By Jonathan Shikes
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On a roll: You can smell the cinnamon from the street outside a modest home near the defunct Lowry Air Force Base, where single mom Minnie Rhodes bakes the most wonderful cinnamon rolls in Aurora--and maybe Colorado, and possibly the country. Butter-drenched--although Minnie will make them with less butter if you want, but why would you?--and packed with so much cinnamon that some crevices look absolutely black, these big puffs of sweetness come slathered with rich, sugary icing and filled from top to bottom with fat, juicy raisins and nuts. You can get them with just nuts or just raisins or plain, but my advice to you is to just get them.
Minnie, a 52-year-old church-going woman with seven kids, calls them "Fantastic Minnie's Heavenly Rolls." She started making them in the early Seventies--not from any recipe, but from an idea she had in her head about how they should taste. "I call it a God-given gift," Minnie says. "I just kept working with different methods and ingredients until I got something I liked. And then I started making them for church bake sales and for events the kids were having at school. You understand, it wasn't for money; I just liked doing it. But then so many people kept asking me for them, I couldn't keep making them without charging something. And now the price of butter and things, you know, it's way up there."
She charges $12 for a dozen rolls, and they are well worth the dough. Ask Aurora mayor Paul Tauer, whose office orders from Minnie regularly. Even Sara Lee got wind of Minnie's prowess and sent her a form asking for the recipe. "But, you know, the way they work, they just wanted to get the recipe and see if they liked it first," Minnie says. "They don't even start talking money until later, and by then, well...I'm just saying maybe that's how they got rich off a lot of people's recipes."
She's not exactly getting rich herself, but that's okay. "I just love it. It's a hobby, and it relaxes me," she says. "I used to sell them to restaurants sometimes, but they always wanted to get the cost down. With the ingredients I use, there's no way. But some day, I wouldn't mind having a 'Fantastic Minnie's' chain, like McDonald's." Until then, Minnie plans to keep getting up at 2 or 3 a.m. to start baking, because it takes five hours to make eight dozen rolls.
Customers can call her (367-8310) a day ahead--she likes a little more notice, if possible--and then show up at an agreed-upon time. They wait in her living room, which is overflowing with pictures of her kids, while Minnie runs into the kitchen to pull out an aluminum tray filled with the goods. Some people also pick up an order of her glistening, crusty-topped dinner rolls ($10 for twenty). "I'm taking orders for Thanksgiving already," she notes.