Happy New Year. This is the final installment of my month-long postings of holiday recipes that are old traditions in my family. December 4 was my uncle’s penuche, December 11 was my mother’s fruit cocktail cake, December 18 was my sister-in-law’s boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies. To start the year off right, I’m ending with my mother-in-law’s cinnamon roll recipe.
My late mother-in-law was universally recognized as a world-class cook, and like most world-class cooks, she didn’t use recipes. She could tell by the look, feel, and smell of a dish if it was thrown together right. This quality makes for some good eatin’, but it makes it hard on family cooks of later generations to duplicate the dishes they so loved growing up. I got this updated version of the original from my sister-in-law Lorraine, who as you can see, also cooks on the fly. I’ll reproduce Lorraine’s instructions, then let you know what I discovered when I tried to make the rolls.
a loaf of Rhodes frozen bread
Thaw the bread for two to three hours. Let it rise a bit. Roll the dough out into a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Spread about 1/2 stick of butter over the dough. Spread brown sugar over the top of the dough. Shake cinnamon over the brown sugar. Broadcast a package of pecans (and raisins) over dough. Roll the dough up and pinch shut the edge along the side of the roll. In a sauce pan melt some butter and a handful of brown sugar along with some cinnamon and a little cream to make about 1/4 to 1/2 cup mixture. Pour the sauce pan of butter and sugar mixture into a cooking pan. Cut the long roll of dough into slices and place the slices onto the butter and brown sugar mixture in the cooking pan. Dribble cream on each cinnamon roll. Let the rolls rise in the pan for about 20 minutes. Cook at 375 degrees.
Here’s how it went:
ATTEMPT ONE: TOO LARGE
I did okay up until I rolled up the dough. I let the butter soften for a couple of
hours which made it easier to spread over the dough. I covered the top of the dough with about brown sugar about 1/4 inch thick (I’m guessing around 2/3 cup), and sprinkled enough cinnamon to completely cover the sugar (@ 2 TBSP). I used 1/2 cup of pecan pieces, and about the same of golden raisins. Mistake no. 1: I rolled up the dough from the short end of the rectangle instead of the long end. This made eight thin rolls. Mistake no. 2: I used way too little brown sugar and way too much cream in the liquid mixture. The idea is to create a caramelly topping, and as you can see in the bottom of the pan, it should be much more caramel colored and a lot less cream colored. She said “a handful of brown sugar”. Use two good handfuls, 2 tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of cinnamon, and just enough cream to make the mixture the consistency of a runny caramel. Mistake no. 3: the pan I used is too large. The rolls should touch each other and the sides of the pan. The pan in the picture is 9”x13”. RESULT: You’ve no doubt noticed that the cooking instructions do not include time. I preheated the oven and baked the rolls for 25 minutes, which was just right. However, my too-thin topping mixture made the bottom of the rolls soggy and the too-large pan made the rolls loose and not very tall.
ATTEMPT TWO; TOO SMALL
This time I had figured out how to roll the dough. The long thin roll, when cut into eight equal pieces, makes much thicker cinnamon rolls. I also melted the butter and brushed it over the dough in step one. This was a lot easier than trying to spread it. However, dotting lots of little chunks of butter around makes the rolls very rich. Mistake 1: I adjusted the liquid mixture for the bottom of the pan, but not enough. It was still too creamy. Mistake 2: This time the pan I used was too small - an 8”x8” glass baking pan. I crammed all eight rolls into the pan. They rose like a mushroom cloud over the top of the pan. RESULT: I ended up with something rather like monkey bread with a soggy bottom.
ATTEMPT THREE: JUST RIGHT
My problem was that I don’t own the right sized pan. So this I put six of the rolls in the 8”x8” baking pan and the two remaining rolls in a six-inch ramekin. I used a lot more sugar and a lot less cream in the liquid mixture. I also used dark brown sugar instead of light brown, as I had in the first attempts, which made for a richer brown caramel. RESULT: when I turned these rolls out onto the plate, they were well risen and covered with sweet, gooey brown sugar caramel. By the time I retrieved my camera to take the picture, two of the rolls were already gone.