Rebecca Rather is my baking idol. She runs a bakery in the Hill Country of Texas named ‘Rather Sweet.’ Everything Rebecca makes is the best version of itself, entirely from scratch, and completely mouth-watering. Just for example, instead of the classic Tres Leches cake, she makes Muchas Leches Cake. I’ve been making the pages of her cookbook, Rather Sweet, sticky for years.
Her recipe for ‘Jailhouse Potato-Cinnamon Rolls’ caught my eye in the breakfast chapter not only because they are perfect pinwheels of deliciousness, but also because the recipe is based on a version of leftover mashed potato rolls served in a nearby prison. Only Rebecca could take such a recipe and spin it into a crave-worthy beauty. It’s the first recipe in the book, so you know she’d hang her hat on it.
The full-size recipe always turns out great; although, two people can (and should) only eat so many cinnamon rolls. I scaled down Rebecca’s recipe to make just two cinnamon rolls. When baked in a bread loaf pan, the serving size is just right.
Don’t be afraid of baking with yeast, I’m going to walk you through this one. This recipe even works in the dead of the winter when your kitchen is a bit chilly.
The best part is: you don’t even have to have leftover mashed potatoes. We’re going to boil a potato from scratch, and use the leftover starchy cooking water in the final dough.
We’re only dealing with a handful of dough to make these cinnamon rolls (see photo below). If you find dough to be intimidating, please, start with this small-batch recipe. You’ll work your way up to yeast superstar in no time. While we have 2 rise times in this recipe, you can use a preheated oven that is turned off for a quick rise. You’ll have these rolls out of the oven in about 2 hours. Not bad, right? If that’s too much to ask for in the morning, I’ve had great luck using Rebecca’s instructions to store the dough in the fridge overnight after the first rise. I’m convinced this recipe is flawless.
- 5 oz. russet potato, peeled*
- 1½ teaspoons active, dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar (plus a pinch for the yeast)
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted (plus ½ tablespoon extra for bowl)
- 1½ cups flour
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- splash of milk
- See the note about the potato below. Place the raw potato and 1 cup of cold water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the potato is done (it slides off a knife when pierced after 10-15 minutes).
- Drain the potatoes, reserving the cooking water in a glass liquid measuring cup. Add enough fresh water to the reserved water to equal ¾ cup TOTAL. (Note: you may not have to add any water at all). Place a thermometer inside the water and wait until it cools down to 108-115-degrees F.
- Meanwhile, mash the drained potatoes and set aside in a medium bowl.
- Once the water has cooled to the ideal temperature range, add the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Stir to dissolve, and then let rest until foamy, about 5 minutes. If the yeast does not foam, it's dead. Start over with fresh water and fresh yeast. (If this does happen to you, you could use all plain water for this step--no need to boil extra potatoes).
- Next, to the bowl with the cooled mashed potatoes add the sugar and melted butter. Stir very well to combine--no lumps! Then, add the yeast-water mixture. Stir well.
- Finally, add the flour, and mix until combined. Grab the sticky dough in one hand, and smear the extra butter up the sides of the bowl. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until doubled. If your kitchen is cool, turn on the oven to 200-degrees for 5 minutes, turn it off, and place the bowl inside to rise.
- After rising is complete, the dough can be punched down and refrigerated overnight to bake in the morning. I've had great results make the dough the night before.
- If not refrigerating overnight, flour your hand, then punch down the dough very well after its first rise. Gather the dough into a ball and roughly knead it a few times. Add enough flour to get it going into a ball that you can roll out. For me, this varies between 1-4 tablespoons, depending on the humidity that day.
- Next, we'll roll out the dough and fill it: Dust the counter with flour, and dump the dough onto the flour. Flour your hands, then pat out the dough into a 6" square. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Let it sit for a minute or so, then spread it evenly on the dough--almost to the edges.
- Gently, roll up the square, starting on the edge of dough closest to you. Roll tightly, and pinch the edge together when you get to the end (see photo for reference). Slice the roll in half, then place in a greased loaf pan.
- Let the rolls rise in the loaf pan in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375. Bake the rolls in the oven for 25 minutes. The rolls will be brown, don't be afraid of color.
- Take the rolls out of the oven, and combine the remaining ½ teaspoon cinnamon, powdered sugar, and splash of milk. Pour the glaze on the warm rolls, and serve.
*This recipe was updated to eliminate confusion about how much water to add. The amount of water leftover after boiling the potato varies, so add how ever much needed to equal ¾ cup TOTAL. Also, this dough is very sticky and slightly looser than the average cinnamon roll recipe. This is due to the potatoes. Add flour during kneading and rolling to make it not sticky. For me, it always varies between 1-4 tablespoons. If your dough is thin, do not worry! Keep going, and you'll see that after 2 rises, you'll have very tender rolls. I have added an extra ½ cup of flour to the recipe to help address this issue.