By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 24, 2023 – What a way to start the Christmas weekend!
An email arrived the other day from Dee Dee Kennedy, who lives near my wife Mary Riche and me on the west side of Des Moines.
Dee Dee is not just a good baker in the neighborhood. She was the grand champion last summer of the “Great Cinnamon Roll Challenge of 2023” at the Iowa State Fair. She took home the $1,000 top prize.
Chuck Offenburger taking one of the three boxes of four cinnamon rolls each from Dee Dee and Bob Kennedy. (Photo by Mary Riche)
So we were delighted Saturday morning to take delivery of a dozen of Dee Dee’s legendary rolls when she and her husband Bob Kennedy dropped by with them. They’ve been neighbors with Mary Riche for 30 years. And I have a connection with them, too. How?
For those who do not know, I am the Czar of Cinnamon Rolls for the state of Iowa. Back in the 1980s, I used my Des Moines Register columns to feature the “Roll Poll.” Three or four times per year, I’d issue a new Top Ten ranking of the rolls. The rule was the rolls had to be homemade in a café, coffeehouse, grocery, school cafeteria or other public place, where you could also get a cup of coffee and then have a place to sit and really enjoy a roll.
Later, the State Fair booked me to judge their annual cinnamon roll contest.
At last summer’s fair, I was to lead a team of judges in the new “Great Cinnamon Roll Challenge” organized by my pal Jamie Buelt, a business executive in the Des Moines area who is also a great fan of baking. Alas, I was exposed to COVID then and had to miss the cinnamon roll contest that Dee Dee Kennedy’s rolls won.
But I can now report that they are beyond delicious!
A champion roll on my plate.
They average four inches square, and up to 3 inches high. Look at their backside and you see what her rolls are known for – a tight winding of the long 2-inch strips of dough she used to make them. The cinnamon content and frosting on top are, well, perfect!
You can read a column of mine from last summer in which Dee Dee goes into more detail about how she makes her rolls. You can find that column by clicking here.
The backside of a Dee Dee Kennedy cinnamon roll.
The Kennedys not only delivered great rolls Saturday morning, they delivered good news, too.
Dee Dee, at State Fair time, was battling a recurrence of muscle cancer. She left right after the fair closed for surgical removal of a tumor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. You can imagine how thrilled the Kennedys were later when it was determined that tumor was benign.
“We know there’ll be other tumors – that’s what happens with this kind of cancer,” she told us Saturday. “But we’d been so worried about that tumor last summer, that it was a real relief when we found out it wasn’t cancerous. I think my doctor had an even bigger smile than I did.”
Life is good now.
A good close look at Dee Dee’s rolls.
The Kennedys told us how a group of neighbors serenaded them with Christmas carols one night last week. “We invited them in for a treat afterward,” Bob Kennedy said.
“A couple of them did mention something about that,” Dee Dee said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have any made then. I’m afraid I disappointed some of them.”
The fine gift the Kennedys gave us RicheBurgers on Saturday has inspired me.
I’m now appealing to readers across Iowa to contact me with your recommendations for the best cinnamon rolls being served now at cafes, coffeehouses, groceries, cafeterias and other public places in Iowa. I’m going to start traveling to check them out. And I’ll be back to you in late January with a new “Roll Poll.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Buelt says she’s now putting together the rules and deadlines for the “Great Cinnamon Roll Challenge of 2024” for the Iowa State Fair. And here’s some news – total prize money has grown to $4,500, so far!
Challenging work — but somebody’s got to do it!
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