you measure your flour correctly. This dough is a tad dense when it comes out of the mixer and too much flour could give you small paperweights instead of cinnamon rolls.

Step 2: Rising and rolling

Martina suggests one to two hours for the first rise of this yeasted dough. (Your dough isn’t rising? Here’s what to do.) After one hour, I felt like the dough had more growing to do and left it for another 45 minutes. I really wanted the cinnamon rolls and couldn’t bear to wait any longer! I would suggest at least an hour and 30 minutes rise time.

I punched down the dough, floured my work surface and got out my big marble rolling pin. The dough didn’t resist being rolled too much and was easy to form into a 16-inch by 13-inch rectangle.

Step 3: Sprinkle on the filling

The recipe asks for softened butter spread over the entire surface of the dough. I looked at the stick of butter and then the dough, and thought, “What? How?”

I decided the best plan of attack was to drop spoonfuls of soft butter all over the dough, then use an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer. If you don’t have an offset spatula (it’s one of our 13 essential baking tools) a butter knife would work, too.

I sprinkled cinnamon sugar over the butter, and then it was time to roll.

Step 4: Shape a perfect cinnamon roll

The prettiest cinnamon rolls happen when the dough is rolled tightly. I’m always going for pretty, so I tucked the long edge of my dough and pinched down the entire length of the dough. Then I rolled that edge tightly, making sure to roll evenly until I was left with a cinnamon log.

The recipe says to cut the log into 16 even pieces with a serrated knife. However, I suggest using a bench scraper for this. If you want truly stunning spirals, take the time to wipe your cutting utensil between each cut.

Step 5: Bake to perfection

The recipe suggests a 13×9-inch baking dish for the 16 pieces. I couldn’t get by rolls to fit evenly in the dish so I opted for 15 rolls arranged in five rows of three. Then I left them to rise again for 30 minutes while the oven preheated. The rolls are ready to pop in the oven when they have risen so much that they are touching.

My rolls needed the full 25 minutes to get just a kiss of golden brown color on the top.

Step 6: Add the finishing touch

The recipe also includes instructions for a quick vanilla glaze, which I made and drizzled over the cinnamon rolls. The light golden dough contrasts with the dark sugary filling for a beautiful breakfast treat. The dough is tender without being crumbly. I did find the rolls to be very sweet, so on my next bake I’ll add a pinch or two of salt to the cinnamon sugar filling.

These would be perfect to serve the family on a holiday morning or for a special breakfast celebration. They’re gorgeous, delicious and super-easy to serve. No wonder Martina’s grandma is famous for them!

I can’t wait to cook my way through Martina’s Kitchen Mix for more of her simple and satisfying family recipes.

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.