Cast Iron Campfire Cinnamon Rolls

Cast-Iron Campfire Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12

What could be more enticing than the warm aroma of cinnamon rolls?

What could be more enticing than the warm aroma of cinnamon rolls?

Whether you are on an escapade in the woods or savoring a lazy weekend morning at home, the aroma of these cinnamon rolls will lure everyone out of bed. The dough and filling can be made and rolled up a day or two ahead, so you’ll only need to give the individual rolls a little time to rise before baking. A little anticipation never hurts, right? They are best enjoyed with a steaming cup of coffee.


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus ½ cup (1 stick) for the filling
1 cup whole milk, lukewarm
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (¼-ounce) packet active dry yeast (or 2¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed

Cream Cheese Frosting:

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the 6 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low heat, or microwave in a heatproof container for about 30 seconds. Stir the melted butter into the lukewarm milk.

Add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook. Stir on low speed for about 15 seconds to combine. With the mixer running, add the eggs 1 at a time and pour in the butter and milk mixture in a slow, steady stream.

Continue to mix on low speed for about 8 minutes more, until the dough comes together in a ball around the dough hook and is smooth, shiny and springy to the touch. Grease a large mixing bowl with butter and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in the warmest spot in the kitchen until doubled in size, about 1 to 1½ hours.

Mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar in a medium bowl, breaking up any lumps with your fingers.

This is a good time to make the icing: Wash and thoroughly dry the bowl of your stand mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until smooth. Turn off the mixer and add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated and creamy. Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat for about 30 seconds more to mix in evenly. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator (or a cooler, for camping) until ready to eat the cinnamon rolls.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down by putting your fist into the dough as far as it will go and repeat about 12 times all around the dough. Melt the ½ cup butter in a small saucepan over low heat, or microwave in a heatproof container for about 30 seconds. 

Meanwhile, lightly flour a clean countertop and rolling pin, and roll out the dough into about a 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Brush the melted butter all over the dough and sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mixture evenly all over the dough. Tightly roll up the dough lengthwise into a log and pinch the ends to seal them.

At this point, the log can be tightly wrapped and sealed in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator (or a cooler, for camping) until you are ready to eat the cinnamon rolls. It will keep for a day or two. Or proceed with the following steps.

About an hour before you are ready to bake the cinnamon rolls, use a knife to mark off 12 even rounds of approximately 1½ inches each. It helps to mark the middle first and keep marking the center of each section until you have 12 even portions. Then slice into individual rolls.

Arrange the rolls in a single layer in a 12-inch cast-iron pan (you will need a lidded cast iron for cooking on campfire). Cover with a clean kitchen towel or a lid and place in a warm spot, for 45 minutes to an hour, until puffed up and nearly doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350°F if making them at home.

Once they have risen, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until they are golden brown on the tops and sides and completely cooked through. (For baking on the campfire, you will place the lid on your cast iron and set it on a grill grate over hot coals. Use a shovel to place about 12–14 hot coals evenly around on top of the lid.)

Let the rolls cool slightly, then ice the tops and enjoy right away.

Banana Pudding

4 servings

  • 1 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup egg yolks (about 8 yolks) 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 ounce banana extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into cubes

To make the custard, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, milk and egg yolks in a pot set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until it just begins to bubble, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn heat down slightly, and allow mixture to simmer, still stirring constantly, for 1 minute, then remove mixture from heat. Whisk in the extract, salt and butter.

Transfer the mixture to a hotel pan, cover tightly with foil and cook in 350˚ oven 20 minutes or until thick and beginning to set. Remove from the oven and puree the pudding with a stick or immersion blender or in a blender or food processor until completely smooth and no lumps remain. Transfer to another container and allow to cool in the freezer for at least 1 hour, stirring once.

To assemble, place 3-4 slices of fresh banana in the bottom of an 8oz mason jar. USE A PIPING BAG to cover the bananas and fill the mason jars about ¾ of the way full with pudding. Cover with plastic and allow to cool completely.


Italian Love Cake

By Dan Nieves

Photography by Sarah Gwilliam


Anyone who grew up in an Italian household, especially with an Italian mother, will know what I mean when I say that as I grew up, anywhere I turned there was likely food coming my way. “Try this. Taste that.” Not surprisingly, some of my very first memories are happy ones of being with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen.

Mary, my grandmother, was “Nanny” to us and her passion was for baking. She lived with us when I was growing up, so naturally she was a fixture in our kitchen and always had coffee, tea and always a baked good of some kind for us. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that having a sweet tooth also runs in the family, and I’ll claim the title of “Big Tooth” on that one.

Young Dan and sister with "Nanny," his grandmother

Young Dan and sister with "Nanny," his grandmother

Lucky for me, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree because my mom, April, loves to bake as much as her mother. She amazes me with what she creates in the kitchen. We joke that she needs to start selling her cookies (she makes over a dozen kinds!) come the holiday season. One day we will make it happen.

I remember fondly watching my mother and Nanny work magic in the kitchen together. Sweet breads at Easter, cookies and cream puffs at Christmas, peach pie come summer. And with each season, there were laughs, happy vibes and always a story. You always learned a little something about more of the family. “Now your Uncle Al, he makes his pignoli cookies a little different ... my sister hated the golden raisins in the sweet bread ... my uncle loved a cup of coffee and a couple sesame cookies.”

While I have a long way to go before I could even begin to claim the same level of baking skills as my mom and grandmother, they passed their love for baking on to me and I love to roll my sleeves up and get baking as often as a I can.

One of the first recipes I tried on my own was for an Italian Love Cake that my mom passed along; it came from my grandmother originally. It is a delicious combination of light, airy and just the right amount of sweet and goes so well with a cup of coffee or tea. I first made this cake while I was living in DC and working as a consultant for one of the big four firms. After I made the cake for the first time, my mom suggested I had to bring a cake in to work. So, I did. Our team had been working long hours on a deadline, everyone was tired. But it’s amazing to see what happens when you bring a still-warm cake into a conference room. It was a hit, even my clients enjoyed it! I was reminded that homemade food, particularly a sweet baked good, speaks a universal language that can bring us all together. Just the kind of thing that can lift spirits and sprinkle a little positivity in the day to keep us going.

More recently, there’s been a new chapter to this baking story. About seven years ago my wife discovered she had a severe gluten allergy. At the time, we thought that would put a damper on the baked goods and sweets, but my mom has taken this on as a personal challenge. She’s now set out to re-mix many of our favorite recipes, sans gluten. No surprise: She’s crushing it.

Having watched many moments in the kitchen between my mom and grandma that will always be magic memories for me, I’ve come to realize that the key ingredient in being a successful baker is the love that goes into it. The happiness warm cookies or a fresh pie can bring to family, friends and loved ones cannot be measured but the stories, conversation and connections it can lead to will last a lifetime. Oh, how sweet it is!

Italian Love Cake (The “easy” version)*
Serves 8–10

6 eggs (3 used in cake mix)
1 box butter golden cake mix
1 stick butter (used in cake mix)
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ cup sugar
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare the cake mix as directed and spread the batter evenly in a well-greased and floured 9- by 12-inch pan.

Using a hand mixer or whisk, mix the ricotta cheese with 3 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla and ⅓ cup sugar until well blended. Spread cheese mixture on top of the cake batter. It will sink to the bottom during baking.

Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes. The top should be a golden brown, and a cake tester or toothpick should come out clean when done. Let the cake cool. Finish by dusting the cake with powdered sugar and then cut into squares. Enjoy a piece (or two) with your favorite cup of coffee or tea.

*Note: This is the “quick recipe” that uses a boxed golden cake mix.