"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life;
to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How To Make Cinnamon Rolls

Well, here I am again.  It's mid-afternoon and the kids are at school and the house is quiet.  I should be at the gym right now, but the house is so warm and cozy and I'm comfortable here.  Maybe I'll go work out tonight, but who am I kidding.  I say it all the time, but I hate the house when it's quiet.  When will I stop thinking about who should be here with me?  Maybe when Garrett SHOULD be in first grade, I'll stop looking at the clock and thinking that he should be here, right now, at this very moment, telling me how bored he is and that he can't wait to be in school full time and eat in the big kid cafeteria. 

So for now, I bake.  This is my third batch of cinnamon rolls in four days and I've had a few people ask me how to make them.  So while I sit here and watch old episodes of "The Walking Dead", I'm thinking about the end of the world and making cinnamon rolls and I'll tell you exactly how I make them.  This is (what I believe to be) a Cinnabon copycat and they are darn good.  You'll need:

2 1/4 tsp yeast, or one package
1 C warm milk (remember from my last post, the temperature you'd bathe a baby in)
1/2 C white sugar
6 Tbsp softened butter
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 C white flour

1 C brown sugar
6 Tbsp melted butter
3 Tbsp cinnamon

6 Tbsp softened butter
2 oz softened cream cheese
1 1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of salt

*I don't want to repeat myself on my bread making technique from my last post on making basic white bread.  I suggest you go back and read it about softening yeast, getting the oven the perfect temp, etc. 

First, let the yeast soften in the cup of warm milk for about three minutes.  In a separate mixing bowl, combine the white sugar, butter, salt, eggs, and one cup of the flour.  When the yeast milk is ready, pour it into the butter mixture and get it really well combined.  Then one cup at a time, add in the additional flour.  Remember what I said about not overdoing it on the flour?  It's crucial with these rolls.  This dough will be a little sticky and soft but trust me, do not add additional flour.  Use no more than one extra tablespoon on the counter surface when you do the final kneading by hand.  Again, this will be a little softer and stickier than normal bread dough!  It will harden up a little when it rises.

Lightly grease a different bowl and put the dough in it to rise.  Put it in a warm oven (see previous post) and let it rise about an hour, or until doubled in size.  This dough will NOT get as big as bread dough, or even other roll dough, so don't get discouraged. 

After it's risen, punch it down and let it rest for about five minutes.  In the meantime, lightly flour the counter surface in preparation to roll the dough out.  Roll the dough out to approximately 10x20 inches.  In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling until well mixed.  Slather it on the rolled dough and use your hands to evenly spread it, almost to the edges.  Don't be afraid to get your hands really messy! 

Very gently, start rolling the dough up along the longer side.  Don't be in a hurry- you want it to me nice and even.  Grease a 9x13 pan.  With a butcher knife, cut off about half an inch on both ends of the roll to make it more even (discard those pieces).  Then cut it evenly into 12 segments.  Chances are the four segments in the middle will be slightly thicker than those on the ends, so those are the pieces you want on the OUTSIDE of the pan because they will need to get more heat.  Evenly space the 12 segments flat side down in the pan.  Whatever pieces feel smaller or lighter to you, put those in the middle of the pan.  Got it?  Heavier pieces on the outside?

Put the pan back in the warmish oven to rise for a second time.  In about 45 minutes, they are ready to bake!  Take them out of the oven while you preheat it to 350.  Then bake them uncovered for 22-25 minutes.  While they are baking, mix up the icing and be ready to slather it on the top as soon as they come out of the oven.  There, you just made cinnamon rolls!!!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Daily Bread

 Right now it's about 11:00 at night and the house is quiet.  Painfully quiet.  The kids were all in bed before 8:30, and Cody has been asleep since an hour after that.  So for ninety minutes, it's just been me alone with my thoughts.  That's usually a scary thing because when things are quiet and my mind of loud, it makes me crazy and anxious.  Tonight I am fighting the urge to sit down and scour every picture and video I ever took of Garrett.  I'm so afraid lately that I'm forgetting the little things about him, like his cowlick around his forehead or the way he said "firsty" when he wanted a drink.  Dear God, this lump in my throat really hurts.

I don't want to wake up with a crying hangover tomorrow, so I'm fighting the urge to intoxicate myself with pain.  Instead, I make bread.  Lots and lots of bread lately.  A few months ago it was cupcakes, but now it's bread.  Or soup.  Or bread AND soup.  In an effort to keep my sad idle mind on something other than hurt, I decided to write down my fool proof method for making basic white bread.  Straight out of the oven smeared with butter and jam, it's my absolute favorite comfort food.  And to me, there is something cathartic about the act of making bread.  From kneading the dough, to uncovering a perfectly risen bowl of dough.  Oh, I love all of it, and I've done a lot of it this week. 

I've made this exact bread at least 100 times in my life, and I guess there's a few tricks I've learned over the years, but over all it's your basic and simple bread recipe.  You'll need:

1 package dry active yeast, or 2 1/4 tsp from a jar
1/4 C warm water
2 C milk
2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
1 Tbsp shortening
2 tsp salt
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 C white all-purpose flour
softened butter for brushing
garlic salt

First, the water has to be the perfect temperature.  A lot of people make the mistake of getting their water too hot, which can actually kill the yeast and make flat bread.  The water needs to be about the temperature that you'd bathe a newborn baby in.  Somewhere around 100 degrees F.  Put the warm water in a bowl and pour the yeast directly into it.  You'll want to very gently stir the yeast into the water to make sure every granule is saturated.  It will stick to the sides of the bowl, so gently push it into the water.  Let the yeast water sit while you do the next few steps.  Yeast softening is CRUCIAL because it activates the yeast.

Next, in a saucepan you'll measure the milk, sugar, shortening, and salt.  You'll want this mixture to be about the temp of water YOU would bathe in.  Kind of hot, but not boiling.  Somewhere around 110 degrees.  You need to constantly stir it otherwise the milk will scorch.  As soon as the shortening is almost melted, take it off the burner. 

In your mixing bowl, measure out 2 cups of the flour.  Pour in the hot milk mixture and mix until fairly smooth.  Now you'll pour in the yeast water.  Use a rubber spatula to make sure you get every bit of the yeast that might be stuck to the bowl.  Mix all of it together and it should start smelling like bread!

I am lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook.  If you don't have one of those, you might be doing it the old fashioned way- by hand.  Mix in as much of the remaining flour as you can by hand, then dump the gooey bread into a flour surface (like the kitchen counter) and begin to knead it.  Remember you are not making a bagel; you are making fluffy bread.  The trick is to add in only as much flour as absolutely necessary to reach an elastic consistency.  If it is still SLIGHTLY sticky, that's perfect.  I usually end up using 6 cups of flour total, including what I've used on the kitchen counter.  Too much flour and your bread will be dense (like a bagel).

This is my favorite part.  Knead it until it is beautifully smooth, squishy, and elastic.  It should still slightly stick to your hand when you pick your hand up.  You don't want it wet per-say, but a little sticky.  When it's like this, it's perfect and read to start rising! 

Right now, turn your oven on to the lowest temp it will go.  The setting should be around 190 degrees or so.  Keep the oven open, and as soon as it feels warm but not hot, close the door and turn the oven off.  This make the perfect incubator for rising dough, but you have to monitor the rising temp as long as the oven is on.  You only want it warm, like the perfect early summer day outdoors.  Shorts and tee-shirt weather.  That's what you want the oven to feel like inside.  If you could climb in the oven and not burn, that's how to want it for the rising dough.

Lightly grease the inside of a different mixing bowl with cooking spray and lay your perfectly formed bread dough ball inside.  Lightly spray the surface of the dough with the same cooking spray to keep it from drying out while rising, or you can brush with oil.  Loosely cover the bowl with a dish towel and place inside the warmed oven.  Close the door and walk away for the next 60-90 minutes.  When you return to open the oven, wallah!  This is what your dough should look like.  It should have at least doubled in size from where you started. 


Your counter top doesn't need to be floured for this part.  Turn the bowl upside down and let the dough plop out.  You may have to slightly jiggle the bowl to make the stubborn and sleepy bottom part give up it's bed.  That bread has spent the last 90 minutes in a womb, and it's very comfy and warm.  It should now be soft and bubbly and maybe a little oily on the surface from the cooking spray.  Perfect!

Knead the dough a few times on the counter.  Tuck the sides under until you have a nice even mound, then cut it in half with a butcher knife.  Now you have two perfectly even twin mounds of dough.  Grease 2 eight inch bread pans, shape each mound into something that looks like a baby loaf, and put each one in a pan.  Again, lightly spray or brush the tops with oil, cover with the dish towel, and stick back in the oven.  It won't be as warm as when you started, but it should still be above room temp which is okay.

After they have doubled in size (again, it will take at least an hour) you are ready to remove the pans and turn the oven on FOR REAL.  After the pans are removed from the oven, turn it on to 375 degrees.  This is likely the step where your beautifully risen dough will fall, if it's going to happen at all.  This happens because of too much movement inside the delicate air bubbles within the dough.  Move the pans as gently as you can when transporting them from the oven and then back in when the oven is preheated. 

Let the bread bake for 20 minutes, then rotate them for even cooking.  Bake for another 12-15 minutes and then remove them.  Wallah, you just made yeast bread!!  Your house should smell divine by now.  As soon as you take it out of the oven, brush the tops (generously) with melted butter.  Run a knife along the inside of the pan to loosen any stubborn bread from the pan walls (if you did a good job greasing, this should not be a problem).  Remove the bread from the pans and into a wire cooling rack.

Brush the sides with MORE butter, and then lightly sprinkle the top with garlic salt.  You can also use a cinnamon/sugar mixture, garlic bread seasoning, or any ground herbs that you like.  Or, sprinkle nothing at all!  You now have two beautiful loaves of white bread that will last less than an hour in your kitchen.  Enjoy gaining a few pounds after devouring them, but know that every calorie is worth it!!  Let me know how yours turn out!