Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas and Cinnamon Rolls...

We spent Christmas in South Carolina at my parents' new house, and it was so wonderful to spend time with them, my sister and her husband, and their three beautiful girls.  The only person missing was my brother, but at least we'll get to see him this fall at our wedding.

I hadn't seen my parents since they moved back to SC a year and a half ago, and it had been longer than that since I'd seen my nieces.  The little girls really don't know me well since they're only 2 and 5 and they've only met me a few times over the years.  But my 14-year-old niece and I have always been close since she spent her first five years in Colorado before they moved to Indiana, and then I moved there, too, to be near them for a few years.  I miss them all so much.

After flying into Atlanta, GA on Sunday and spending the night with my aunt, uncle and cousins who I'd lived with for almost a year during college, we drove up Monday morning to South Carolina, where everyone was waiting for us.

I started the trip with good intentions of continuing my healthy eating plan, in which I've been limiting myself to one dessert a week, so I began the day with grilled chicken, scrambled eggs and tomatoes for breakfast  at the airport and even turned down the biscoff cookies offered on the plane.  But by the time we landed, I was starving and after a bacon cheeseburger smothered with sweet Jack Daniels sauce and fries for a late lunch, it seemed futile to try to resist the parade of pound cake, apple pie, caramel sauce, ice cream, granola, chocolate cinnamon loaf cake, pumpkin streusel coffee cake, ham and mashed potatoes, chili and cornbread, hot chocolate and round-the-clock pots of coffee.

And yet, I suppressed the urge to add artificially flavored creamer to my coffee since it's full of ingredients I'm trying to avoid.

That's right, hold the creamer.  But please pass the pie.

It was a delicious week.

Tuesday morning, Laura, her husband Chris, Jamie and I took off to go explore our old neighborhood and see the house where we grew up.  Driving down our old street, my mind was flooded with memories from childhood.

The house looked almost exactly like I remember it, the shutters and garage the same hunter green that my dad and I painted them so many years ago, the brick steps leading up to the front porch where we spent long summer days playing with Barbies, the front yard where we learned to hit softballs, celebrated birthday parties, chased fireflies and ran around in our bathing suits through the sprinkler.

The trees in the front yard, just sticks when my mom planted them over 30 years ago, towered over the house.  The chain link fence had been replaced with a wooden fence, and I wondered if the cement patio out back where we skated back and forth was still there.

I half hoped that if we lingered outside long enough, the owners would come out, and seeing as it was Christmas Eve and all, welcome us to come inside to take a look around.  But of course they didn't, so we walked down the street to the rickety bridge that crossed a stream into the woods.

The path that we had named "Lover's Lane" led up a hill into what used to give way to a clearing, where an old abandoned mansion sat, ramshackle and dejected.  We used to imagine that the house was haunted, and maybe it was.  A lonely horse we named Patches was fenced on the property, but we never knew who he belonged to or who took care of him.

Imagine our disappointment to find the clearing overgrown and full of thistles, and the house gone, completely torn down (or burned?) without a trace to indicate it had ever been there, other than a rusty old mailbox with the former owner's name.  I wish I knew the history of that old house.

The funny thing is that while our old house and the woods where we played looked much like I remember, they also looked just a little bit smaller.

My parents' new home backs up to 50 or so acres of woods, with walking trails wandering here and there through the trees, so we took the girls for a walk one afternoon.  It was almost sunset, and the warm, almost fall-like weather quickly turned cold under the shadow of the lush green forest.

I pointed out a wild mushroom to 5-year-old R., but instead of inspecting it closer like I thought she would, she squealed excitedly, "Let's kick it!", and then booted it with her foot, except that she pronounces 'k'' as a 't', so it actually came out as, "Let's tit it!"

After many Christmas movies were watched and games of Phase 10 and ping pong were played, cookies left out for Santa, presents opened and Christmas dinner eaten, it was time to say goodbye and go home.  My mom cried.

We got home Thursday night at almost 11pm, our Christmas presents for each other still waiting, unwrapped, under the tree, so we decided to celebrate our own Christmas morning the next day.  And even though it was late and I was tired, I wanted a special breakfast after opening presents, so I mixed up yeast dough before bed, leaving it to rise on the kitchen counter overnight, for cinnamon rolls the next morning.

I only make cinnamon rolls around Christmas, which makes them a special treat, and I added a little almond extract to the dough, as well as to the frosting.

After the present opening, we ate hot cinnamon rolls with coffee, made a quick grocery run, and then settled in for a long cozy weekend of watching the entire series of Harry Potter.

One Year Ago:   Apple Cider Poached Pears at Midnight
Two Years AgoEggnog Pudding

Cinnamon Rolls

  • 1/4 cup warm water (110-115 F)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed, and extra for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla, lemon or orange extract)

To make the dough, pour the water into the bowl of your stand mixer and sprinkle with the yeast.  Let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix with the dough hook to combine.  Knead on medium low speed for about 8 minutes, gradually adding another 1/4 cup flour, if needed, until the dough is soft and pliable.  Place dough in a well-greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours (I left the dough on the counter overnight at this point).

When the dough has doubled in size, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.

For the filling, brush the dough with 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, then sprinkle with the sugars and cinnamon.  If you like, you could also sprinkle the dough with raisins or dried fruit, chopped nuts or chocolate chips.  Roll up into a log and slice into 12 rolls.  Place one inch apart in a greased baking dish.

Baker's Note: Bake only 6 rolls in a 9x13 baking dish, or all 12 rolls on a cookie sheet, to give them plenty of room to expand.  You can also bake half and freeze half to bake later, wrapped tightly in plastic.

Brush the rolls with the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter.  Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel and let the rolls rest and rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

For the glaze, beat all ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.  Spread onto the hot cinnamon rolls for a glaze that drips into all the crevices, or wait for the cinnamon rolls to cool and then spread it on like frosting.

Baker's Note:  Like most homemade yeast breads, these are best the day they are made, but are still good warmed up the following day.

Yields 12 cinnamon rolls

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

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