Smuggling Cinnamon Rolls

Travel Stories: Terry Ward packed a couple of tubes for a trans-Atlantic flight. Then she encountered airport security.

12.29.08 | 12:09 PM ET

Photo by Frank Murray

The TSA agent manning the security line at Miami International Airport was a stern ex-military type with hair cut high-and-tight and a body that appeared to have seen limited athletic action since boot camp.

“Bag check,” he bellowed to a female TSA agent, a bit too militantly for my taste, as my carry-on emerged from the rubber curtains of the X-ray machine.

“We’re going to have to take a look in here,” she said to me.

The culprit was soon plucked from my pack.

“Cinnamon rolls,” she announced, brandishing the tube of Pillsbury’s Best in the same vaguely intimidating way that a policeman might wave with his baton. 

Why was I trying to transport cinnamon roll dough? The rolls were a request from a German friend who was missing a taste of his American high school youth. Ben had gotten hooked on the sticky pinwheel pastries during a year as a foreign exchange student, when he lived with an American family in a small town in Ohio and did what most American high school kids do for fun—hang out at the mall and eat junk food.

I was surprised that the same sort of cinnamon rolls didn’t exist in Germany, a country with a proud baking tradition, but Ben explained that the warm frosting and gooey centers set American cinnamon rolls apart from their drier German cousins. And while I’d warned him that they might not taste the same as they do in an American food court, I promised Ben I’d bring him the next best thing to mall-fresh cinnamon rolls when I visited Hamburg.

In fact, I’d been relieved that he’d made the request. I’ve always grappled with what gifts to bring from America when traveling abroad and staying with hosts.

There was the time—and it coincided with a certain period in American history when ordering Freedom Fries was considered patriotic—that I went to study French in Toulouse. I presented my French hostess, born in Bordeaux, with a bottle of California red. And as we tipped our glasses that night at dinner, she noted that in America we were dumping French wine into the gutters.

Then there was the occasion when I bought a bottle of Key Lime juice at the airport in Orlando, a last ditch effort to bring a taste of Florida to my Moroccan host family. Now, every time I visit them in Fes, I cringe when I see the bottle scrawled with the words “For the pie that dances on your tongue” prominently displayed alongside family photos on a living room shelf. No doubt, their intent is to show respect to me for a gift that they surely consider useless, if not downright strange.

Shopping for gifts has always been fraught with peril, so you can imagine my desperation when the tube was pulled from my bag in Miami.

It had made it onto my connecting flight from Tampa with an approving “Oh Yummy,” from the TSA representative there. But the Miami Menace wasn’t having it.

“No go,” he boomed.

I’ve gotten more sympathy for confiscated water bottles, so I decided to push the case.

“But they’re not a liquid,” I said, keeping my cool. 

“They’re dough,” said the TSA agent, “and dough is a gel.”

“Next time, put them in your checked bag,” I was told, as the tube was chucked into a big garbage bin, no doubt alongside other nefarious gels masquerading as baked goods. 

But for all the TSA’s diligent efforts to keep liquids, gels and even gel-like doughs off America’s flights—and this includes the many lip glosses, hand creams and bottles of wine I’ve had pried from my person over the years—they missed the second tube of cinnamon rolls in my bag. 

A few days later, on a holiday morning in a village in northern Germany that gave its name to one of my favorite candies—Werther’s Originals—I prepared an American original.

I sprang them from their tube using the traditional American method—pressing a spoon against the cardboard seam. Then I peeled the rolls apart and gave them the required two inches rising room on a cookie sheet.

As they baked, the smell of buttery cinnamon filled the house. Ben’s family perked up, wandering into the kitchen to peer at the rolls as they rose and turned from pasty white to golden brown. Ben’s nose was practically pressed to the oven window, the look on his face pure lust.

Then it was time. Alongside the Sunday morning spread of German breads rich with grains, smoked salmon, cured meats and hand-painted Easter eggs, the Pillsbury’s Best Cinnabon Grands “made with Real Cinnabon Cinnamon” found their place at the table.

Ben took a bite. His eyes rolled back in his head and a little dribble of icing stuck to the tip of his nose. He was in cinnamon roll heaven.

His family oohed and ahhed over the sticky rolls and asked how I made the frosting. I gave credit where it was due—to the Pillsbury Dough Boy. According to Ben, they were just as delicious as the ones he remembered eating at the mall.

I’ve never been much for the things myself, but I have to admit that eating them there in Germany made the cinnamon rolls taste better than ever. It was a taste of home—and a frequent flier’s revenge.

Terry Ward

Terry Ward is a Florida-based writer and a long-time contributor to World Hum.

7 Comments for Smuggling Cinnamon Rolls

Kelsey 12.29.08 | 2:00 PM ET

A couple of points:

1. Dough is a gel? I would have been outraged.

2. It makes me proud to be an American.  What other country has the audacity to pack hermetically sealed dough, sugar, and icing into a pipe-bomb sized tube.

3. Must. Have. Cinnamon. Rolls. Now.

Mark Schoneveld 12.29.08 | 2:16 PM ET

I just brought home left-over chocolate chip Christmas cookies on the plane yesterday.  It felt naughty.  But no one made a fuss.

Lola Akinmade 12.29.08 | 3:10 PM ET

Great stuff Terry!

I remember “bringing” jars of pickled herring and mustard back for colleagues on a short (2 day) stateside meeting.

Considering I had only 1 change of clothing and about a dozen food items in my carry-on, Immigration wasn’t too pleased.

Thanks for the gift idea. Might actually pack some cinnamon rolls.

Enduring Wanderlust 12.29.08 | 3:26 PM ET

I was stopped in the Guatemala City airport for an inspection because I was carrying a 2-inch nail clipper. It wasn’t a problem in several other airports on the trip, but the guards were fascinated by the little “device.” After 10 minutes of questioning, they kept the nail clipper and allowed me to go on my way. By the way, a nail-clipper is quite under-rated for the traveler’s gear :)

Valerie Ng 12.29.08 | 5:41 PM ET

Last fall I was afraid that I would be forced to throw out some fresh butternut squash gnocchi I’d purchased in Vancouver before boarding a flight from Seattle to Oakland. Luckily, it wasn’t detected (or maybe it wasn’t “gel-like”).

John M. Edwards 12.30.08 | 7:50 PM ET

Hi Terry:

In the world of international intrigue “smuggling” takes the cake—or in your case, cinnamon roll. What a great idea to smuggle our best pastries into Germany! My German friends always bring cool beers unavailable in the U.S. when they visit, so maybe I can bring some leftover Streissakooken (my grandma’s recipe) over in my carryon. Thanks to the Pillsbury Doughboy, we can be proud of our pastries! Oh, be sure to slip in a fingernail clipper into the pastry before boarding. No one will ever know.

John M. Edwards

Emily 01.03.09 | 8:40 PM ET

This is a great story—I really enjoyed it. I’m so glad you got through with at least one package! There is no way dough is a gel. Did you see the 60 minutes report on TSA Screening as “security theater”? This certainly fits the bill.

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