I take any opportunity to celebrate so it’s no surprise that I love birthdays. I hardly get that jazzed about my own, but when it comes to celebrating someone else’s, I’ve been known to go over the top. Recently my boyfriend, Zail, turned 24 on Thanksgiving Day, so there was double the reason to bake something special. When I think of birthdays, the first thing my brain goes to is the cake, so I started asking him a couple of months ago what kind he wanted. But this was only made challenging by one small detail: he doesn’t like cake (or most sweets for that matter). Yep, you read correctly. And as fate would have it, he ended up with a girl who’s happiest place is standing in the glow of the refrigerator light, sneaking huge bites of cold leftover dessert.
His tastes have always added a unique element when baking for him, but challenge accepted. On his last birthday, I also went an unconventional route with a birthday-cake-not-cake. I combined all his favorite things into one and ended up with a Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake. I’ve come to realize that avoiding actual cake in a birthday cake only serves to make it that much more decadent and ridiculous (in the best way). I was worried that nothing else I could make him would ever top that.
*Enter Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake*
Has there ever been a more beautiful string of words spoken? I don’t think so. High on the list of sweets that Zail does love are cinnamon, glaze, and breakfast pastries. It didn’t take my mind long to land on cinnamon rolls. First, I thought maybe I’d stack a bunch of cinnamon rolls on top of each other into a pyramid of sorts. But I wanted it to be more special for the occasion so I turned to Google for a “cinnamon roll cake” and viola! A brilliant food blogger I happen to love, named Sally, had come up with the idea of baking a single cake-sized giant cinnamon roll. Genius. The minute I saw it, I knew this was it.
After some research, I decided to use the dough from Food & Wine and followed Sally’s method for creating the giant cinnamon roll layer on top. I filled a 9-inch circle pan with regular sized cinnamon rolls and topped it with a single giant six-inch roll. Traditional cinnamon rolls are made by dusting cinnamon sugar over a buttered rectangle of dough, rolling it into a log, and slicing the log into rolls. The secret to the giant cinnamon roll is that instead of rolling it into a log, you cut the dough into thick strips. Then you take one strip and wrap it around itself to create the middle of the roll. The rest of the strips are then wrapped around the middle coil until you have one big roll! I prepped my rolls the night before so I could bake them after a quick rise in the morning.
In the morning, I preheated the oven and let the rolls rise for an hour. I had no real art supplies on hand but wanted to add a festive touch. I ran around my apartment, scavenging old card stock paper, ribbon, and toothpicks to craft into a flag topper. The rolls went into the oven as I anxiously watched the clock for Zail’s arrival. He rang the doorbell as the rolls were just coming out of the oven, and I was almost sure I’d be given away by the delicious scent that hit him at the door.
The rolls came out golden and had risen perfectly to fill the pans. I gave them a few minutes to cool before releasing the rolls from their pans and stacking the giant roll on top. Then, I drizzled the whole thing in vanilla glaze until it was dripping down the sides, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more glorious sight. When the birthday boy finally laid eyes on his cake, his stunned face melted into joy. It was priceless. For your next birthday inspiration, remember—bigger is better!
1 cup whole milk
2 envelopes instant yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
Grease a 9-inch round spring form pan and a 6-inch round cake pan
Making the dough: I slightly adapted a cinnamon roll recipe from Food & Wine. This was enough dough to create my entire two layer cake. I followed the instructions from Food & Wine all the way up until the dough was formed. Because I used instant yeast, I didn’t need to wait for the dough to rise before starting to shape the rolls.
Shaping the bottom layer: Split the dough in half and use half for each layer. For the bottom layer, roll the dough into a roughly 12×15 inch rectangle. Spread half a stick of butter over the dough. Mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar and sprinkle half of the mixture on top. Then add 1/2 cup pecans and press them gently into the dough. Starting from the long edge of the rectangle, tightly roll it into a log and pinch the seam together. Using a sharp knife, slice about half an inch off of both ends of the log and discard. Then, slice the rolls 1.5 inches wide and arrange in the 9-inch pan.
Shaping the top layer: Roll out the second half of dough into a 12×15 inch rectangle. Spread the remaining half stick of butter over the dough and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon sugar. Then, cut the dough into 6 two-inch long strips. Roll one strip loosely into a coil and place in the middle of the six inch pan. Take another strip and loosely wrap it around the center coil. Repeat two more times until 4 strips have been used. You will have two strips leftover, which can be used to make extra rolls on the side or discarded. (Sally’s Baking Addiction has more detailed instructions and visuals.)
Now you can let the rolls rise for an hour at room temperature and bake them or you can refrigerate them overnight. If refrigerating, allow rolls to come to room temperature in a warm place the next morning for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the two pans into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown, rotating half way through. While the rolls cool, mix together the glaze. After 10-15 minutes, slide the rolls out of the 9-inch pan onto a plate, keeping them together in one big layer. Drizzle with half of the glaze. Loosen the 6-inch roll from its pan and place top-side up on the bottom layer. Drizzle the giant roll with remaining glaze.