Last weekend was the slowest one I have had in a long time. When life is hectic and fast, I don't realize how much I miss all of the great things that go along with having a little extra time. Sleeping late, drinking coffee in my pajamas while sitting on the loveseat in my office and perusing a cookbook. Writing shopping lists, planning a menu that may or may not ever come to fruition. But who cares? The fun part is putting it all together and imagining what delicious food I could be eating by later on in the afternoon, if I'm actually motivated enough to make any of the recipes that I tore out of some back issue of Food & Wine that I'm finally getting around to reading. I have been dying to bake some serious bread described in The Little French Bakery Cookbook by Susan M. Holding. I was tempted by the "Spicy Round Cheese Bread" with it's crusty cheese on the outside and herby tang on the inside. I imagined toasting a slice or two or thee and slathering it with butter but realized after snuggling up in a blanket while the cool fall air came in through the window that what I really wanted is a freshly baked batch of ooey, gooey "Big Fluffy Cinnamon Rolls".
These cinnamon rolls are serious. They are ridiculously buttery, in the best possible way. Which means, the amount of butter (only 2/3 cup, so don't sweat it.) in the dough allows the cinnamon rolls to remain soft and springy even after they have cooled, even a few days later when I am shoving the last small end into my mouth before one of the kids gets off the school bus and tries to claim it for her own. The frosting is literally "THE Frosting". Whenever anyone describes something that adds to an already amazing idea, plan, gift, outfit, whatever, they refer to it as, "the frosting" . So, when I tell you that the "Cinnamon Roll Icing" is amazingly rich, sweet and tangy, those words just don't do it justice. I think I will write Ms. Holding and suggest she change the name of her icing to THE FROSTING. All caps. It's really that good.
The process to prepare and bake the cinnamon rolls was a lengthy one. Not hours spent toiling in the kitchen but of steps that must be performed so that the final product comes out correctly. And waiting patiently between those steps for the right amount of yeasty activity to take place. But it's all totally worth it. I forgot to take the eggs out the night before but managed at least to get them to room temperature with the rest of ingredients, as suggested, by submerging them in a bowl of hot water for a little while. Once I mixed all of the ingredients together, I began the kneading which took me a good 20 minutes. Until reading this book, I had never heard of a "gluten-window". To find out if your dough has been kneaded enough, rip of a piece the size of a golf ball. Flatten it between your palms, then pull it to make it think enough so that you can see the light coming through it. If it tares, it's not ready. Keep kneading, and kneading and kneading some more. Try the gluten-window test again. Still no luck? Keep kneading. I kept kneading until my arms were about to fall off. Finally the light shone through the little gluten-window and upon me. Phew!
1 1/2 hours later, once the dough doubled in size, Ava became interested in my project. I rolled out the dough probably into a much larger rectangle than the directions described. I couldn't help myself, imagining how many cinnamon rolls I could eventually be devouring. Gluttonous! By the time we coated it in melted butter, sprinkled on the cinnamon and sugar and gently rolled it into a long log, the dough measured about three feet! I also sliced it thinner than instructed. I really don't know why. That's how I ended up with 24 rolls instead of 12 to 15. Ava and I kept reaching for yet another pan to accommodate them all. Finally, after nestling each roll into a butter, cinnamon and sugar bath alongside it's brothers and sisters, we wrapped the pans up for the last rise.
While the rolls baked, the centers pushed up and out forming doughy mountain peaks and some were even perfectly stepped like little cinnamon Mayan temples. By the time they came out of the oven, none of us could resist the smell of them. The cream cheese frosting with it's crazy amounts of even more butter is the perfect compliment (2 sticks this time, but don't skimp on it or you'll be sorry. How often do you actually make cinnamon rolls, anyway?) We blobbed it on top of the warm cinnamon rolls and allowed it to slowly melt and drip along the sides. Since I began this endeavor around 7:00am, the whole thing took until about 12:30pm. Just in time for the perfect holiday lunch. The kids couldn't believe that I didn't at least make them have some fruit first. They used their little fingers to pull apart the sticky rolled sweet and popped globs of frosting into their mouths. I watched as they both absentmindedly wiped their hands on a shirt or a pair of pants. "GET A NAPKIN!" I yelled. But it was to late and I really didn't care, anyway.
For more on The Little French Bakery or to get yourself a cookbook so that you can drool over all the deliciousness on each page, go to: http://littlefrenchbakery.com/