top of page

Recipes for Disaster: Sweeten Up Your Pandemic Breakfast

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

By Debra Turner

Have you become a pandemic cook or baker during our year like no other? Me too!  Certainly we are not the only ones with countless hours at home, our social lives halted and restaurants unable to open as before. But at least one reality hasn’t changed: people still need eats and treats.

So let’s grab the kitchen tools and make breakfast.

I have a delicious recipe for cinnamon rolls that I’ll include below, but sometimes I don't think to start it the night before in order to eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast. That's where this recipe from Chef Frankie Celenza of Struggle Meals comes in as a delicious alternative!

His recipe takes less time to render a delicious, hot gooey cinnamon pastry with cream cheese frosting. Instead of making homemade dough that rises overnight, and then again in the morning, day-old bread is cubed and baked crispy. Then you cook a simple vanilla custard to pour on top and bake it in a cast iron skillet until bubbly and brown in the oven. Following is Chef Frankie's recipe with my tweaks in red, lightening it up a tad. (I never have cream or cooking spray at home, so I make the substitutions typed in red. Feel free to make the dish his way or mine:

Chef Frankie's Cinnamon Roll Casserole


12 ounces leftover bread (about 8 cups), cut into 1-inch cubes

3 cups whole milk I substitute skim milk.

2 cups heavy cream - I substitute condensed milk.

1 cup light brown sugar - I use 1/2 cup brown sugar, since after you drizzle frosting on top at the end, it is sweet enough.

3 butter packets I omit the butter. Instead I butter the cast iron skillet for the butter taste.

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

5 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 butter packets - I omit the butter. I don't miss it in frosting drizzle.

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons whole milk - I use skim milk.


1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a 12-inch cast iron skillet with nonstick spray. I substitute butter to grease the pan.

2) Add bread cubes to the sheet pan and toast in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Turn the oven up to 350 degrees F.

3) Heat milk, cream, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt and vanilla in a large saucepan on low, stirring until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

4) Transfer bread cubes to the prepared cast iron skillet. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle the milk and cream mixture into the eggs, continuously whisking to temper the eggs so they don't coagulate. Pour the mixture over the bread. Press down on the bread to make sure it’s fully soaking in the liquid. Soak for 20 minutes.

5) Bake until the top is golden and pudding is set, 1 hour and 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

6) Combine the powdered sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl and stir well with a rubber spatula. Add the butter, vanilla, and whole milk and stir until smooth.

There are 8 servings, and the recipe can easily be halved for smaller gatherings.

When you think ahead, and feel like letting dough rise, here is my recipe for baking a batch of cinnamon rolls using the popular Sullivan Bakery no-knead method for baking a loaf of bread, as featured in the New York Times:

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients for the sweet dough:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon quick-rising yeast

2 tablespoons sugar (or honey)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon of vinegar (helps dough to rise better)

1 1/3 cups of warm milk

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla


1) Put all the dry ingredients in a large wok (or mixing bowl if you don't own a wok). Stir together uniformly.

2) Beat the egg in a cup and add to the dry mixture.

3) Add the rest of the wet ingredients. Mix into a dough (using your hands if you wish).

4) Cover (I use the glass lid of a wok) and let it rise in a warm place (I put it inside my oven with just the pilot light) overnight, for about 12 hours.

5) After the dough has tripled in size, flour and oil your hands and the dough, so you can work with it. Turn it out on a floured cutting board. Roll it flat into a rectangular shape.

Ingredients for the filling:

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon (Optional: nutmeg, ginger, allspice to taste, nuts; melted butter to brush rolled dough)

Directions - continued:

6) Combine the brown sugar and spices in a bowl.

7) You can either brush a little butter on the rolled-out dough (or use water, if you don't want the calories. The butter will add flavor. Also, the filling will stay without moistening the dough, so you can skip this step, but a little butter on pastry will always improve the taste!)

8) Spread the filling evenly on the rolled-out dough, avoiding the very edges.

9) I like to break up a few pecans (or walnuts) and scatter them as part of my filling.

10) Roll the dough and fill up like a cigar--tight enough for it to hold together, but not too tight. If the dough sticks to the cutting board as you roll it up, simply scrape it gently with a spatula.

11) Next cut into 8 pieces with a sharp knife (or use dental floss). A trick is to cut the roll of dough in half, then cut the halves into halves until you get 8 even pieces.

12) Arrange them in an oiled cast iron skillet (or round baking pan).

13) Cover and let rise for 2 additional hours.

14) Bake in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for 30 minutes.

15) After the rolls are done, take them out of the oven and let them cool for at least 10 minutes. This is the time to make the frosting.

Ingredients for frosting:

1 cup powder sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon of butter

Directions - continued:

16) Using a fork or electric mixer, mix the ingredients into a smooth frosting and spread on top of the rolls.

My family doesn't like super sweet pastry. We have trained our palates to like less sugar. However, you can always double or triple amount of frosting you make.

Weekends during our pandemic go beyond Saturday and Sunday! Whether you feel like letting dough rise or make the less-fuss “casserole,” homemade cinnamon rolls are a treat at a family breakfast. You control the ingredients and know exactly what’s in it. You might like to take what you can’t finish home . Oh, that’s right--there’s no need to carry it home. Nowadays, we are always and forever at home.


Debra Turner is a freelance writer and blogger. She contributes articles to The New York Post's City and Business sections and to other publications with a financial versus quality-of life-emphasis. She writes a lifestyle blog called The Savvy Shopper. With a focus on value, budget and smart decision-making, it covers Health, Beauty, Fashion, Food, Home and Entertainment. For over a decade, Turner worked in the editorial departments of Time, Fortune, Money, People and Real Simple, the Time Inc. consumer magazines, plus did a stint on the Warner side of Time-Warner, at Warner Bros. Inc, in the film publicity department, as well as at the record labels: Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic Records and Electra Records. Turner graduated summa cum laude from Bellarmine University with a B.A. in history, and was a congressional intern in Washington, D.C. for Senator Wendell Ford of Kentucky.



bottom of page