1975. Christmas morning. Still dark. Stockings had been left by the door to the room my younger brother and I shared. I was solely interested in the tangerine wedged in my stocking’s toe, while he tore into the little packages wrapped in the Sunday comics, sent by our maternal grandmother, whom we called Oma. The tangerine was easy to peel and not at all like the citrus we usually got, which meant it came from somewhere else, which meant, maybe, that Santa was real after all. Maybe? I was 7. Definitely maybe.
When the tangerines had been eaten and the little comic-wrapped packages had been opened and inspected, we couldn’t handle it anymore; we woke up our parents and everything was terribly exciting and distracting and then all of a sudden I caught a whiff of deliciously yeasty cinnamon roll in the air. But… how? Mom was sitting on the couch with her eyes closed!
Here’s what happened. My mom subconsciously took a page out of Oma’s Christmas morning playbook book, and I absorbed the lesson from my mom eventually: Put in some baked good work ahead of December 25, foil wrap and freeze that work, pop that work into a slow oven for 30-45 minutes during the first unwrapping frenzy, and no one will need anything else for a couple of hours except to refill your damn coffee cup.
This recipe is not, alas, the one Oma made for her family when my mom was a girl. It is, however, the one my mother started making in the mid-1970s for us, and is the one I make now for extended family and friends. It’s adapted from the cookbook Homemade Bread, compiled by the food editors of Farm Journal. It was published by Doubleday in 1969.
Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls
4 ½- 5 C unbleached flour
4 t active dry yeast (2 packages)
3/4 C milk
1/2 C water
1/4 C vegetable shortening
¼ C unsalted butter
1/2 C sugar
1 t salt
2 eggs, room temperature
Measure 1 3/4 C flour into yr large mixer bowl. Add yeast and blend. Measure milk, water, shortening/butter, sugar, and salt into saucepan. Blend. Heat until warm (about 120-130 degrees F). Pour into flour/yeast mixture. Add eggs. Beat 30 seconds with electric mixer at low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 more minutes at high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Stop mixer. Gradually stir in more flour (by hand) to make a soft dough. It will be rather sticky.
Knead on lightly floured board or counter until nice and smooth, about 5-10 minutes. Cover with bowl or pan and let rest for 20 minutes. Shape as desired.
Here’s what my mom and I do: Cut the hunk of dough in half, roll out one of the halves until it’s flat and rectangular and large, brush it with butter, sprinkle it with a cinnamon/sugar mixture, add raisins or other dried fruit (if you want), and roll it up. Then cut off the ends and cut the rest into 1″ wide slices. They usually fit nicely into 2 9″ greased cake pans. Then put them in a warm oven (I usually warm it to 200 degrees for a few minutes, then turn it off) with a pan of hot water under them and a foil tent over them and let them rise for 40 minutes, or until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. You can ice these with powdered sugar icing after they’ve cooled off, but believe me when I tell you that they’re wonderful just plain and warm out of the oven. Cool them on a rack. When they’re cool, you can wrap them in foil, and freeze. Just warm them in a 250-degree oven for about 45 minutes and BOOM – it’s like you just made them. The house even smells good.
Your holiday morning life just got a little easier, friends. Make this recipe a couple of times over the next couple of weekends, and you’ll have enough extra to give to your nice neighbor who doesn’t get out much, just like Oma used to. Happy holidays!