It’s been said that there are only two seasons in South Florida — when the Knaus Berry Farms bakery is open and when it’s closed. But when the farm originally opened, it wasn’t a bakery at all. “We used to raise and sell strawberries,” which they still do today, according to Tom Blocher, partner and bakery manager of Knaus Berry Farms for the last 32 years and son-in-law of Ray and Barbara Knaus, the farm’s founders. According to Blocher, one day a customer tried Barbara Knaus’ cookies, and “he told her she should try to sell them.”
Now, almost 60 years later, that proved to be good advice. For 25 weeks of the year, beginning in November and running through mid-April, Knaus Berry Farm serves up perhaps the most delicious cinnamon buns known to man. Through the holiday season, people wait in line for almost 3 hours to get their hands on a gooey cinnamon bun. “Originally, the buns were twice as big as they are now, and there used to be crushed pineapple on top,” Blocher said.
Although smaller now, those cinnamon buns are just as delicious as ever. We were given a rare peek into the bakery at Knaus Berry Farms to discover the secrets to making those sweet, sweet buns.
Every morning, Blocher gets to the bakery at 3 a.m. He first puts everything away that was washed the night before. Then he makes a schedule for all of the baked goods that will be mixed, prepped, and cooked throughout the day. At 5 a.m., his trusted mixer, Dusty, comes in to start the first batch of the bakery’s famed cinnamon buns. With a staff of just 10, some cooking for almost 12-hours a day, there’s no shortage of work. “Dusty can mix faster than we can bake, so we alternate the mixer between bread and cinnamon rolls,” Blocher explained.
From beginning to end, the whole dough mixing process only takes about 10 minutes. Their sweet dough recipe is a mixture of flour, sugar, salt, yeast, lime juice, and vanilla extract. There’s also one more addition — the rejects. These are cinnamon buns that just weren’t pretty enough for baking, so they’re thrown back into the mixer and recycled back into the dough. But sometimes the rejects are baked, unrolled, and collected into a special dish, affectionately named “Explosions” by patrons of the bakery.
The next step is to proof the dough. Proofing is what makes the buns nice and fluffy. The dough begins to rise as yeast and sugar forms air and gas, Blocher explained.
While the dough rose, we learned a bit more about the bakery’s history. The proofing room is actually the former master bedroom of Ray and Barbara Knaus. From 1959 to 1966, the Knauses lived in the bakery, then they moved into a house next door. The original bakery was on the other side of the house, but when it burned down, the Knauses expanded the bakery to fill their former home.
After the dough is proofed, a sheeter machine rolls out the dough. As one baker pushes the dough up a diagonal slat, two others wait for it to be rolled out so that they can coat it with egg and butter. Then, they sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on the slab of dough. Finally, they roll it all up, essentially into one incredibly long cinnamon roll. The strip is then run through a circular cutter, a machine that has been a part of the bakery for almost 50 years. This whole process takes about 30 minutes, filling 14 trays of buns at a time. The buns then go back into the proofing room to rise for another 10 to 20 minutes.
Finally, it’s baking time. The buns bake for 20 minutes in the bakery’s two industrial sized ovens. They can each bake 28 dozen buns at a time — that’s 672 cinnamon buns cooking at once. Next, bakers invert the trays to release the buns. “We have to invert the trays while the buns are hot, or else they’ll stick to the bottom of the pans,” Blocher explained.
We were surprised to learn that there’s actually no glaze on a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon bun. That sticky, yummy, gooey, sweetness on top is just the result of cinnamon and sugar melting and oozing out of the bun as it cooks. Then, of course, there’s the final step — shoving as much of the bun as will fit into your mouth at once, feasting on doughy, cinnamon sugar deliciousness. From start to finish, making and baking those sweet cinnamon buns takes about 2 hours — and just 2 minutes to devour.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Blocher’s title. It has been amended.