Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seeking the Cinnamon Roll

These cinnamon rolls were at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. They looked close enough to my grandmother's that I bought one. The guy helping me at the empanada stall that sold them ask if I wanted frosting. "No, I thought, we never had frosting." "No," I said. I heated the thing up in my microwave and ate it. It was good. It was closer to Deedy's (that was our nickname for my maternal grandmother) than, say, store-bought one or the ones that Upper Crust (I love them, but not for this) purvey around town that somehow contain so much butter or something that we call them 'gut bombs.'

But this one, enjoyable though it was, was not like my grandmother's offerings. Maybe it was all in the dough recipe. She made these transcendental homemade rolls for holidays. She made a traditional yeast rising dough. (Left to warm and rise on the part of the stove where the pilot light was, remember those? With a dish towel over the bowl.) And she made dozens and dozens of rolls from the dough. They tasted sweet themselves as yeast rolls will. (Come to think of it, no one comes close to her recipe on those either, not even Threadgill's whose giant yeast rolls have to be seen to be believed and taste sweet in that yeasty way.)

I think my grandmother made rolls often, eschewing the 'brown and serve' ones at the store that my busy mother resorted to serving. (Not that Deedy wasn't busy. She had her elderly husband to care for, her chickens, babysitting us, babysitting other peoples' kids, making clothes for half the town, all that scratch cooking to do for all of us.)

But at holidays? She set aside some dough. Put butter, sugar and cinnamon between layers and rolled out cinnamon rolls that came out as big flat wheels of delight, just cooked enough, just doughy enough, especially in the center. We ate so many (and the rolls, too, sopping the homemade turkey giblet gravy off our plates) that I don't know how we arrived at adulthood as fairly skinny kids. (Yeah, later I gained weight easily. I'm wearing one of the rolls above now!)

I remember one Christmas when my cousins and I were watching her make the cinnamon rolls and clamoring for more of the butter, sugar and cinnamon. But she just smiled and ignored us.

One year I decided I would learn to make these rolls from the master. I never did, of course. Baking is the worst of cooking for me because of the accuracy required. I don't have the patience and concentration. From this session when I tried to learn, I remember only one thing. When she added the yeast to the warm water she 'hid' it. She almost filled a measuring cup with some flour and then put the yeast there and put a bit more flour in. This she added to the warm water.

"Why do you hide the yeast in the flour?" I asked.

"My mother always did," she said.

Of course, yeast is delicate. If the water was too warm, it would kill it before it could do its work. The flour coat meant that there was more margin for error in the warm water, I think. The science of baking is interesting. But like I said, I didn't and don't have the patience.

My mom and my sister both actually made rolls and cinnamon rolls and used the time-honored recipe from Deedy for a while. Then I think they switched to something easier. And they stopped making the cinnamon rolls. And then Mom died and my sister became disabled and I doubt she attempts it now. And, really, it was good but never quite the same.

During holidays of old, the presents sometimes were a disappointment and sometimes Dad wasn't there because he was working, but Deedy usually cooked the perfect meal that was everything I wanted. Turkey (I was a white meat kid, then), homemade cornbread dressing, homemade giblet gravy, those rolls, those cinnamon rolls. I'm sure there was an array of things I avoided like green beans or cranberry sauce or salads, too. (I was a picky eater as a child.)

Oh, those cinnamon rolls. Never to be duplicated. Even if the same recipe was scrupulously followed by someone, it would, of course, never be the same.

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