Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

by Michelle on April 4, 2015

Easter is almost upon us and I am breaking with tradition this year and hosting a brunch. With breakfast food. As in, no ricotta pie, no rice pie, no ham pie, no ham period. It’s freeing, let me tell you.

The thing is, I don’t really like the Easter dishes I grew up eating. Well, that’s not entirely true. I enjoy a small piece of ham pie (or apizzagain, as we call it) when it’s made properly, and ricotta and rice pie are delicious, but as any one who has ever made these dishes can tell you, they’re A LOT of work. And with two small children, I just don’t have the time or energy to roll out pie dough—and curse while doing so when it inevitably sticks to my rolling pin. After last year’s efforts I declared that I would be hosting brunch next year. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. (Plus an egghunt for the pint-sized guests, which is a much better use of my creativity than my grandmother’s sweet crust recipe. Sorry, Grammy.)

A brunch menu is pretty simple to put together. An egg dish, in this case a bacon and cheddar frittata, some roasted potatoes, sausage, bagels and fruit. The only thing missing was something of the breakfast pastry variety, and while I love muffins and coffee cake, I was looking for something that I haven’t made a thousand times. Then I came upon this recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls on Food 52. Done.

Since this recipe did involve making and kneading dough and letting it rise—not my best skills—I decided I better give it a trial run. We hosted a play date with several of Charlie’s school friends and their moms this week, and I knew they wouldn’t mind being my taste testers. I was PLEASANTLY surprised at how easy these rolls came together. The dough was easy to knead and rolled out beautifully. The best part: you can make them the day before and let them rise overnight in the fridge. All you need to do the next morning is let them sit out for a bit, pop them in the oven and drizzle them with a simple glaze. Needless to say, these were a huge hit at our play date and a definite add to my Easter brunch menu. I will admit that I did feel a bit wistful perusing everyone’s Easter pie posts on Facebook, (I’m talking to you, Patti Strosnick) but not enough to make my own. I can hardly wait to eat these cinnamon rolls, however. If you’re looking for a last minute brunch addition, here it is.

Grandma Bercher’s Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Food 52)

Makes 12-16 rolls

For the dough:

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon whole milk

1/2 cup water

3 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting (the original recipe called for all-purpose, but I prefer whole wheat)

2 teaspoons (or 1/4 ounce pack) active dry yeast

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (soft)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vegetable oil for greasing

For the filling:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (soft and spreadable)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Heat the water and 1/2 cup of the milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat until warm. (The liquid should be warm, not hot.) If it gets too hot, pour it into another container and stir until just warm.

Pour 2 1/2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and nutmeg into a large bowl and whisk to combine evenly. Break the butter into small pieces and use a spatula to stir it into the flour mixture until the texture is crumbly and the butter is well combined with the flour. Pour the warm milk and water into the flour mixture, stirring until combined, then beat in the vanilla and one egg for a few seconds until the mixture is fully incorporated.

Add more of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Shape into a ball. Grease a large bowl with oil and add the dough, turning to grease all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with butter. Gently punch down the dough, then roll it out on an oiled surface to an 18 x 10 inch rectangle. (I did not measure this. I just rolled it out until I got a shape that vaguely resembled a rectangle.) For the filling, spread the 8 tablespoons softened butter over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on the long side farthest from you. Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the butter.

Starting at the long side of the rectangle closest to you, roll the dough tightly into a log, toward the 1 inch clean border on the other side. Using a knife, cut the log into 12 or so pieces, each 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the cinnamon rolls in the greased baking dish and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (Alternatively place the rolls into the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and put them straight in the fridge to rise overnight. Remove the rolls from the fridge the next morning and let them finish rising in a warm place for about an hour, while you heat the oven  to 350 degrees and continue with the next step.)

Whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon milk and brush lightly over the top of cinnamon rolls. Bake the cinnamon rolls on the center rack for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly. Whisk together the powdered sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and milk to make the glaze. Drizzle over the warm cinnamon rolls and serve immediately.

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Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Farro

by Michelle on March 28, 2015

Friday night dinners can be a bit of a challenge when Lent rolls around every year. I think about making pasta, but then I remember that I really like to add chicken sausage to it. So that’s a no. Then I ponder preparing fish, but the truth is, I’m not great with fish, unless it’s shrimp, but if I don’t feel confident in where the shrimp was sourced, I don’t buy it. So that usually leaves pizza, which is never a bad option, but surely I can come up with something better for at least some of the five or so Fridays that Lent encompasses.

And then I came across this recipe on Food52, one of my favorite recipe sources. I always have canned tomatoes because I use them to make sauce, and I happened to have some farro in my pantry too. All I needed was basil, which is easy to come by, even in winter. I made this dish for the first time a few weeks ago and we were blown away by how flavorful it was (not to mention easy. You basically put the tomatoes in the oven and forget about them for two hours.) The tomatoes are practically bursting with flavor. Note: use Tutto Rosso Peeled Plum Tomatoes if possible. I made this dish last night with Muir Glen organic tomatoes and it wasn’t quite as good. I added some Beyond Meat soy “chicken” to the dish to give it some heft, but it would be fine alone too (or with chicken sausage if you aren’t eating it on a Friday during Lent.) This has been in our dinner rotation for the last few weeks and will probably make several more appearances. Make this for dinner on Good Friday or any night you feel like going meatless. Bonus: the leftovers, if there are any, make an excellent lunch the next day.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Farro (adapted from Food52.com)

2 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes

1 head of garlic with the cloves peeled and smashed

1/4 cup olive oil

A few sprigs of basil

1 1/2 cups farro


Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to a large bowl with the olive oil, garlic and basil. Toss to combine, then spread the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet, making sure to spread it out. Roast the tomatoes for two hours, turning once or twice, until the tomatoes are just beginning to dry out.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the farro and cook until al dente. (Trader Joe’s makes a version that cooks in 10 minutes.) Drain the farro and add it to the tomato mixture, adding more olive oil if necessary. Top with shredded parmigiano and serve.


Healthier Peanut Butter Balls

by Michelle on March 5, 2015

When I was a kid, my Auntie Ginger hosted Christmas Eve dinner every year and one of the highlights of the meal was dessert, when she would serve her chocolate peanut butter balls as part of her cookie tray. I waited all evening for these babies, though sometimes she let me, my brother and my cousin sneak one…or two…before dinner. They were the absolute best and so was she. My aunt passed away 14 years ago this month and it makes me sad that my children will never have the pleasure of eating one of her delicious baked goods. I do what I can to replicate her recipes, but they’re never quite as good as the original.

This recipe, from the parenting blog, Mommy Nearest, however, comes pretty close. And even better, it uses healthier ingredients like dates and oats to mimic the consistency that butter and confectioner’s sugar give traditional peanut butter balls. These are fabulous. Like, I’ve been making them on a weekly basis fabulous. Plus, they’re super easy and fun for kids to help with (Charlie loves dumping the ingredients into the food processor) and you will be shocked, shocked at how good they are. You won’t miss the butter and sugar, I promise. I think my aunt would agree.

Healthier Peanut Butter Balls (from Mommy Nearest)

Makes one dozen

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup of peanut butter (I use organic peanut butter. Both creamy and crunchy work)

4 pitted Medjool dates

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of coconut oil, melted

1/2 bag of chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% Cacao)

In a food processor, mix the dates, oats, salt and peanut butter until combined. With the processor running, pour in the coconut oil and pulse until the oats and dates are ground and the mixture holds together when you pinch it. Roll the dough into balls and let chill on a wax paper lined baking sheet for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the chips in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring until they’re completely melted. Drop the balls into the chocolate and roll around to coat. Place them back on the wax paper and chill until the chocolate hardens. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.