Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

MEMORY MONDAYS

It was a sunny summer Arizona day. I was a bored 13-year-old who had a serious hankering for something sweet. I had all day with nothing to do, most of my family were off doing whatever fun activities they had set up for themselves. I decided to attempt to make cinnamon rolls. My mom made them occasionally, so I dug out her recipe and was off on my very first yeast baking experience!

As I measured out the flour and kneaded the dough, I thought, “This is easy! I could make these everyday!” I left the dough to rise. The recipe said “double”. Forget the fact that I am horrible at visual estimation, I figured 20 minutes or so would be a good amount of time, so I could get them finished before my sisters got home. After about 25 minutes, it looked like it had risen a lot…maybe it was about double.

I rolled them out (Hmmm…how thick? How thin?). I spread the melted butter and did what the recipe said to do: sprinkled sugar and cinnamon. I rolled them up and cut them and put them all side by side in one 9×13 pan. Wait, I have to let the rise AGAIN? Sheesh…   *Sigh* By this time I am dying to eat these things, and it has already taken FOREVER to make them up to this point (remember, I’m 13…an age not known for it’s patience).

I let them sit for about 10 minutes and am delighted that they look all puffy and risen. I preheat the oven and pop them in. I’m so excited to pull them out of the oven, and top them with a basic buttercream frosting (yeah, I think my sisters and I all learned to make a chocolate buttercream frosting before we could talk) and EAT THEM! Mmmmm, these are amaz…amazi…amazingly hard. Like hockey pucks. And flavorless.

It would be many, many, many, many years before I would attempt to bake with yeast again.

Through my cooking and baking adventures, I commonly hear from people “I can’t make anything with yeast”. I completely understand. I had more failures than just that teenaged cinnamon roll disaster, and I finally just decided, “I’m not a yeast baker”. Somehow the yeast baking gene skipped over me.

In college, one day, I wanted homemade cinnamon rolls. I said to myself, “People make homemade cinnamon rolls all.of.the.time. Why in the heck can’t I?” I set out to follow a recipe to-the-tee and see if I could pull it off. I did. They were fabulous. They weren’t perfect, but finding a recipe with precise directions that I followed exactly helped me get a feel for yeast baking. Over the years, as I overcame my fear of yeast failure, I’ve become pretty darn good at it.

The key to yeast baking is experience. That means lots and lots of failure. Lots of hockey pucks and doorstops and fallen breads. The more you experience the dough, the yeast, and how they react in your environment and your oven, the better you’ll get at it.

This is turning out to be a super long post, so thanks for sticking with me. CINNAMON ROLLS (that was for those who skipped all the above part and wanted to get to the pertinent info). Here’s the thing with cinnamon rolls: patience. Make them on a day you have a lot of time, you’re not in a hurry. You need to make sure they are rising as much as needed. Second: roll them thin. You know those cinnamon rolls you get in the mall? They have a ton of layers, and they are nice and soft and gooey. That’s from rolling it super thin so that you get lots of thin layers. Third: do not over stuff the pan. You’ll notice in my pictures that I only put eight rolls in a 9×13 pan. Yeast rolls actually get three times to rise. First, when you double the dough. Second, after shaping, you let them double in the pan. Third, when they cook, they expand again. If you have extra space around them, it gives them lots of room to expand, which results in a softer end product. You also want to frost them hot, straight out of the oven. The frosting will keep the rolls soft as it seeps into the hot roll. Make sure every exposed surface is covered.

GOOEY CINNAMON ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

If you haven’t yet, take your eggs out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. In a bowl, or your stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until it is frothy. Meanwhile, melt your butter and let it cool a bit. Stir the butter into the yeast mixture, then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until  the dough just comes together. Do not add too much flour, or your rolls will be tough. Knead for 5 minutes with your dough hook, or for several minutes by hand, until the dough is soft, elastic and bounces back when you touch it. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough should stay on the hook and not stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. You may need to sprinkle extra flour in every so often to keep it from sticking. Place a towel over the bowl and let sit and rise until double, about an hour.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. This is easier said than done, it takes some practice, but don’t worry too much if it has uneven edges. The key here is not the measurement given above, but that it is rolled thin. It can be bigger that 16×21. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Use a rubber scraper to spread the soft butter across the surface of the dough. Leave a 1/2 inch border just on the side farthest from you, where you will seal the roll of dough, free from butter. Evenly spread the cinnamon mixture on top of the butter. Starting at the long edge, start to roll the dough. You want it fairly tightly rolled. I tend to stretch it a bit as I go, pulling the roll towards me as I go. It’s normal to have to do one side, then the other. This is a nice, soft dough and will take some finessing to get it to roll evenly. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided. When you get to the end, pinch the edge shut as well as you can. Place the seam side down. Cut the jagged edge piece off each side. Don’t throw them away, those are rolls, too! Now, cut your nice, neat roll into 12 equal portions. I usually cut the log down the middle, then in quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. You will see all sorts of tips on cutting cinnamon rolls. The only trick you really need is to use a serrated knife (the kind with a jagged edge), and “saw” the rolls, do NOT press down with the knife, or you will mash them. If you lightly saw them with a nice, sharp, serrated knife, you won’t have any problems.

Spray your pans with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil. I typically use one 9×13 pan and one slightly smaller oblong pan that fits six rolls (remember, you have the two edge ‘reject’ rolls). You can use a 9×9 pan and ditch the reject rolls if you want, or depending on their size, combine then into one roll and place it in the middle of the 9×9 pan. You want to only put 8 rolls in the 9×13 pan, and the remaining 4-6 rolls in whatever other pan you choose. Cover each pan with a towel and let rise again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes, until light brown and moist, but not doughy on the inside (just use your psychic abilities, or use a fork to kind of pull the middle of one roll to one side to see the texture of it).

While the rolls are baking, or while they are rising, or whenever (you could pre-make this frosting and freeze it, if you want), whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Immediately frost after removing them from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes, so you don’t scorch the inside of your mouth (this is the hardest part of the recipe).

If you want fresh baked rolls for breakfast (we have them every Christmas morning), you can make these and freeze them after shaping (just get the disposable foil pans and put 6 in each pan). Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost and slowly rise in the fridge all night. Pull them out of the fridge when you wake up, preheat the oven and bake. for best results, bring to room temp before baking, but even if you don’t do that, they’ll still be amazing.

See? Not perfect! Still amazingly yummy!

Lots of space for these guys to rise.

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Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

Breakfast.

It’s the bain of my existence.

Or it’s a stable beginning to a day of healthy eating.

Or it’s an indulgent part of a fabulous day the ends in me with chocolate stains on my shirt.

It fluctuates between those three.

I have to have protein with my breakfast, and so do my kids. If we have an easy cereal morning, within a few hours everyone is grumpy and hungry. The problem is, I’m not always in the mood to make eggs and my kids aren’t always in the mood for whole grain oatmeal. I need an easy pre-prepared breakfast option for crazy days and lazy days.

I took inspiration from frozen hot pockets, and decided to make some myself, but healthier. The crust is a super soft and flavorful honey whole wheat bread, rolled thin, so there’s no heaviness (I know what you’re thinking when you hear “whole wheat”…banish that thought). The greatest thing is how flexible the filling can be. My kids prefer eggs, sausage and cheese. You can just do eggs and cheese, or get creative with stir-fried veggies, quinoa, curried potatoes. One of our favorites is leftover sausage and gravy with scrambled eggs. The best thing? These can be frozen, then nuked in the microwave for a super simple, quick breakfast on the go, but HEALTHY!!! You’ll win the mom of the year award.

WHOLE WHEAT BREAKFAST POCKETS
makes 18 pockets

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup raw honey
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, whisked at room temperature
3-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
4 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup dry milk
1 tsp salt

Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature, whisk it in a bowl. In a mixer, with dough hook attached, stir together warm water and honey. Add yeast and let sit for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add oil, egg, 2 cups of wheat flour, gluten, dry milk and salt. Mix on low until well combined. Add 1 additional cup of flour. With mixer on low, add more flour a little as a time, as needed, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and creates a ball. Your goal here is to add as little flour as possible. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Check on it every once in a while and add small portions of flour as needed if dough  sticks to the sides of the bowl.

When kneading is finished, cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise for one hour, or until double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dump dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle. Roll it as thin as you can without it ripping. Cut each rectangle into 3 pieces. Place 1/3 cup of whatever filling you are using onto one side. Fold it over and pinch the edge shut (this works best if you bring the bottom up and fold it over the top before pinching. Place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool before placing in freezer zipper bags and freezing. To reheat, take from freezer and microwave for 35 seconds.

FILLING:

Sausage, Egg & Cheese:
1/2 lb breakfast sausage
12 eggs
cheese of choice

Brown sausage in a skillet. Drain well. Scramble eggs and cook in a skillet until cooked through, but not brown. Mix the sausage in with the eggs. Use as a filling, topping with cheese as desired before pinching shut.

REAL food alert: check your sausage for MSG, BHA and BHT. Check your pre-shredded cheese for various additives, including some that contain popular allergens (best bet: buy it and shred it yourself).

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World Wednesday: Irish Soda Farls

World Wednesday

Have ever done genealogy? That’s where you track down your ancestors. A few years ago, I felt like giving a go and it consumed me. It’s like the most addictive puzzle ever created. My mom, who was working on her ancestors, gave me a line to work on. The Robinsons. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents. I traced it back to Charles and Catherine Robinson, my 5th great grandparents who came over around the year 1773 from Ireland. It sounds easy summed up like that, but in reality, it was hours of obsessive searching. I’d send the kids off to school, turn on a movie for the littles and the next thing I know, I’m being roused from my puzzle-solving by a dirty diaper, a demand for lunch, eventually my husband is there (Where’d he come from? Why isn’t he at work? It’s the middle of the….oh..it’s 6 p.m.) asking if we’re having PB and J for dinner again. Yeah. I stopped doing genealogy for a while. I figure, in a few years I’ll be missing my kids all day and needing a distraction, and I can pick up the addiction again. BUT, the point here is what I FOUND. At least a part of me is Irish. I was ecstatic. I have always loved all things Irish, the music, the food, the sexy accent. My husband’s main line is Irish as well, and I have a goal to some day trace both of our lineage back to Ireland and take a nice long trip there when our kids are grown and gone.

A few years back, inspired by good friends who have special family traditions marking their ethnic heritages, I decided that we needed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I decided to make Irish Soda Farls and Lemon Curd every year. Disclaimer: Lemon Curd is not specifically Irish. I believe it’s more of a British tradition (can my international readers shed some light?), but my kids love it and it’s tasty.

Soda Farls are like a pan-cooked quick biscuit. The dough is very soft and the result is a very soft, tender bread. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out, cut into fourths and the browned in a skillet. I cut mine into eighths, because it’s easier to work with and the kids feel like they get more when they can have seconds or thirds. (Yeah, you moms know what I’m talking about, parental trickery rocks). This works great in an iron skillet. Unfortunately, mine was accidentally soaked and has some rust we need to scour off, so it wasn’t available for my farl-cooking this year.

IRISH SODA FARLS 

4 cups flour (I used half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk*

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Slowly mix in buttermilk until dough starts to form. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until dough is fully combined and smooth. Dough will be very soft and a little sticky. Reflour your surface, and divide the dough into two halves. Roll each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into fourths or eighths. Heat a thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Place your dough in the skillet and cook on each side until brown and the middle is cooked. Turn down your heat to medium after the first batch to avoid the pan over heating. If you find that they are sticking, reflour the dough before putting it in the pan. Serve hot with butter and jam or lemon curd.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, Measure 2 cups of milk into a bowl and add 2 TBS lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit 15 minutes before using.

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Technique Tuesdays: Double Boiler. Recipe: Creamy Lemon Curd

Technique Tuesday:

Double Boiler

Lemon Curd is a great companion to Irish Soda Farls that we make each St. Patrick’s Day. Curd is essential a fruit custard made with egg yolks. This recipe calls for a double boiler. I don’t know about you, I don’t know anyone who owns an actual double boiler. It isn’t even necessary as long as you have a sauce pot and metal bowl that fit together nicely. You’ll notice in the picture below the recipe my very dirty stove. You will also notice how the “double boiler” should look. You do not want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Essentially, the point of a double boiler is to heat something using indirect heat, to avoid it scorching or curdling. It’s used to melt chocolate and make custards, among other things. The custard is heated by the steam created by the boiling water underneath.

This lemon curd recipe results in a creamy curd, not the gelatinous kind many use for a lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect for a topping for breads or as a spread.

CREAMY LEMON CURD

5 eggs yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
4 TBS butter, cut into pats and chilled

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, place on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that fits on top of your pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk well, until light and creamy. For smooth curd, pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. When the water comes to a boil, quickly reduce heat to low, to keep to a simmer. Place bowl on pot and whisk continually until thick. This takes about 10 minutes, but will vary. You know it’s ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon or reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add in the butter, one pat at a time, stirring each until it melts before adding the next pat. Pour into a container or bowl and press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cool.

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Mini Hootenanny Pancakes

Hootenanny…hootenanny..hoot, hoot, Hoot!

That’s what we say when eating these pancakes. I’m not sure where that came from, I think I read someone else’s story that their family did it growing up, and it kinda stuck. These are also called “German Oven Pancakes” or “Dutch Babies”. I am not biased against various European countries, so we’ve stuck with Hootenanny Pancakes.

There are also various ways to eat them. Traditionally, they are made in a pie tin, then sliced up kinda like a pizza. My husband likes it with syrup, butter and powdered sugar. I prefer it with fruit of some sort and whipped cream. One thing I love about breakfast is that it’s an easy excuse to eat dessert as a meal without feeling guilty.

This recipe uses a large muffin tin (the kind that makes six muffins, not twelve) to create cute little individual cups to be filled as your heart desires. The optimum fill portion for the best cups is about 1/3 full. if you fill it 1/2 full, they will be thick and not quite form into cups.

HOOTENANNY PANCAKES

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 TSP butter, melted

additional melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender.  You want to make sure all the flour is well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Put a tablespoon of melted butter in each of the six muffin divots. Fill each 1/3 full with the batter. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until puffed up and golden brown. Invert onto a cooling rack.

Fill with your favorite fruit, syrup, Nutella (ooh, that’s a great idea!), or whatever you please. I filled these with Easy Strawberry Topping.

EASY STRAWBERRY TOPPING

3 cups strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the strawberries and sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, or puree.

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ALLERGY alert: These can easily be converted to gluten-free by using gluten-free flour. They can be made dairy-free by subbing an alternative milk, and using 100% vegetable margarine or oil in place of the butter.