Cinna Buns to the Max

Skip behemoth Cinnabons; buttery bakers' buns are better—and smaller

A pox on comedian Jim Gaffigan. And his puffy white face, and his huffy white comedy.

Minding my own business, trip to Nashville. Listening to Doing My Time, his CD, passing the time. Laughing.

And he starts talking about Cinnabon. How they're so big, they're like bean bag chairs. How you have to take a nap halfway through eating one. How no one waiting in line to buy them can look each other in the eye.

Now, through no fault of my own, I want a cinnamon bun. Hot, chewy, from someone else's kitchen. Maybe with a half teaspoon of cinnamon, like the researchers are saying will quell arthritis and bursitis and maybe excema.

But not— because Jim Gaffigan brought it up and made me crave, but he's simultaneously dousing my desire with fat-American satire—a Cinnabon. Those would be too easy to find. And too, too big.

Long ride back from Nashville, no cinnamon buns. But I go out the very next day to find one. Reasonably sized, not from a soul-stealing mall franchise. And I get my wish, but it takes three stops and a quarter tank of Toyota Corolla gas. Curse that Gaffigan guy.

Setting forth, it occurs to me to bring my stepdaughter, Kristen. She actually loves cinnamon buns. I just want one because I was listening to... never mind. But I'm mostly into caramel, and butter, and nuts. Kristen ate a scooter-wheel-size Panera cinnamon bun with none of the above the morning of the PSAT. And finished all three sections, no naps.

Now I want to know why she likes that kind. The Panera store workers assure me the dough is mixed and baked there. But they always look dry to me. Nothing like a bean-bag chair.

"Flaky, like pastry," Kristen explains. "And the glaze is good."

Not buttery enough for me, and I've also ruled out cini minis from Burger King. They are made with vegetable oil, baking soda, non-fat milk and soy lecithin, and are delicious for 1.4 seconds, but thereafter can only be used for erasers.

I've heard Gourmet Market makes a mean cinnamon bun, though, seven days a week. Yes, indeedy. Kristen ferries one back to the car and I determine that it's yeast dough, with butter, pull-apart warm and caramel-y. Spiraled, with dashes of sifted brown spice that taste faintly of cinnamon. Palm size. Lovely.

Not made there, owner Eric Nelson divulges later, but a butter dough stirred up by Vie de France in Vienna, Va., sent frozen to the store (which is the last Vie de France bake center in the country) and proofed and baked there. Ooh la la!

Just to be on the safe side of the next airing of Gaffigan's CD, we press on, out Tazewell Pike to Rita's Bakery, where both cinnamon bun croissants and cinnamon sticky buns await. Not precisely modestly proportioned... let's say both were grown-woman fist-sized.

Kristen liked the croissant even better than the Gourmet Market version, because it has glaze in addition to the layers of real-butter pastry with swatches of cinnamon sugar throughout. I made a fool of myself over the cinnamon sticky bun—warm, caramelized brown sugar and pecans cuddled in buttery, chewy yeast dough. I forgot to even notice the cinnamon, though I know it was spattered in the folds, so devoted was I to the butter brickle flavor of the topping. The bun was still good 2,520 seconds later, too, when I found one bite left in the bottom of the bakery bag.

We never did find a cinnamon-y cinnamon bun to yield those health benefits, though. Each bun we sampled had swaths or spirals of a brown spicy stuff, but none was redolent of cinnamon. I'd say cinnamon grahams have more of the spice than any cinnamon bun from around here.

Guess if you were buying those, with their 2 grams of fat per serving, you could easily look any fellow customers in the eye. Stare them down, even. And then you and the other kindergartners could go take a nap, no questions asked. m