Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Bun Rises in the Yeast

A tale of rock stars
And pirates
And cowboys
Oh my.

My son is thirteen. If you have teenagers (or if you know any) then in all likelihood, you are familiar with the evils of instant messaging, Guitar Hero and mall food.
Not surprisingly, I am most bothered by the latter.
I can rationalize instant messaging because although more technologically advanced, it is not unlike my own adolescent obsession with one totally cool, purple, push-button phone.
And I am not one to argue with timeless teenage rites of passage, which always include aspirations to achieve rock stardom.
From my own parental perspective, virtual guitar gaming seems harmless compared to alternative game options targeted at today’s teen market.
But, mall food?
This is the fly in my frosting.
In my home, where meals are prepared daily, it pains me to think that if the opportunity came knocking, my son would sooner choose the boxed or bagged variety from the nearest food court, over quality home cooking.
I have tried to recreate some of his commercial favorites using healthier ingredients but this, although an admirable ambition, is as easy a task as nailing Jell-o to a tree.
For those of you who don’t know this, fast food tastes so good because it’s so bad. Through the eyes of my teenager (the hater), poor quality ingredients are what make for a
happy meal (ignore the pun).
On occasion, I will accept defeat, drive to his favorite haunt and deliver a hot box of free-radical-chaos to his snack tray.
If only for a day, I will have achieved rock star status in his eyes.

As each day passes in my challenging role as mother-of-a-teenager, I struggle to grasp the very last ounce of coolness I once thought eternal.
If not for a recent weekend kitchen experiment, I might have prematurely crossed over the threshold to becoming the mom who misuses nouns like crib, hood and thong.

On a cold, cloudy Sunday, not so long ago, I was desperate for distraction from the Jekyll and Hyde performance that was about to begin in my once-welcoming TV room. This was an event that would occur weekly and last for four months of Sundays. Each week, it began right around the time the Dallas Cowboys took the field and ended with a final whistle. What occurred between the beginning and the end was nothing short of classic, late night TV psycho-drama.
A husband and a son, who were once friendly fellows, morphed into
ill-mannered creatures whose language and behavior were nothing short of primitive and barbaric.
Experience has taught me to fear the deafening sounds of defeat.

And so, when the going got tough, I made my escape from
the man-cave and headed for the kitchen.
I sifted through a pile of recipes I affectionately refer to as
my “Try-it, Don’t Buy-it” recipes.
These are recipes which offer bootleg versions of popular commercial products. I hesitate to use the term “pirated,” because unlike the controversy surrounding pirated music, these are not the actual recipes used by fast food chains and commercial bakeries. These are instead, recipes which have been created by
food-science-geeks turned food-detectives (turned rock stars in my eyes), who taste and dissect the product and then create recipes which include hypothetical ingredients with best-guess directions.
I have no factual knowledge to support the claim I am about to make but, based on personal experience, I would guess that at least seventy percent of these recipes are complete failures--when compared to their commercial originals. That is not to say however, that none of these deserve their own index card in the recipe file. Some are simply good recipes but unfortunately, bear little resemblance to their commercial counterparts.

As I leafed through the pile, I happened upon a recipe that had notations in red pen in my own handwriting. It was a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls that I had apparently, intended to make for my son’s birthday (which came and went since the original notations were made). My motivation for choosing this recipe was likely for reasons both selfish and economical. If I could recreate his favorite
food-court dessert, I would not only be his rock-star mom (again), but I would save the six bucks I more-than-occasionally spend on such cinnamony indulgences. It was a win-win opportunity (and judging from the primal sounds coming from the TV room, we needed a win for the home-team).
As I reviewed the recipe in its entirety, it became painfully clear to me why I hadn’t made it sooner; it was a yeast-based recipe. Yeast and I share a rather tumultuous past. Any good bread maker will tell you that a yeast-dough requires the baker to be both attentive and patient.
I am not patient.
To date, my only success worth repeating is a loaf of buttermilk bread that requires few ingredients and only a modicum of patience. The too-flat focaccias and brick-hard boules of my past send me running to the nearest market with nary a complaint about the high price of Ecce Panis.

But here I stood, ready to fight the good fight for the sake of the home team (and the right to trade my apron for a leather jacket, if only for a day).
I followed the recipe to the letter and when I read the sentence directing me to “cover and let rise until doubled,” I could feel beads of perspiration gather upon my forehead.
Surely, I was doomed for failure.
The directions that followed however, allowed me to sympathize with the same dough I once feared.
Punch down and let rise again.”
What a cruel twist of fate. Was it not enough that this energetic, elastic mass fought once to reach the top of its Pyrex coliseum? Need I be the one to administer the crushing blow that would deflate its rollier-than-thou ego?
Surely, if this dough could rise above defeat, so would I.
I clenched my buttery fist and punched it down.
And I waited.
Together we would rise again.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the rolling-out stage of the recipe. This offered a challenge greater than I had expected, simply because dough never seems to take the shape or measurement that a recipe directs it to. Nevertheless, my oddly shaped rectangle, spread with cinnamony, creamy, sweetness, sliced up into what clearly resembled cinnamon rolls.
After a third and final rising, they were baked into pale golden buns, spiraled with cinnamon sugar filling and then crowned with a rich, creamy frosting.
I marveled at their beauty and stood speechless for a moment.

The sound of cheering broke my peaceful silence and two happy Jekylls, tempted by the wafting aroma of spicy sweetness, left the man-cave for a half-time snack break.
They stopped short at the counter where a baking pan filled with frosted golden pillows of cinnamon goodness, was perched upon a not-so-steady cooling rack.
We shared an impromptu moment of silence and my son, as most teenagers do, held back any enthusiasm he might have felt at the sight of a familiar favorite.
It made no difference however, because four cinnamon rolls and a half-gallon of milk later, I knew victory was mine.
Score one for the home team.

With only a few minutes of half-time remaining, I was personally invited by my son to be the sole audience member for a father-son Guitar Hero competition. As I listened and watched, amused by their ambitious (and sometimes even recognizable) renditions of rock classics, a thought occurred to me.
I wouldn't be needing that leather jacket after all.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I encourage you to try this recipe which was sent via email by a friend of a friend. I do not recall his name and I never did get the opportunity to thank him. Nonetheless, he has earned rock star status around these parts, because the recipe is that good.
It is a bit labor-intensive so, it’s best saved for a weekend when you need a delicious distraction.

Rockin’ Cinnamon Rolls
(makes 16 -20 large rolls)

For Rolls:
½ Cup Warm Water
2 Pkgs. Dry Yeast
2 TBS Sugar
3.5 oz Box Vanilla Pudding Mix-- plus ingredients on box necessary to complete
½ Cup Margarine –melted
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Salt
6 Cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour

For Filling:
1 Cup Soft Butter
2 Cups Light Brown Sugar
4 tsp. Cinnamon

For Frosting:
8 oz. Philly Cream Cheese
½ Cup Margarine
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Confectioners Sugar
1 TBS Milk

In a bowl, combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved and set aside (after a few minutes, you should notice yeast foaming, which indicates it is active. If yeast does not “bloom” at all, you may need to start again with new yeast).
In large bowl, take pudding mix and prepare according to package directions. Add margarine, eggs and salt. Mix well. Then add yeast mixture to pudding mixture. Blend well.
Gradually add flour to mixture. Mix until flour is incorporated. Knead mixture until smooth (on a very lightly floured surface. It is important not to over-flour the dough, you want a soft, moist dough that is smooth and elastic). Place in a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let rise until doubled. Punch down dough and let rise again.

Roll dough out onto a lightly floured board to a rectangle approximately
34” x 21” in size. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together. Spread soft butter over surface of dough evenly, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll up rectangle starting at the wide end closest to you. Roll away from you and be sure to roll tightly. With a sharp knife, put a small notch every 2 inches. Cut slices with floss or sharp knife (unflavored dental floss works great for this). Place rolls on parchment lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. With a clean hand, use your palm to press down on each roll to flatten slightly. Cover again and let rise until doubled in size.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven when rolls start to turn golden—DO NOT OVER BAKE.

Mix all frosting ingredients together until smooth. Frost warm rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Thank the heavens for clever food scientists turned rock stars.


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