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It’s January—Let’s Bake!

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The excitement and commitment of the holidays has come and gone and here we are facing the bleakest month of the year. It is cold, foggy and hopefully, here in California, rainy. As a gardener, you spend the time getting cozy with your seed catalogs or just dreaming of trying new plantings in your gardens for the not-too-distant spring. Yes, it will be here before we know it, almost in the blink of a sleepy eye, but for now we must content ourselves with the mundane. 

One of the things that keeps me sane during the dreary doldrums is baking. I know, I know; we just came from the holidays, when we ate our way into a larger legging size. January is supposed to be the month of new resolutions such as working out, going to the gym and eating healthy. But just admit it; you can always work on that next month when the weather is perhaps more conducive to walking outdoors or turning over a shovelful in the hopes of planting some pre-spring blooms. 

But for now (since who knows at the time of this writing if we are still in lockdown), our best choice may be to languish in our kitchens. By now, I have made piles of apple pies, pumpkin bread and persimmon cookies. You see, sometimes I get so stuck in the what-kind-of-fruit-do-I have-to-use-up frame of mind that I forget about the other wonderful delights that don’t require fruits. Like cinnamon rolls. Oh yeah, I know that got your attention. Honestly, whenever I post those scrumptious treats on my Instagram, I get tons of likes from friends begging to come over and help me devour them. 

These divine morsels of deliciousness are really the simplest things to make and there are so many recipes out there by a multitude of bakers that it’s hard not to find one that fits your style and speed. There are ones that call for fast-acting yeast or fancy exotic cinnamon, or plain-Jane ingredients that actually work just as well. There are recipes that require kneading or no kneading, double rise or single rise, and they all turn out just as good. I have even tried a Cinnabon© knockoff that insists the secret ingredient is to pour warm heavy cream over the top just before baking for that extra gooeyness.

So, which one is my favorite recipe? As you might know, I don’t have the patience to read a recipe, but I just start tossing ingredients in the food processor, hoping all the while it will just turn out. Baking for me is more of a science experiment, and, trust me, I’ve had my share of flops. However, when it comes to something such as making the perfect, fluffy, tender, gooey, cream-cheesy-frosted, most delectable cinnamon roll ever, I admit, I do have a pretty good template.

The very first thing I do is heat the oven for rising. It is January and I have found that the dough rises faster and more consistently in a 100º F oven. A warmish oven will cut your time in half, rather than leave you feeling like the never-ending baking story. 

Scald 1/2 cup of milk and cool a bit so it doesn’t destroy your tender yeast. And do make sure your yeast is fresh and not past date. Yeast is one of those things you can’t mess around with. If it’s past date, then it’s past productiveness. Trust me, I’ve done the experiment for you and unless you have chickens to feed the entire cardboard concoction to, don’t waste your time and ingredients. Although they do make good dog biscuits. 

Sprinkle 1 package yeast over 1/2 cup of warm (110º to 115º F) water and set it aside to bloom, or until foamy.

I make this part really easy by mixing everything in the food processor, my preferred kitchen appliance. In go the yeast and water, scalded milk, plus 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 eggs at room temp to keep the yeast happy.

When all is mixed nice and smooth, add 4 to 4 1/2 cups of flour, a little at a time, until you have the right consistency. When you dump it out on your board, it should be fairly tacky. Don’t be tempted to add more flour, unless you are fond of dry, tough rolls. Personally, I am not, so I just deal with the globs sticking to my hands while kneading. 

The kneading process may seem tedious to some, but I honestly enjoy it, as it is actually good exercise and helps with working out your inner aggressions. It’s great therapy and after five to ten minutes, I feel like a new person. I still have to tackle my overdue taxes and wait in the mile-long grocery checkout lines, but I feel good about my efforts and what the end results will yield. 

Lay your dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel, and place in that warm oven that you have kept at a comfortable 100º F for about an hour or until doubled. Go do some laundry, order some weight loss supplements on Amazon, or watch gardening videos on YouTube. 

Before you know it, it’s time to punch down your dough. Roll it out into a shapely rectangle and spread with 1/2 cup softened butter, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 cup brown sugar. Roll it up, cut into one-inch or so pieces, and place in a greased baking dish or cast-iron skillet. Put back in the warm oven for the second rising, about 30 minutes or until they again double in size. 

Take them out of the oven and preheat to 350º F. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool just a bit before spreading with your favorite cream cheese frosting or glaze. Now, try not to eat the whole pan but remember to share; actually, the sharing part is what makes it all okay.

See, nothing to it, baking cinnamon rolls made simple, and a few hours closer to spring. Enjoy!

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