My goals often include a reference to cooking, and less specifically at times, to baking. Or more pointedly, learning to bake. I am not a fantastic cook, but not in the sense that applies to most people. My food turns out well, I’m just really slow at it and I have almost no memory for recipes.
There’s a meme that goes around where the person is cooking something from a package, reads the package, throws it out, digs it back out, throws it out, and does so several times as ten seconds after reading the instructions, they’ve forgotten what it says. That’s me, minus the dumpster dive. I will read the recipe through once, maybe twice when starting a new one, and then as I’m going, I am constantly reading what I just did and the next two, kind of a constantly rolling 3-step checklist. If I follow the recipe, things usually turn out fine. Well, actually, better than fine. I almost never cook something that is likely to go horribly wrong or that I won’t like, and except one time where I mistook lemongrass for green onions or another time I misread tsp and put in tbsps of a spice, with both ending up hotter than intended, it’s usually completely edible. I may not think it was worth the time and effort to add it into a regular rotation, but I like trying the recipes out and seeing what shakes out.
This is not an inherited trait. My parents were pretty vanilla chefs when it comes to regular dinner. Meat and potatoes is an appropriate phrase, or maybe simply unadventurous. They were likely more open-minded earlier in life, but by the time I came along, the last of six kids, it was far more important to them to make things people would automatically like than experimenting with new tastes. I still remember going to Cancun, having fajitas in a restaurant, and my mother and sister staring at me like I was crazy for the “weird” things I would eat. I pointed out I was having beef strips on bread, and she was eating a hamburger, but the point was lost. (Oddly enough, she called me one time about ten years later and told me she had tried something called “fajitas” at my brother’s place and really enjoyed it!).
A desire to bake, however, is fully inherited. My great grandfather and grandfather were apparently bakers, partly commercial and partly home-schooled, and my Dad also learned to bake as well. When my brothers and sisters were younger, it wasn’t uncommon for them to wake up on a Saturday morning to the previously unannounced smells of bread rolls, cinnamon rolls, and occasionally bread. Tarts were also in my father’s wheelhouse, including his family-famous butter tarts. Lemon tarts and strawberry rhubarb occasionally put in appearances too. For me, the last of the six, baking didn’t occur that often, but when it did, we rarely ate anything else that day as we were too full.
I can remember coming downstairs to fresh bread rolls. OMG. Add some butter, still warm rolls, we would gobble down three or four before we got told to take it easy, and then often snagged 1 or 2 more after that anyway. My friends next door came over once, and the four of us polished off most of a batch. But my father never did baking as a simple thing — it was usually full production day, with multiple batches of just about everything. Lots wound up in the freezer, and the rest was gone in a day or two. Dad would also do shortbreads at Xmas, but those were never my favorite.
My mother was the pie and cookie person, but I don’t remember my parents baking together. My mother would make cookies or pies during the week, my dad’s baking was almost always Saturday mornings. I used to make cookies, pies and occasional cakes with my mom, and it was one of the few things she would let me help with in the kitchen as a kid. Or at least I thought I was helping at the time. In reality, I realize she was mostly giving me busy work to keep me out of the way — rolling out small dough rolls, stirring something she had already mixed, etc. Of course, it was fun, but the real benefit for me was that I got to try the peanut butter cookies fresh from the oven. And she would frequently make pumpkin pies for dinner, my favorite pie. Dad was more of an apple lover.
I never did any baking with my dad though. By the time I was old enough to appreciate what that would mean later in life, he had stopped baking. Well, that and the fact that he would seem to do it spontaneously some Saturday morning and always before everyone else was even awake (he was an early riser, frequently awake at 4 or 5 a.m.).
Soooo, that’s a long intro to say that I put baking on my goals list because of my parents, but it frequently has slipped from my list. I keep saying “I want to” but between other time pressures, laziness, and the simple fact that I have no idea really what I’m doing, I never seem to get around to doing it.
This month, perhaps partly in tribute to my dad who passed away 20 years ago, I decided to give it a go. A recipe book I have, Taste of Home: Fall Baking, has some decent-looking recipes in it, and I convinced Andrea to ride shotgun on the baking journey mostly to help me understand what some of the instructions mean and keep me on track.
Chocolate Chip Caramel Rolls were my first choice, and I think it is mainly nostalgia. They look like my dad’s cinnamon rolls. Sure, I could have found his specific recipe for cinnamon rolls, but I wanted to start with some basic learning before attempting one of his recipes. The Caramel Rolls sounded doable.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but they ended up tasting great. I even field-tested them with my staff at work, and got positive feedback across the board albeit a little rich. No crumbs were left though, so that’s a good sign.
The recipe calls for basically three main steps, and the full modified recipe is available at Chocolate Chip Caramel Rolls (REC0003). The first phase is making the basic dough, and I made at least two mistakes in the opening. You’re supposed to mix all of the dough ingredients together and get the dough consistency right. You start with 3 cups of flour as one of the ingredients and you can increase to 4 to get the texture and consistency right. I seemed to have misread that step and went with the full 4 cups up front. I also wasn’t supposed to put the chocolate chips in until the kneading phase, and I put them in the first batch with the rest of the ingredients before the mixing stage.
The end result, either from the amount of flour or the amount of yeast used or the chips added too early, was that the dough was like superglue. I could barely even pull my hands out of it when I was kneading it. It practically choked the hand mixer. I think I could use it to make house bricks stick together. But Andrea helped scrape my hands clean to get all the batter back into the bowl, and we moved on.
I also made rookie errors with the rolling out and rolling up process for the rolls. When rolling out, I completely forgot I’m supposed to put flour on the rolling pin. I knew that from helping my Mom, but I completely forgot, and I just sprinkled it on the top of the dough instead. Never even thought of the tip of rubbing it directly on the pin, until Andrea mentioned it after the fact (she was out with Jacob during the rolling out phase). When rolling up, I didn’t press the chocolate chips into the dough first, so the roll up shifted them around and bunched them up in a few places. Nothing major, just missing a simple step that seemed unimportant, simple process improvements for the future. Oh, and I didn’t pinch the seams well enough once rolled.
I also have no idea how you make it “rectangular”. Mine definitely had a pretty rounded shape (above). I also wasn’t sure what it would look like when finished, as the placements in the pan made it look like they were way too small. The dough didn’t rise that much in the second “rising” period (was supposed to double, it barely increased at all).
But the final outcome was awesome.
Certainly well past “edible” and nigh on into awesome stage. A little rich, and with only three of us in the house, we probably should have frozen half the batch. Even with taking four to work and cutting them in half, we still have a couple left almost a week later (just because they are so rich and heavy, even if we only eat half of one at a time).
Overall, I’m declaring it a success. I wasn’t anywhere near as patient with Jacob’s help as I would have liked, partly as it was “new to me” and I was nervous about having the first outing not turn out to be a disaster. I think that’s perhaps a good lesson-learned for me, that perhaps first attempts should just be about me, not trying to make it an “us” event necessarily at the same time, or at least not until I get my confidence up and it can be more enjoyable for everyone.
Who knows, maybe some day Jacob will tell his kids about how four generations of dads before him have made cinnamon rolls. I hope so.
Thanks Mom and Dad! On to pies, cookies, tarts and cakes!