But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.
But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.
Since discovering toasted muesli this past summer, I can’t get enough of it — seriously, we make double batches of it twice a week. Its virtues are countless — healthy, whole grain, full of fiber, gluten free, easy to make, delicious, delicious, delicious — and I can’t introduce enough people to it.
If you are interested in printing these labels at home, these are the two sets of Avery stickers I ordered:
I know that some of you might be thinking there is no possible way you have time to add one more item, let alone homemade dinner rolls, to your Thanksgiving Day timetable, but I’m here on this snowy November morning to encourage — to insist! — that you do. You absolutely have time. Here’s why:
1. This dough, especially if you use instant yeast, takes five minutes to mix together. There is no kneading, no pampering.
2. Moreover, there is no need to flour up a workspace or to get your hands dirty shaping individual rolls. If you have a 12-cup muffin pan and someone lurking in your kitchen hoping to help, you’re in luck. Put that friend to work buttering the muffin cups, punching down the dough, portioning out the rolls. Handling this dough requires no skill.
3. This dough can rise in the corner of your kitchen all morning long. While that turkey roasts away, you can punch the dough down as often as you need, and when at last you find the oven free of birds and stuffings and gratins, in will go your rolls.
4. These rolls bake in 25 minutes. If you plan on letting your turkey rest for a good 30 minutes before carving, you’ll have plenty of time to let these rolls make their second rise (17 to 20 minutes) and to bake them before your guests are seated around the table, at which point you will pass around a basket of steaming hot, thyme-flecked rolls.
I don’t know how anyone could find fault in something as delectable as Teddie’s apple cake, as fun as the big apple pancake, or as glorious as the Balzano apple cake, but I happen to live with a few such people. And I know I shouldn’t take offense to a three-year old’s aversion to “texture” of any kind, but when I see a piece of cake picked to pieces, apples and crumbs scattered across the plate, my blood pressure rises.
In an effort to please these little beings — seriously, there’s nothing like a toddler’s behavior at the dinner table to shatter my confidence in the kitchen — I called my old neighbor, Geri, from Virginia, to get her recipe for applesauce-yogurt cake, something she always seemed to have on hand this time of year, a cake my children (and I) couldn’t get enough of when we found ourselves across the street at her house.
There is a not-so-little known deli in my town called Gershon’s, and the first time Ben and I stopped in, we found ourselves in the to-go line staring up at the overwhelming menu board during the midday rush, the trail of hungry regulars growing behind us with every passing second, the decision of what to order becoming harder with every beep-beep-beep of the opening front door.
Fortunately, the man standing behind us offered us guidance, telling us to order the #1, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, the one he orders every week, the one he has ordered every week since discovering Gershon’s 21 years ago. It seemed like a safe bet.
Served on rye bread, this sandwich, buckling with meat, dripping with Russian dressing, spilling with slaw, couldn’t have been more delicious. And as we chomped on our pickles and picked at our chips, we wondered if we too might fall into the #1-for-life routine. But fortunately, something happened — the weather turned — and when we found ourselves at Gershon’s again, this time to dine-in on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to warm up with a cup of the daily soup, white bean with escarole and sausage.
Earlier this month, upon realizing that I had officially become my mother, not only in my preferences, but also in how I impose my preferences on others — dark meat chicken, cakes without frosting — I decided it might be wise to branch out a bit, to bake a cake with not one but two layers and to guild it not with a delicate dusting of powdered sugar but with a slathering of silky frosting.
It was a healthy exercise. You see, I didn’t know that frosting — chocolate buttercream in this case — has the ability to silence a table surrounded by both toddlers and adults and afterwards to elicit unprompted comments such as: “You are such a good cooker.” This cake, made with buttermilk and oil — no butter — and exclusively cocoa — no melted chocolate — is incredibly light and moist and stays this way — tasting freshly baked — for days. It’s anotherIna Garten recipe, one she begged for from a friend, the grandson of Beatty, after taking one bite.
When my friend Anne announced she was getting married in my neck of the woods and asked if I might be interested in making some apple pies in place of a wedding cake, I immediately called my aunt Marcy to consult. I hadn’t made a pie in a long time — years! — and I not only needed a refresher on the basics — how many apples? what spices? tapioca or flour? how much sugar? — I also needed help with the logistics: would I realistically be able to make, bake and store enough pies to feed an entire (albeit small) wedding? Could I face this challenge with grace and dignity?
The conclusion we came to pretty quickly was no. Absolutely not. In my wise old age I have learned that sometimes it just makes sense to accept my limitations. Deep thoughts by Ali.
After explaining to Anne that for the wellbeing of everyone in my house I would have to decline, we came up with a saner solution: I would make two ceremonial pies for the pie-cutting ritual. Two pies I could handle. Nobody in my house would be harmed.