Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Rolls

Last week our dear, sweet, 14-year-old dog Claire passed away. Colin and I adopted Claire just before we got married and, in many ways, she was our first child. Claire was a classic dog. She loved food, loved to catch frisbees and balls, loved food, loved to go on walks, loved food, loved water, loved to chase birds in the backyard, and, oh, did I mention, she loved food. She was a wrecking ball of sunshine, high energy and full of love. She was not afraid to take up the space she needed in this world. And she was affectionate and loyal. She always wanted to be with us no matter where we were, in the yard, in the kitchen, asleep in bed. I loved her profoundly and life without Claire Bear feels odd and empty. 

Its natural after a loss to take a step back from the world and take a critical look at where you are, to reevaluate priorities. I called Colin from work one afternoon during my break and asked him to explain to me what he thinks is the point of being here. What is the thing that keeps us all going, the reason we persist? After a night to think about it, he replied, "To enhance the world/life/those around us/ourselves aesthetically. That means pushing back the forces that take away or compromise our creativity." 

I can work with that.

Sunday we had dinner at our friends' house. I like to bring a fresh baked loaf of bread when we go to their house. Bread is my favorite food to bake. Working with yeast dough is a relationship. You can't be one-sided or overbearing. You can't be overly assertive. You can't simply follow a recipe. You have to be flexible, observe, listen, respond. It takes time. It takes patience. It's a dance. You have to let go of expectations because it rarely turns out exactly the way you think it should. Sometimes it doesn't turn out at all. But it's worth the time and effort because nothing compares to a mouthful of fresh baked bread.

Inspired by Colin's words I wanted to make something beautiful for our friends who have been there for some much of our lives. I found a recipe called Happy Bread: rich, savory rolls arranged in a pan like a bouquet of flowers. But I decided to make mine sweet. I used the same dough as my overnight cinnamon rolls. Instead of cinnamon and sugar, I filled the rolls with thin layer of apple pie-like filling made from grated apples and a splash of rose water. The result was a soft, rich roll with a bright, cheery, swirl of sweet apple. 

This recipe makes two pans of rolls so it's perfect for sharing and bringing a little happiness into someone else's life.

Happy Rolls
makes 2 pans (24 small rolls per pan)

3/4 cup buttermilk
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 to 4 cups of all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast 
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 egg white, for the wash

2 large or 3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and grated
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rose water, optional
1 tablespoon potato starch (you can substitute cornstarch)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup powdered sugar
2-4 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour buttermilk into a measuring cup and stir in the yeast. Allow the yeast to sit until dissolved, about 10 minutes, occasionally stirring gently. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix the buttermilk mixture, egg yolks, egg, sugar and butter until just combined. Add 2 cups of the flour and salt and mix until moist and combined. Switch to a dough hook and on slow speed add another cup of flour. Continue to add flour 2 tablespoons at a time until dough forms a ball and pulls cleanly away from the side of the bowl but is not too dry. Continue to mix for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Turn the dough on a surface dusted with four and knead for 30 seconds. 

Form the dough into a ball a place in a large clean bowl. Put a plate over the bowl and place in a warm draft-free area. Check the dough to see if it is fully risen after about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. To check the dough gently poke the center of the dough ball 1/2 inch deep with a wet finger. The dough should feel soft and spongy and the hole shouldn't fill in. If the dough feels hard or the sides of the hole swell in, let it sit another 10 minutes and recheck.

As the dough is rising, combine the apple, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl and gently toss. Allow the apples to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain the apples then add the remaining sugar, rose water, starch, and salt. Place the ingredients into a sauce pan and heat over medium high heat stirring frequently. The liquid in the mixture will come to a boil. When the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes after boiling, remove from heat and allow to cool. Melt the stick of butter and allow to cool. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.

When the dough is ready, gently deflate it in the bowl and turn it out onto a surface lightly dusted with flour and form into a ball. Allow it to rest a minute but make sure to place the bowl over the dough ball to prevent it from drying out.

Cut the dough ball in half then cut each half into four pieces (you will have eight equal pieces).

Roll each section into a rectangle. Spread each rectangle with melted butter and 1/8 of the apple mixture. 

Roll each section up into logs, pinching the ends closed and along the sides. When finished, place all the logs on a baking sheet and place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Once the logs are firm, cut off the ends and set aside. Cut the center section into 4 triangles. 

Place the triangles from the logs along the edge of the pans (four logs per pan) to form a ring. Arrange the end pieces in the center (eight ends per pan). 

Cover the pans with a damp cloth and allow to rise 30 to 45 minutes. Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water to make a wash and brush over the rolls.

Preheat oven to 350F. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

Mix all the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 teaspoons of water and adding more to make the glaze thinner if needed. The glaze should be runny. Drizzle over the rolls. Serve warm.