Friday, January 27, 2012

Cinnamon, take 2 (they're small)

Oh, there’s so much to write about! There’s been so much cooking in this house since I last posted! Soups and stews and tuna casserole (oh my!).

However, I fear there would be riots if I didn’t write about my baking adventures of the past couple of weeks.

And by that I mean the sticky buns.

This will be another case of food blogs colliding. I Googled “sticky buns” and this was the first thing that came up. A recipe for Cinnamon Sticky Buns at

I read quite a few recipes, but I kept coming back to this one. It had all the elements I was looking for: an egg-rich dough that was supposed to sit in the fridge overnight, plenty of cinnamon-sugar filling (with brown sugar, not white) and an ooey-gooey, sticky syrup mixture loaded with pecans in the bottom of the pan that ooze all over the baked buns when they were turned out of the pan.

I also loved that, for those who aren’t used to working with or proofing yeast, it had a link to a picture of what the yeast was supposed to look like when it was done proofing, all bubbling and foamy. Nice detail!

There are some out there, I’m well aware, who believe the pecans get in the way of all the yumminess, but I’m here to tell you they are necessary for the yummy. The provide a richness and a slight bitterness that balances all the sweet. I honestly don’t think I could handle all of that sweetness without the balance of some nuts. Walnuts would probably also be fine, but I really love the butteriness of the pecans. It’s really perfect, in my opinion.

The dough was easy to work with…dense and smooth because of the egg yolks. There is nothing quite like the feel of a yeast dough when it’s just right. It gets slightly shiny, it’s moist without being sticky, it’s almost velvety. It's really kind of sexy.

I did things a little out of sequence from the recipe. Because of timing, I put the dough in the fridge after the first rise and let it set there overnight. Then I took it out the next day, let it rise a couple of times, punching it down every couple of hours, before I rolled it out, prepped the goo for the baking pan and baked the rolls.

What did that extra rising time get me? A little more fermentation time, which means a little more flavor to the dough.

There were two things that annoyed me. First, the dough wouldn’t stay on the dough hook of my mixer and I’m not sure why. Maybe it wasn’t sticky enough. It was a rather dry day…the dough didn’t even take the minimum amount of flour the recipe called for. Maybe my egg yolks weren’t large enough. Or maybe it just wasn’t terribly humid.

That’s the thing about yeast doughs…you kind of have to play it by ear when it comes to adding the flour. Too little and your dough will be sticky; too much and your dough will be tough.

While they were baking, the house filled with this gorgeous, sweet, yeasty, cinnamony smell. I couldn’t help myself when they came out of the oven. As soon as they were cool enough, I had to try one. To my credit, it was one of the ends from the pre-cut roll, so it was kind of small.

The other thing that annoyed me…well, maybe annoyed is too strong a term. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting even though it did taste wonderful.

The ooey-gooey syrup had a pronounced honey flavor. It certainly didn’t keep me from eating them. They were delicious! But I found as the week went on that it wasn’t quite the flavor I remembered from my mom’s rolls. So I need to experiment with the sticky topping. Maybe less honey or no honey at all and dark Karo instead of light.

All in all, it was a really tasty treat. Nice and chewy from the sticky syrup, plenty of cinnamon, a nice, tang to the bread and the crunch from the pecans.

I guess I’ll just have to keep experimenting till I get it right!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Seriously Cinnamony for the very first time

As many years as I have been baking (and we’re talking in the 30s here), it’s really quite amazing that I had never, until last weekend, made cinnamon rolls.

I have friends who don’t consider themselves bakers who have made countless batches of the delightful treats. I think my friend Bryce might know his grandmother’s recipe by heart. I saw him make them once and I don’t remember seeing a recipe.

I remember when my mom made cinnamon rolls, it was an overnight process. She made an enormous amount of dough, letting it rise a couple of times, then she’d roll and cut and then refrigerate them overnight, then take them out in the morning, let them rise again and then bake.

If I remember correctly, she would put a mixture of Karo syrup, butter and nuts in the pan, too. (A conversation with my friend Marty last weekend jogged that memory loose.) Which would technically make then sticky buns, not cinnamon rolls.

What’s the difference?

Well, both cinnamon rolls and sticky buns start with a rich bread dough rolled with butter and cinnamon sugar, but the similarities end there.

Cinnamon rolls are baked in a fairly naked pan (with a little butter, Crisco or cooking spray), allowed to cool most of the way and then drizzled or spread with some sort of vanilla frosting. Some use cream cheese to give it richness and a little tang. Some go with a simple milk and powdered sugar glaze.

Cinnamon rolls will sometimes contain raisins.

Not in my house.

I’m not against raisins in baked goods. I love a nice, chewy oatmeal raisin cookie (unlike a good portion of my friends). I will not turn away an offered cinnamon roll if it has raisins in it. However, if I have the choice, I will go sans raisins.

Cinnamon rolls might have some nuts going on. Usually walnuts, because walnuts go well with raisins. Not many of the rolls I’ve eaten in my lifetime have walnuts in them because, as I mentioned, I prefer my rolls without raisins.

Sticky buns? That is a horse of a different color altogether.

Sticky buns are baked in a pan of which the bottom has been prepared with a mixture that has many variations, but most often includes cinnamon, dark Karo, some butter and some pecans.

Here’s the thing. The pecans are important. They define and set apart the sticky bun from it’s white-coated cousin. There are probably buns that have walnuts or hazelnuts or macadamia nuts (oooh….that sounds good!).

But to me, pecans are the definitive nut for a sticky bun.

So you make this concoction of sugar, syrup, butter and cinnamon, you pour it into the baking pan, sprinkle that with nuts and then you lay the prepared rolls on top of this elixir and you bake it all together.

Not only do you have to goo at the bottom of the pan, but then you also have the butter and cinnamon sugar from the inside oozing out a bit.

When you bake these, it’s crucial to turn them out of the pan almost right after they’re removed from the oven. If you let them cool in the pan, you might as well say goodbye to the rolls and the pan. You’re never going to get the rolls out of the pan.

The hardest part is waiting for them to be cool enough to eat without burning several layers of tissue off the roof of your mouth.

Of course, last weekend, I made cinnamon rolls. They turned out pretty good. The recipe I found on was simple, yet tasty.

But apparently what I was craving was sticky buns. So I gonna have to bake again. Soon.

Thanks for stopping by, y’all. Eat something fabulous this weekend!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Holiday Wrap Up

As I get older, the holidays are met with decidedly mixed emotions. It’s more exciting now, with a little boy who gazes with wonder at the lighted tree and the pretty decorations on it (taking the French horns off to try and play them and making the little bells jingle).

Christmas always makes me miss my mom and dad. During the last few years of their lives, I loved going down to their house on Christmas Eve, having some homemade goodies (cookies and fudge, mostly), driving to Spanaway Park to see the light show, and having some quiet time just to talk. It was nice to have that peaceful time with them before the house got filled with everybody else.

There have been times in the last few years when facing Christmas literally hurt. It made my chest ache with the emptiness of missing them.

But this year was different.

Part of that, I know, was the focus on little G-man and the excitement of seeing him open his presents on Christmas morning.

But it was due, in great part, to Lovefest 2011, the grand dinner I wrote about last week.

Sitting around that table, looking at all the people I rarely see, but have been a part of my life, some of them, for nearly twenty years, was a celebration of family all its own.

I have shared many meals with these wonderful people. Whether it was salami, cheese and wine during rehearsal or a Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people that we cooked ourselves or pork chops and an improvised pan sauce (“I had all that in my kitchen?”) or Mexican food and a bucket of margaritas…whatever the repast, we shared it with joy and love.

There have been other amazing meals, too. The homemade manicotti at my birthday party in Everett (meal inspired by what my dad cooked for me when I was a kid). The culinary adventures enjoyed before watching Battlestar Galactica in a darkened back room. The beautifully tender steak tips cooked by a vegetarian because she loves to feed her friends who eat meat. The gorgeous beef roast my inlaws made for Christmas dinner. The pate and brie and champagne I shared with my beautiful N on New Year’s Eve.

And fantastic desserts as well. Like the chocolate cake a friend made me for my birthday one year that made me cry because the only other person who had ever made me a birthday cake was my mom. The amazing sugar cookies we got as a Christmas present this year. The great cake experiments my friends have let me make for their special occasions (weddings, book releases, birthdays). The candy my mom used to make or to pies my dad baked.

The really wonderful thing about all of these dishes has been that they have been shared with family, both blood and chosen.

I am so blessed with so many lovely and loving people in my life. This holiday season I got to see a lot of them. So when the new year came around, I found myself surprisingly happy.

So thank you, to all of my friends, my chosen family and my blood family, for being here. You make life better.

I started writing here regularly in February and managed to make it to the page 35 times.

Thank you to all of you who visit, regularly or occasionally. I love food and I love words and I love getting to bring them together here every week.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to another year of culinary adventures!!