Just Like Your Kid: Trouble But Worth It Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing gold can stay.

Exactly five hours from now (or thereabouts, as these things go), I am taking my child to France.

Not France, exactly.

Worse: taking her to Boston to hand her over to a group of (hopefully kindly) strangers who will then shuffle her off to Anglet by way of Paris/Normandy in a mere 48 hours. She will be gone for ten months, and as these things sometimes go, I may not actually see her for any of those ten months.

If ever there was a time for comfort food, this is it.

This is when I start hunkering down, loading up the pantry with staples and filling the ‘fridge with things that are substantial and too much of them.

If we weren’t busy with frantic, last-minute packing, I would make these cinnamon rolls.

I call them Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls. They are a pain in the ass, but in the end oh so very worth it.

When I made these the first time, I held my breath. I have made gluten-free cinnamon rolls before, and they were tough, dry, awful things that were saved only by copious amounts of cinnamon and overly-sweet cream cheese icing and a burning need for a cinnamon roll.

These cinnamon rolls. Zoiks.

They are everything they should be. Soft and yielding and hot and sweet and pungent with the sharp smell and taste of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. These cinnamon rolls are the thick, fluffy blanket I want to wrap myself in when I think of food that is comforting.

Bonus: they are gluten-free. My god. Could it get any better?

Side note: of course you can make them with regular flour. Whatever comforts you most.

If I had time on this morning where I am trying not to think too hard about sending my baby off to another country for nearly a year, I would go ahead and make a big batch of these. I would wake her up with one of these and a cup of coffee (with cream and just a little sugar but not too much anymore because she is using less these days) on a tray to her room.

I would spoil her in the way I do, with food delivered to her in the morning and the simple grace of allowing her to rise into this new day gently.

But since I can’t do that, and we don’t have anymore time, you’ll just have to make these and let me know how they work out.

Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls

Note: Read the recipe through first. This is not a complicated recipe, but the butter that needs to be softened needs to be very, very soft for spreading.

Ingredients

Dough

2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup white sugar
2⁄3 cup milk, warmed (80 to 100 degrees)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 large egg (room temperature is best)
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1⁄2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1⁄2 tablespoons cinnamon
1⁄3 cup butter, very softened (spreadable)
Icing

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar
1⁄4 cup cream cheese, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Method

Wake your yeast as you would your teen: gently. Place warmed milk into a large bowl and allow to bubble for a few minutes.

Add sugar, butter, oil, and vanilla to milk/yeast mixture. Stir gently until completely combined.

Add egg and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine salt, gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum.

Add flour mixture to mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. This dough is somewhat sticky, but if it seems unworkable, add a little more flour, just a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want it too dry.

Place dough in a greased container and put in a warm place to rise for 45-60 minutes. I like to preheat my oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. If you are using gluten-free flour, the dough will not double in size, but it will rise just a bit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish. 8″x8″ works great.

Get ready to roll.

Tear off a piece of plastic wrap, about 18″ long or so and lay it on your counter. Place the dough on this plastic wrap, then cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap.

If you skip this and act like a teenager and think you just know everything (#RollsEyes) then you will wind up with a sticky mess and no cinnamon rolls and YOU SHOULD ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (or, in this case, this recipe. #Trust).

Roll dough to 1/4″ thick rectangle between the plastic wrap. I use a wine bottle if I don’t feel like digging out my rolling pin, and I have also used floured parchment paper instead of plastic wrap (when I am feeling uptown) or plain old waxed paper.

Your rectangle should be about 13″ or so long and nearly as wide as the plastic wrap.

Spread very softened butter on the dough.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle liberally onto the dough, leaving a 1″ edge clean (the long edge farthest away from you).

Now here’s the tricky part – rolling the dough into cinnamon rolls.

Use the bottom piece of plastic wrap to begin to roll the dough away from you. You are going for a tight log shape. The tighter, the better, but don’t sweat it. When you get to the naked part of the dough, the part with no filling, then you’re done and that naked edge will help seal the log shape.

Use a serrated knife to cut the log into eight pieces. Tranfer these pieces to your greased baking dish. Leave a little breathing room between each roll.

You could let them rise a little longer here if you’d like. OR you could make them up to this point the night before, put them in the ‘fridge, and then bring them to room temperature in the morning before baking.

Bake for about 2o minutes until tops are golden brown. To check for sure that they are done, run a butter knife into the very center rolls. If dough sticks, bake a little longer.

Combine frosting ingredients while the cinnamon rolls bake, and frost the cinnamon rolls while they are piping hot. Don’t expect these to last long, but if you manage to have leftovers, cover and keep in the ‘fridge.

What’s your comfort food?

Sophie’s Choice: Strawberry Bread Pudding

Really, the only decision you need to make today.
Really, the only decision you need to make today.

The start of things is always challenging.

Especially when the thing you are starting is somewhat of a secret, kept that way so it can be a big surprise when it’s all done.

But it starts today, no foolin’, and already I am stuck.

Anyone who reads even a blog or two of mine knows that motivation and I have not always walked well together.

This reminds me of the story about Jesus walking with someone on the beach (two sets of footprints) and when times got tough there was only one set of footprints because Jesus was carrying the person. This story makes me a little nauseous (and only a little nauseous because I would like to have a long conversation with Jesus, for real, not praying, like hang out with the man and say what the fuck, Jesus.), but it would be super awesome if motivation would just swoop down and cradle me in loving arms.

Motivation for me is more like a sharp, pointy stick. Or a cattle prod. And that’s no day at the beach.

Especially perceptive people who have read even a blog or two of mine might even recognize that this here blog post itself is really just a clever avoidance tactic. Or maybe not so clever.

Regardless. Here we are. At an impasse.

Sometimes, as right now with The Secret Thing, the issue is just too many choices.

I could literally go in 100 different directions with This Secret Thing, but if I commit to one, 99 of them fall away and become impossible.

And I am on a deadline, so I have basically this weekend to commit.

And anyone who knows me well knows that commitment and I are also not always walking together on the beach either. And commitment is too fucking lazy to pick me up. And super heavy for me, even with all of the yoga.

The answer to this is very, very simple: off to market.

Not only does this allow me to procrastinate, but it also gives me a great excuse to check out the new MOM’s that opened up this very morning in The Rotunda in Hampden. It was, as expected, a madhouse, so much so that any designs of leisurely strolling the aisles looking for inspiration fell away when the doors opened.

The samples. And the fresh mozzarella. And Greek yogurt. And bulk section. And the sheer number of people who really should all be at work and not shopping right now so that I can have the store to myself. #OtherPeopleRuinEverything

But THE STRAWBERRIES.

If we were still in Georgia, I would have already been harvesting the first tender shoots of asparagus and small, juicy strawberries, but here in Maryland not much is coming out of the ground beyond greens and brassicas, and even then only for really good garden planners.

These strawberries weren’t local, but they were organic and sweet and deep, ruby red and sexy as hell.

And on sale.

I bought two clamshells, planning something with the aforementioned Greek yogurt (so thick like vanilla-scented crème fraiche) but then came home to other choices.

Quickly staled gluten-free bread, optimistically baked a couple days ago and not consumed. Four egg yolks leftover from the bread’s mother, also still quietly growing delicious in the ‘fridge. Vanilla beans to spare. Almond milk, bought for another purpose and then forgotten, but still good and unopened.

Sophie’s choice: strawberry bread pudding. Christ on a bike, this was good. The perfect bridge between the sunny, spring-like weather of this morning and the 30-degree temps and flurries forecast for Sunday night. Dollop of the Greek yogurt on top.

Perfect for ignoring the other choices I am avoiding. You’re welcome.

Strawberry Bread Pudding

Hey, man. This is totally unfussy. I am putting amounts here, but really, go with what you have. Leave the strawberries out, or add chocolate chips and a touch of cinnamon. Or maybe dried fruit. Or no fruit. Or whatever. Regular milk. Less sugar. Two eggs instead of just yolks. Whatever. No real choices need to be made until you are damn good and ready.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk (cow, almond, soy. Whatever. Whole milk is the more reliable choice, to be sure, but don’t let dairy hold you back.)

1/3 cup sugar (or more. Or less.)

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)

pinch of salt (or 1 teaspoon if you like to measure)

2 T. butter

2 eggs (or 4 egg yolks if that’s what you have in the ‘fridge)

one leftover loaf of gluten-free bread, cubed into maybe 3 cups (or stale, gluten-filled french bread, brioche, challah, or….)

1 cup chopped strawberries (or a handful of chips, or nothing)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a ceramic baking dish big enough for your bread and berries. Set aside.

Heat milk, sugar, vanilla bean scraping, salt, and butter until the butter is just melted. Cool if you have that kind of patience, or, if not, slowly, slowly, slowly – whisking constantly – drizzle the hot milk into the eggs in a large bowl. If you do it too fast, you will have vanilla-flavored scrambled eggs. Drizzle slowly, slower than you think, while whisking frantically.

Place bread and strawberries in the buttered dish (I used a high-sided white ceramic baking dish). Pour milk-egg mixture over the bread, soaking thoroughly.

Allow the bread to sit in this mixture for 30 minutes in the ‘fridge. Longer, if you like. This is to soak up some of the liquid so the custard does not “break” (scramble the eggs) in the heat of the oven.

Bake for 30-45 minutes (seriously. Big range), until the custard is just a little tiny bit wobbly (but not raw. GROSS). For more gentle cooking, cook the pudding in a bain marie.

Again, cool slightly if you can, or grab a spoon and eat IMMEDIATELY with unsweetened whipped cream, crème fraiche, or super thick Greek yogurt.