The Commons
Food and Drink

Cinnamon rolls: A treat for Christmas

Originally published in The Commons issue #181 (Wednesday, December 5, 2012).

BRATTLEBORO—There is a lovely space of years when your children are adults but your grandchildren are not yet attuned to Christmas and its feast of presents.

These are years when one can rise early in a quiet house, with late-twenties children still asleep and no little tots hungrily lusting at 5 a.m. for their Christmas stocking and the wonderful excess to come. One must use these hours wisely because they will not last.

There is something almost holy about a Christmas morning spent downstairs alone, knowing that those people you care about the most in the world are upstairs tucked into their beds.

You make coffee just for yourself. You contemplate the world and your life and its accomplishments. You could decide, for instance, that life has worked out all right so far, that your children are wonderful and unique, and all those decisions you made over all those years were perhaps the right ones.

You want to cook wonderful food for these people to show them your love, but Christmas breakfast is a tricky business. There is that main meal to come, so breakfast can’t be too lavish.

But it’s Christmas, so you want it to matter. How to reach a balance, as with all of life, is the challenge.

* * *

The first decision about breakfast on Christmas morning is whether it should it be a casual meal with lots of hand food that can be eaten walking around or a “real” breakfast with everyone sitting at table.

This menu casts a vote for the latter and is centered on one spectacular and central item augmented by some classic accompaniments. This central item for me is a cinnamon roll, mostly prepared the night before and then baked off while I drink coffee in the solitude of my own very personal Christmas morning thoughts.

The recipe might seem daunting, but it is Christmas and excess is in the air. Make these. They are very delicious and provide pleasure both in the finished product and the process.

In recognition that not everyone finds pleasure in getting her elbows into a warm mass of sticky dough, I include a quick, yeast-less, and almost-as-fabulous recipe that is ready for the oven in 15 minutes.

The yeasty rolls are soft, pliant, buttery perfection. You can use a standing mixer with the yeast rolls or, for a more athletic feel, use your hands and a wooden spoon.

The rolls without yeast require just a bowl and spatula. They are flaky and light, yet still very buttery, a bit scone- or biscuit-like and delicious.

The beauty of the yeast rolls is that they sit in the refrigerator overnight, allowing you to merely take them out the next morning to sit on the counter for an hour to warm up before you bake them.

Your guests will awaken in their snug beds to the aroma of sweet, buttery dough wafting from the oven, and the rolls will be just the right temperature to eat when sleepyheads wander down for breakfast.

First, a short very basic explanation of yeast: it’s a fungus and it’s alive.

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