Jan. 6, 2017 – Big Cedar Lake, WI – In broad daylight it danced across my kitchen floor – not once, but twice in the space of five minutes. It reminded me of our first days in this house which had been lived in only sporadically for more than a decade; when the mice had hoedowns on our kitchen counters nightly and left calling cards in unusual places.
I was pretty sure this new neighbor came here on the friends-and-family-plan, and I was not about to put up with the intrusion. I set a trap under the Christmas tree.
Living in the most expensive antique I will ever own has its ups and downs usually measured in dollar signs, but this beautiful log farmhouse has been in my family since the early 1880s.
I know, for example, that the logs walls are hand-adzed of white and red oak because the oak savannah was in the backyard that was eventually cleared for farming. I know that somewhere in its history someone did not want to look at logs inside and whitewashed them, sponge painting cobalt blue polka dots on every wall.
I know that my grandfather hand-dug the basement under the two-story part of the house and that my grandmother and uncle laid the Michigan maple flooring in the kitchen in the 1930s. I know that when the porch was enclosed to create a room off of the kitchen, at least one of the existing porch posts was used as a stud in the wall.
I know that my great-grandmother’s kitchen was about eight feet by eight feet, and that included the woodstove used for cooking. I know that my mother was born here and my grandfather was born here, and that my two great-aunts shared an eight foot by eight foot space as their bedroom adjacent to that tiny kitchen.
I know what the original floorplan looked like and how it has changed over the generations. Because we removed an original lath and plaster wall during renovations 10 years ago, my Christmas tree is in my kitchen and in my living room as they share the same 16 by 18 foot space; tiny by today’s standards for family living, but perfect for this family as we live the country life on what remains of a Century Farm near Big Cedar Lake in Southeastern Wisconsin.
We have added another year of memories to the history of our house and to the history of our family and the New Year is still shiny with promise. The aroma of sweet baking brings wonderful thoughts of home and family in this kitchen, and today we are celebrating 2017 with chocolate-cinnamon rolls. Want some? I don’t know if mice like cinnamon rolls. I will share the rolls with you, dear reader, but those furry, four-footed interlopers are not invited to the party.
Swirly Chocolate-Cinnamon Rolls
I rarely can leave a recipe alone, so here is my take on heavenly cinnamon rolls. Frost them with a powdered sugar icing, the Whiskey & Cinnamon Icing I love (see recipe below), or just pick them up and eat ‘em as they are the minute they come out of the oven. You might want to let them cool a little first.
What you’ll need to make them really tasty:
For the sweet roll dough:
2 ½ t. yeast
Approximately 4 cups of flour, plus more for dusting
2 c. water
4 T. butter
¼ c. sugar
¼ c. powdered milk
1 T. salt
For the filling:
1 c. sugar (I use Turbinado sugar. Plain sugar is fine.)
¼ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t. cinnamon
½ t. espresso powder (optional – the espresso makes the chocolate flavor pop!)
3 t. melted butter
For the icing:
2 ½ c. powdered sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 T. Whiskey or whiskey vanilla …. Or just plain old vanilla….
1 T. milk or cream or half & half
2 T. melted butter
Here we go:
Heat the water until just a little too warm to the touch – about 105 – 110 degrees F., place the 4T butter in the warm water to melt or melt it separately. Place the yeast and 2 cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar, powdered milk, and salt and stir together with a wire whisk. Pour in the warm water and melted butter and beat the mixture with the whisk until well blended. Add the eggs and beat it for about a minute, or until the eggs are blended in well and the mixture looks slightly bubbly.
Add 1 cup of the remaining flour, stirring it in with a wooden spoon- then add more flour, just enough to create a shaggy, sticky mass of dough. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rest for about ½ hour to allow the flour to absorb some of the moisture from the dough.
After 30 minutes, stir in enough of the remaining flour to create a firmer dough – soft, but not too sticky. Sprinkle flour on the dough and begin to knead it right in the bowl, adding dustings of flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the sides of the bowl, but don’t add a lot of flour at this point as the dough will get too stiff. Knead about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is slightly soft, not sticky, and is smooth and lightly dimpled. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled in size – about 1 hour. It may take longer if your kitchen is a little cool. *a trick for rolls with chewier texture is to mix this at night and allow the dough to rise in your refrigerator while you sleep!
Once the dough has risen, punch it down to release air bubbles, divide it in half and place one of the halves on a flour-dusted board or dough cloth. Roll into a flat rectangle about 1/8 inch thick with a rolling pin. While the dough was rising, you were of course mixing up the dry ingredients of the filling so it would be ready when you are – which is right now! Brush the rolled out dough with ½ of the melted butter, and spoon-sprinkle half of the dry filling ingredients onto the dough, spreading out to within about ¼ inch of the edges. Starting from the shorter end of the rectangle, roll the dough tightly to create a log. Brush the other short edge of the dough with a little water and use your fingers to stick it to the main log to keep it from unrolling as you cut it. Now, you can cut it into 1 ½ inch pieces with a knife, or you can use my little trick of sliding a long piece of dental floss (center it under the log at the place you want to cut) under the log and criss-crossing the ends of the floss tightly together to swiftly cut the log into round, swirly slices. Place the slices cut side down (and up!) in a buttered 13 X9 inch pan or large baking pan with sides. Do the same with the remaining half of that dough, and when you’ve filled up the first pan, fill another, smaller greased pan with any remaining slices you might not have room for. Cover the pans with a towel and allow to rise for another hour until doubled. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 25 minutes or until lightly golden brown. If they brown very quickly, cover with foil part way through the baking time.
Allow to cool, and frost – or not!
Whiskey & Cinnamon Frosting:
Put all the ingredients into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir or whisk until smooth. You can add a little more powdered sugar if you’d like a thicker frosting, or thin it a little with milk or cream to make a glaze. Frost the rolls and enjoy!
About the author: Ann Marie Craig is owner of Century Farmhouse Soaps in downtown West Bend. A soap maker with an eye for art and a willingness to build community among friends.