little bird love letter
20 November 2011
after a year, i still can’t believe my mom is gone. it just feels like she’s back in New England, and we’ll be seeing each other again soon.
i spent this weekend doing those things we enjoyed together. with Tootie in tow, we began our journey at a local nursery, progressed to mom’s favorite shopping mall and stores, grabbed a bite of Asian fusion. we bought the ingredients to make her favorite meals: my top-secret chile recipe, lamb rib chops with roasted herb fingerlings and bacon-laden brussel sprouts, perfect northwest mac and cheese. i cooked all of it, and we raised our glasses to toast her.
the truth is, in the year since mom’s passing, there have been more downs than ups (reminds me of the Upson Downs schtick in Auntie Mame, which we watched countless times). sometimes i call her to let her know i’m on the way home. sometimes i make way too much food. sometimes i just stand in her room, breathing in the essence that lingers in the air. always, i set a place for her at the table.
i’ve found solace and joy in shaping pie dough and in tweaking new baked-goods’ recipes. i remember how mom’s face would light up with an adorable expression when she tasted something she thought was mmmmm (translation: yummy). the very last thing i baked for mom elicited that kind of enthusiasm: a cinnamon roll based on a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Cafe.
mom and i had seen Boston-based Chef Chang on an episode of Food Network‘s Throwdown (her sticky buns whooped Bobby Flay’s, btw). mom was thrilled that Chang’s bakery was in Bean Town. i was thrilled with the anticipation of exploring an amazing sticky bun recipe. i immediately placed an order for Chang’s soon-to-be printed cookbook. (if you’re looking for a well-written, conversational baking book, with delicious fare, flour is definitely it. would highly recommend as a must-have.)
as part of my homage to mom (who at 80-plus still remembered her high school French), you’ll find the recipe for little bird cinnamon rolls here.
today, might head down to Pike Place Market, grab some chai at Starbuck’s original storefront, and pick up a rhubarb or white chocolate and cherry piroshky. wherever i go, i’ll be missing you, little bird.
little bird cinnamon rolls
makes 8 healthy-size rolls
for the dough (based on Joanne Chang’s basic brioche)
2 1/4 cups organic all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons euro butter, at room temperature, cut into 12 pieces
for the filling
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 tablespoon melted butter
1/3 cup dried currants (optional)
for the frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons honey (modify this based on your desired sweetness level)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
- butter a large bowl; set aside.
- in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water and eggs.
- using the dough hook, beat the ingredients on low speed, until they come together, around 5 minutes. (scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed.)
- after the dough has come together, continue to beat for another 4 minutes; the dough will be dry/stiff.
- on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time; make sure the butter has been incorporated into the dough, before you add another piece.
- once all the butter has been added, beat on low for 10 minutes, until all the butter has become one with the dough.
- after the butter is thoroughly incorporated, beat on medium speed for another 15 minutes, until the dough is soft and shiny. this takes a while, so be patient and vigilant; it will happen.
- with the dough in its now-smooth and shiny state, beat on medium-high for 1 minute, until the dough, when tested, stretches and can give a little.
- gather up the dough and place in the large bowl.
- cover with plastic wrap (so it’s touching the surface of the dough).
- place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to proof. (i do the latter, then get up in the morning and move to the next step, so we have fresh rolls for breakfast.)
- butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish; set aside.
- in a medium bowl, mix the dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cloves, salt and 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, until it becomes a sort of paste; set aside.
- on a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12 x 16-inch rectangle, 1/4-inch thick.
- with a brush (i use silicon), spread the 1/2 tablespoon butter over the surface of the dough.
- evenly spread the filling paste over the entire surface of the dough, pressing down gently with your hand.
- sprinkle on the currants, if using, then press in gently.
- beginning with the short side of the dough, roll tightly to create a spiral with the filling.
- pinch very gently to seal the log.
- even the ends of the dough log, by trimming with a bench scraper.
- cut log into 8 even pieces, around 1 1/2 inches wide.
- evenly space the rolls in the baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap.
- let the dough rise in a warm place for around 2 hours or until they’re touching and puffy.
- preheat oven to 350F.
- bake the rolls on the middle rack until golden brown (this takes only 22 minutes in my oven), around 30 minutes.
- while the rolls are baking, prepare the frosting.
- with a hand mixer fitted with a beater attachment, mix the cream cheese until it’s fluffy.
- add the honey and vanilla paste, and continue to beat until smooth and completely incorporated; set aside.
- let the rolls cool in the baking dish for 20 minutes (so the frosting doesn’t completely melt, when you spread it on).
- spread the frosting over the tops of the rolls.
serve with a good cup of coffee (or tea, of course). crank up the Ink Spots Java Jive, and kick back. coming at you, ma, Air Mail Special. love you always.
I’m sure Fran is very proud, and missing your delectable goodies. I will glady enjoy them for her, but miss that joyful look on her face when eating dj’s delights. Bon appetit!
Sending hugs as you miss little bird! I’m sure her spirit feels your love. Your posts leave my mouth watering every time, however! You must have those annoying genes that allow you to eat all this yummy food without gaining weight. And it looks like you got them from your mom!
Enjoy your memories. I know the holidays are the hardest times to be without our loved ones, especially our mothers. So I send you a mother’s love and an extra hug. Have a cookie.
thanks, A-M. your thoughts are deeply appreciated. i USED to eat all this stuff without gaining weight. guess my genes wore out. or the other jeans become too small. whatever, eh? love and hugs back.
Your words make me cry everytime I read these stories. I so miss Mumma! Can’t believe it’s been a year already. I don’t have her room to smell, but her clothes that I have still smell like her and even after wearing/washing them, they still have her scent! She LOVED eating everything you made! Someone asked me what her favorite food was, well she liked it all!! Love you big sister!! xoxoxo…
Hi Dear DJ,
What a heart felt tribute to your Mom. You look so beautiful in that picture. I’ll try the rolls while my Son and Family are here and send you warm wishes for a very good thanksgiving , thankful remembering, and healing energy. I’m thank ful to get to know you…
thanks, Kellie. enjoy the holiday with your family. and the cinnamon rolls! sending good thoughts your way…
Solace and joy in shaping pie dough. Beautiful post, and what a wonderful photo of Elementary Fran!
thanks, P. mom certainly adored you; she’d be thrilled you liked her childhood photo.