Quarantine Chronicles Day 70: Bakers can’t be choosers—for success you’ve gotta roll with failure

My Day 70 assignment came from, once again, my steadfastly willowy managing editor Melissa Evans, and, once again, it entailed baking, getting back on that horse that kicked me in the head when I followed her first assignment, baking bread.

This time, I was tackling cinnamon rolls for a nice Sunday breakfast, or, because it took so long, brunch.

My Grandma Bet made the best cinnamon rolls anyone in my extended family has ever had. So, I called my sister Debi to get the recipe.

“There isn’t one,” she replied. “She just made them.”

So I relied on a recipe Melissa sent me and would you even be happy if I told you I followed the directions perfectly and the result was the baked equivalent of a warm basket full of puppies by the fireplace on a crisp winter’s morning?

In fact, the project was a mess from the very beginning, and I’m at a loss to explain why, other than perhaps a typo-riddled recipe.

I put all the right ingredients, using military-grade calipers to get the most precise measurements, into my million-dollar Bosch mixer: flour, dry active yeast and a saucepan mixture of milk, instant mashed potato flakes (I know!), butter, sugar and salt and a couple of eggs and beat it for a few minutes.

This part was fun and relaxing. Things would change.

Next, I dumped the mixture onto a floured breadboard and a pretty fair amount ran down onto the floor. I was to knead the mixture into the shape of a ball, and that wasn’t going to happen. It was adamant about staying in the shape of a Frisbee (or novelty flying disc). I kept adding more flour, trying to coax the puddle of dough into a ball. A lot of flour. A lot of kneading. No ball. Maybe if I’d dumped 5 more pounds of flour in, but I doubted even that would work. So, I gave up on geometric shapes and tossed the mixture into a bowl to let it rise (45-60 minutes).

And that part worked. An hour later the mixture that had filled half a bowl was filling up the whole bowl.

Next step: Punch the dough. Don’t have to ask me twice. I gave it a good slug and it sort of went “oof” and receded back to its original size. I punched it a few more times to ensure it didn’t rise up and counterattack. Then I made the delicious filler part, with cinnamon and brown sugar.

We’re getting close to the baking part, but first came the step where I reacquainted myself with utter baking failure. The recipe told me to roll the dough (assuming, I guess, that I had succeeded in making it into a ball form) onto a breadboard into an 18-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a rolling pin (for the first time in my young life), which just sort of skidded across the dough, I flattened it and then I was to roll up the rectangle (this is the “roll” part of cinnamon rolls), and, look, the way things were turning out, that just wasn’t going to happen. The dough was too sticky and loose to roll, but, using a spatula, I nevertheless acted like I was rolling it and I scooched the dough into a long strip, which I chopped into a dozen squares and placed in a cooking pan.

At this point, I had long abandoned the conceit that I was making cinnamon rolls, and I was quite tempted to throw everything out, but I stubbornly soldiered on. There was too much blood spilled to surrender now. If I was now baking a cinnamon pizza, or cinnamon scones, or an apple pie, then so be it. I was making whatever would come out of the oven.

And it came out nice and golden brown, filling the house with mouth-watering home-baked aroma.

I made the icing, which was the easiest thing I’d done in hours, even easier than turning on the mixer; it has 3 or 4 speeds and I wasn’t even sure if I picked the right one. Don’t give me choices.

I drizzled the icing on and cut the “rolls” into a dozen squares and proudly pranced around the house demanding that everyone try one.

They were a hit. And they tasted perfect. I had a couple with a nice cup of coffee. I don’t know what they are. Let’s call them Tim’s mock cinnamon “rolls.” I wouldn’t go through the hassle of making them again, but if someone else did, I’d be happy to have one.

I’m gonna go ahead and call this project a success. With an asterisk.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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