Really Delicious Cinnamon Rolls

Winter is for cinnamon rolls, I’m just sure of it.

Cinnamon rolls are one of those foods that have been so re-created by the food industry so as to bear but a shadowy resemblance to the real thing. These rolls are treats, to be sure, but they are real food. I love them muchly. I think I shall be making them today.

And here is how you can make some, too:

Dissolve a heaping tablespoon of dry yeast in ¼ cup of warm (not hot) water. Set aside.

Melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter, and stir in 1/3 cup sugar (I like to use organic fair-trade evaporated cane juice). Stir in 1 cup of whole milk that’s been warmed up slightly, 1 beaten egg, 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract and 1 and ½ tsp. salt. To this add the yeast-water mixture. Gradually stir in 4 to 5 cups bread flour (up to half whole-wheat), changing the stirring to kneading once necessary. Knead 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic, wipe dough all over with butter, cover, and set aside for one hour.

Meanwhile, mix together 1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar and 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon. Set aside. Soften another stick (1/2 cup) butter and set aside.

When the dough has risen, gently push it down, and begin to stretch and pull it to fit an 11″ × 15″ baking sheet. Take your time and push it down evenly. Using a pastry brush (or your clean fingers), spread softened butter all over the dough, except for the long side that is farthest from you, leaving a 1″×15″ strip CLEAN.

Then carefully spread the cinnamon sugar over the butter. Roll up from bottom edge loosely — not firmly — and use the “clean” edge to seal up the roll. Saw the log very gently with a serrated knife into 1.5 inch pieces; it helps to score the log lightly before you cut. Lay the slices almost touching in a buttered 9″ × 13″ pan.

Cover and allow the rolls to rise for an hour.

While you wait, make the frosting by creaming together 2 ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup of butter, 1 cup of powdered sugar, and 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract.

When the rolls have risen again, bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Tip onto a large plate immediately, and when slightly cooled, spread with frosting. Yum.

Eat them with friends! And coffee! And JOY!

Some Thoughts on Abundance & Materialism

In Wednesday’s post, I attempted to echo Ellen’s post in saying that a fleshed-out Christmas–one with decorations! and presents! and lights! and music! and cookies!–is one good and fitting response to a holiday celebrating God’s Incarnation as a flesh-and-blood man in this smelly, fragrant, musical, discordant, delicious and disgusting world. Special gifts, special music, special food, special decorations are good things.

Sure, they can be overdone. I remember taking a run (back when I used to run) around a suburb I was visiting the day after Christmas. I was stunned by the size of the trash piles in front of almost every house: boxes and wrapping and discarded, old things, thrown out, ostensibly, to make room for the new things. But maybe holiday excess results not so much from being too materialistic, but from not being ‘materialistic’ enough. As Margaret Kim Peterson writes in Keeping House:

“Many things in life, whether food or household objects, are truly good. They are to be treated with appreciation and respect, and sometimes this means saying no to too much. This does not mean being ‘less materialistic.’ In a way, it means being more materialistic. It means taking material things seriously enough to be willing to get rid of them or to decline to acquire them in the first place.”

Indeed: sometimes we have to ‘make room’ so we can truly enjoy the goodness of material things. We only have so much room in our stomachs, in our homes, and in our days. Sometimes, a background of simplicity makes room for even better celebration: Christmas cookies aren’t nearly so special when you eat them every day, every week or every month.

No: their proper time and place is only at Christmastime.

There’s something good in that, I think.

So. Many. Cookies!

One of my favorite books of all time–a book I loved as a child and still love–is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. And one of the best parts of that book is the chapter on Christmas–it’s the one where the cousins come and Laura receives her rag doll, Susan. {Charlotte! Not Susan! Susan was my rag doll. And the Ingalls’ cat.} But as in all the Little House books, Laura’s keenest memories seem to be about food.(See why I love her?)

“Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and ‘Injun bread,’ Swedish crackers, and a huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.”

My sons love the ‘Laura books,’ as they call them, and while they’re most intrigued by Pa’s guns and tales of wild animals, they also like all the ‘food parts.’ And they like begging for (and eating) cookies. So does my husband. He’s been eating–and stealing–so many cookies that I made some Type II diabetes crack at him this morning.He looked wounded and said, “you shouldn’t call your blog ‘eat with joy.’ Teasing me about diabetes is not joyful. Don’t make fun of how many cookies I’m eating!”

Okay, sweetheart, okay. You’re right. Christmas comes but once a year, and good thing, too, because making 5 dozen cookies a day is not sustainable in any sense of that word. I’ve been spending almost as much time in the kitchen as Caroline Ingalls!

{Though she wasn’t lucky enough to have a temperature-regulated oven, much less a KitchenAid stand mixer. So I’ll quit whingeing.}

Here’s hoping your holiday preparations are filling you with much more pleasure than pain!

you NEED to make these cookies!

This is what my mom and I will be baking this weekend, as the week ahead holds the traditional cookie-exchange parties and other standard church-lady get-togethers. It is a seriously yummy cookie–almost chewy-brownie-like, yet still a cookie–perfect with a glass of milk.

It’s kind of like:+ (PLUS) +

YUM.

I brought some to the library (to thank them for their unending patience with my unending interlibrary loan piles) and to A.’s violin teacher (also a fount of unending patience.) Plus, Tim took some to work.

(And I may or may not have eaten one with milk before dinner. Don’t tell.)

And so:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together until light and fluffy:

1 cup of butter

3/4 cup of brown sugar

3/4 cup of white granulated sugar

When light and fluffy, beat in thoroughly:

1 large egg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Meanwhile, blend together with a wire whisk IN A SEPARATE BOWL:

1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour

3/4 cup of unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

Pinch of salt

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just blended–do not overbeat.

Fold in:

1 cup of peppermint bark, whirled a few times in the food processor

(For the bark, you can substitute 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate and 1/2 cup broken peppermint stick pieces)

Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, at least 1 inch apart. Bake in center of oven for 6 minutes, rotate pan, bake another 6 minutes.
Let cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

{Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. Inspired, as many things are, by Elise @ Simply Recipes.}

MAKE SOME TODAY!

How We Make Pizza Dough

We love our NY pizzeria pizza, but homemade pizza makes all kinds of sense. First, it’s inexpensive. Second, you can top it just the way you like it. Third, it’s fun.

I’ve used various recipes for pizza doughs over the years, and many have worked well, but my favorite way to make pizza is with the recipe for pita bread from the Moosewood Cookbook.

This is how to make it:

Dissolve in 1 cup warm (about 110 degrees F) water:

1 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 Tablespoon honey

Sift together separately:

1 teaspoon salt

about 3 1/2 cups of flour (or 3 and 1/4 c. flour + 1/4 c. vital wheat gluten)

Gradually add flour mixture to the wet mixture, and knead well until very smooth. (I let this ancient MixMaster fitted with kneading hooks do the work, but, sadly, it died shortly after.)

{Don’t be fooled by the bottle of olive oil in the background. This recipe doesn’t call for oil.}

Divide the well-kneaded and smooth dough into two smooth balls, cover bowl with a damp cloth or with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled.

When the dough has nearly doubled, preheat your oven as high as it goes. (Mine goes to 500F.) Put a baking stone on the lowest oven rack to preheat as well.

Cut each half into three roughly equal pieces (6 pieces total) and roll each piece gently into a ball. Cover gently with a wet cloth and let rest 10 minutes.

Gently, working with one ball at a time, roll each into an approximate 10″ round, using additional flour if necessary to keep dough from sticking. Place on a flat smooth surface well-dusted with cornmeal or flour–you’re going to slip it off THAT surface onto the hot baking stone. (Yes, it’s a pain in the neck, but it’s doable.)

Top however you like; and slip onto hot stone. Bake 7-10 minutes–or until it looks done, and allow to cool a bit on a wire rack. Repeat with each dough ball. (You can freeze some of the dough for another time.)

Dollops of fresh pesto, fresh ricotta, and halved cherry tomatoes with a bit of mozzarella (no sauce). Yum! Done right (and I do not always do it right, alas) this is THE closest a homemade pizza comes to tasting like a real NY slice.

Enjoy the weekend!