Let’s be honest: Warm frosted cinnamon rolls would be welcome on any morning of the year…
…but they’re particularly welcome on New Year’s morning, when it just feels so right to have a platter of gooey buns on the kitchen table, free for the taking, their homey, cinnamony scent mixing with coffee and wafting through the house. And while, of course, you can make this a from-scratch moment, there is also — trumpets! — the iconic cinnamon roll tube, found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores, and notable for the quick bake time (never more than 20 minutes) and the exciting-yet-also-sorta-scary POP when you open the seam. So, we decided it was time for another taste test to determine which cinnamon roll tube is worthy of a holiday morning.
As with previous taste tests, I was the master of ceremonies, directing my panel of testers to sample the rolls, while taking notes on what they liked and didn’t like. The panelists included my daughters, Phoebe and Abby, plus Abby’s college friend, Frankie, who was visiting for the weekend. Their qualifications? Well, for starters, all of them had just wrapped up their final exams (or were only hours away from wrapping up — you got this, Frankie!), so they didn’t have any trouble accessing the brain power and focus required of a test as intensely cerebral as this one. Also? Let’s just say they’ve spent an impressive amount of time chasing down pastries with lattes in college-town coffee shops.
I baked each cinnamon roll according to its package directions and served them all at room temperature — just warm enough for the icing to melt, but not super hot right out of the oven. One batch of three baked at 350° (on the left) the two others baked between 375°-400° (on the right). Amazing how different they look, right? I also set out some fruit for palate cleansing in between…
The cinnamon roll testing instructions were only slightly simpler than Frankie’s physics problem set. I asked the girls to weigh in on various factors, like appearance and texture (Was it dense? Cakey? Flaky?); gooeyness (did you have to lick your fingers in a good way?); balance (did the cinnamon overpower the dough? Was there salt balancing the sweetness?); and of course, flavor (How natural tasting was the dough? The cinnamon? The icing?). Here’s how they felt about each one…
Trader Joe’s Organic Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls
Bake Time: 18-20 minutes
Tasting Notes: In terms of bang for the buck, these won out against the other two organic brands, which were at least twice as expensive. While I was preparing the tasting sampler, this was the one I kept sneaking bites of — it looked the most appealing. They had a nice yeasty flavor and were conducive to being pulled apart, a factor which was “personally crucial” for Phoebe. “Had a doughy aftertaste,” added Frankie, but “good cinnamon flavor” and she appreciated that they were “lighter than the others and the least sweet.” Abby concluded they were “okay” but thought the cinnamon tasted a little artificial.
Immaculate Organic Cinnamon Rolls With Icing
Bake Time: 18-20 minutes
Tasting Notes: “Mmmm,” said Phoebe, who appreciated the “doughnut-like squishy texture” here. I liked how the cinnamon was gooey instead of dry, and I liked how easily it unraveled. Abby wasn’t a fan of “the weird chemically cinnamon, which is not like one you’d get from any bakery on any corner.” Frankie found the flavor “solid.” It should also be noted that this was the most expensive of the bunch, more than twice as expensive than one of the other organic brands.
Annie’s Organic Cinnamon Rolls
Bake Time: 18-20 minutes
Tasting Notes:: “I low-key like this one,” said Abby. “It’s less greasy.” Phoebe agreed, saying “it looks like a biscuit and tastes less doughy in a good way.” They found there was an appropriate balance of cinnamon to dough and a pleasant hint of salt. Everyone appreciated how well the icing blended into the dough like a glaze instead of “a thick spackling of frosting.” In conclusion: promising.
Pillsbury Flaky Cinnamon Rolls with Butter Cream Icing
Bake Time: 12-14 minutes
Tasting Notes: “I would not eat those if this weren’t a taste test,” said Phoebe before even trying one, which gives you an idea of how visually unappealing they were. Frankie agreed: “Even if there were a spread of not-nice pastries, I wouldn’t choose these.” Other insults were flying so fast I had a hard time keeping up with my stenography: “No adult would enjoy that” and “Made for a toddler who eats only white food” and “I wish I didn’t know what that tasted like.” The main issue was how aggressively artificial every element was — from the sweet dough to the birthday-cake-style frosting, which Frankie said reminded her of “funfetti.” This one is, however, tied for first in terms of price point, so I suppose it’s a situation where you get what you pay for. In Abby’s words: “They look bad and they taste bad.”
Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls with Original Icing
Bake Time: 13-17 minutes
Tasting Notes:: Although these were also Pillsbury, everyone agreed that they looked a little better than the previous ones, “more like a biscuit.” Frankie, noting the leopard-spotted cinnamon dots on top and inside, initially liked how “I see cinnamon throughout, at least.” But her enthusiasm was short-lived: “Cinnamon buns for people who don’t like cinnamon buns,” she concluded. “Like a brick,” said Phoebe. “Way too dense. And why is the frosting so thick?” At the risk of sounding like that old Groucho Marx joke (“The food is lousy, and the portions are way too small!”), it’s also important to note that you don’t get a lot of roll here — they are not nearly as sizable as the others — so the low price point doesn’t even really offer any redemption.
Best Overall: Annie’s Organic Cinnamon Rolls
After another round of bites, and coming in with two votes to one, Annie’s pulled out a narrow victory, mostly for being the least offensive in terms of texture and overall saccharine-ity. (Pretty sure that’s a word?) Bonus: It’s easy to find, available in most main street supermarkets across the country.
Best Value: Trader Joe’s Organic Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls
It’s not a surprise that Trader Joe’s manages to give us an organic product that rivals brands that cost twice as much. And it’s easy to imagine the aroma wafting through the house on Christmas morning — or any lounge-y weekend morning, for that matter.
A big thank you to my distinguished panel, including Bean who was grateful for all the bites, even number 4, the one everyone else wished “could be undone.”
I’m afraid to ask: Do you agree? Do you have a favorite cinnamon roll?