Why the Alabama Orange Roll is a Southern Classic
This sweet roll has what it takes to be a classic.
Southerners have long had a love affair with sweet breads, from quick and easy banana-nut muffins to time consuming yeast breads, such as the seasonal King Cake and Citrus Pull-Apart Bread. We take our sweet breads so seriously, that we even turn them into casseroles. Check out this Cinnamon Roll Casserole if you have any doubts. One special sweet roll, the Alabama Orange Roll, has taken an entire state by storm. So much so, that folks traveling through the state will make extensive detours just to get a serving, and the Alabama Department of Tourism has put this particular sweet roll on the list of “100 Foods to Eat Before You Die.” Here's what it makes it a classic:
Similar to a cinnamon roll, Homemade Orange Rolls are made with a yeast dough. Every recipe has its own twist: some contain cinnamon, some do not, and some recipes will offer a filling containing orange curd or marmalade. The glaze is a delightful blend of orange juice, orange zest, and confectioner’s sugar. So while you are really devouring a sweet roll, there is enough citrusy brightness to an orange roll as to make it suitable for any meal. In fact, in many restaurants in Alabama, particularly around Birmingham, this delicious orange roll is served with both lunch and dinner.
Many people have discovered orange rolls at a charming restaurant called All Steak in Cullman, Alabama, a beautiful town, situated between Birmingham and Huntsville, in the north-central part of the state. As the name suggests, All Steak can serve up some sizzling and mouth-watering steaks, but it is their orange rolls that have put the restaurant on the map.
All Steak was opened in 1934 by Millard Buchman, a restaurateur based in Pulaski, Tennessee. (An interesting fact: the restaurant was supposed to have been called All Steak Hamburgers, but Buchman couldn’t afford to put that entire name on a sign, so it was shortened to All Steak.) Four years after opening, Buchman moved his restaurant further south to Cullman, Alabama, later selling it to Charles Dobson. The current owner, Matt Heim, purchased All Steak in 2006 and fondly remembers eating at the restaurant with his family as a child.
The story goes that during the 1960’s, the owners of All Steak were searching for a little something special to put on the menu. That search led to the addition of the orange rolls, a choice that would make the restaurant famous. The location of the restaurant and the ownership may have changed throughout the years, but the popularity of the orange rolls has remained a constant.
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You don’t have to travel to Cullman to get an orange roll. Another location in Alabama famous for their orange rolls is The Club, a dinner club high atop Red Mountain in Birmingham. Their recipe is a little different from All Steak’s, but equally as delicious. Or another orange roll comes from Millie Ray, a home baker from Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, who developed her own recipe for the sweet rolls in 1979 and served them at her garden club potluck. Requests for the rolls poured in after that simple gathering, and the number of requests eventually led to a home-based catering business. Over the years, and with the help of her two sons, Millie Ray expanded her business. Now you can find Milly Ray’s orange rolls (as well as the company’s other baked goods) in the freezer section of grocery stores in several Southern states.
Can’t get to Alabama this weekend? Try your own hand at a pan of delicious orange rolls, ideal for weekend brunches, Easter dinners, or when you just need a sweet treat. It may be the start of a new tradition.