Baking old favorites and creating new memories

I’m an undercover, mostly casual-about-it control freak. If we are just acquaintances, you probably (*hopefully*) don’t notice my type-A tendencies. But, they’re definitely there. While my sense of style, interior decorating choices and outward personality would suggest a go with the flow approach to life, these are all façades – I’m actually usually paying close attention to all the details and focusing on how to fix everyone and everything without looking like a lunatic.

In many areas of life, I do a decent job hiding my controlling tendencies, but my driving need to be perfect comes out every time I’m in the kitchen.

A little context: my mom is an AMAZING cook and baker. She will probably contest that statement when she reads this post, but it’s the truth. All my friends and family members know that Constance is a kitchen wiz. The times are few and far between when a dish or pastry doesn’t turn out perfectly with an extra dash of panache. Most often, everyone who walks away from her dining room table is stuffed to the brim of delight after consuming way too much good food. Her abilities have set the standard extremely high for my own baking and cooking goals.

When I was young, I remember spending some time with my mom in the kitchen as her assistant, but that time decreased significantly as I grew up and participated in a million extra-curricular activities. Other than knowing a few very basic baking tips and tricks (always mix the dry ingredients separate from the fat/sugar, and add the eggs last) I stopped learning helpful techniques and necessary knowledge for successful baking. Add to that, my mom is actually pretty laissez-faire about life and half the time barely even references recipes. In contrast, I’m a control freak. I read the directions five times before getting ingredients out and still need to Google things.

When I went to college, my mom filled a recipe book with family favorites. Unfortunately, most of the recipes are missing lots of helpful details. It’s basically a book full of Great British Baking Show technical challenges: all the ingredients (not always with the amounts clearly indicated) and an oven temperature.

So, when I recently pulled out my cook book to make my great grandma’s recipe for bakery-level quality cinnamon rolls, I was not surprised (yet still frustrated) to find a rather pared down list of directions that conflicted each other. Here is the recipe pre-annotation. Feel free to try it out if you’re a great baker and read between the lines. Or just scroll to the end to find the actual instructions and the full ingredients list.

No joke, I called my mom 11 times to get through the recipe. Granted, the total time from prep to eating took a solid 11 hours. But the fact that I needed vocal explanation and affirmation 11 times is a little bit much. When I complained about the lack of details in the recipe she simply (and somewhat sassily) responded: “That’s the exact recipe I was given from my mom.” To which I (with even more sass) responded, “Yes, but by the time you were passing it on, you had all the extra knowledge to give and you left me hanging!”

The cinnamon rolls came out of the oven perfect. And I topped them with a delightful coffee-tinted icing. My roommates were thrilled and I was over the moon to have achieved perfection. But in addition to pride and joy, the day-long debacle also brought some valuable self-awareness.

It’s ok to double-check myself. It’s ok to phone a friend/mom for help. BUT ALSO: It’s also ok to not be perfect. I don’t have to master every recipe on the first time. My mom (and Google) can give me lots of tips and pointers, but experience is the best teacher and making mistakes is the best way to learn, grow and improve.

The week after “mastering” cinnamon rolls, I made my debut batch of homemade French croissants which did not turn out quite as perfectly. The beginning poolish (combination of yeast, flour and water) was too dry. The dough wasn’t rolled thin enough and I cut the pieces too wide. The butter spilled out and smoked out the oven (and my entire house). But, the mistakes and mishaps were all my own. I will always remember (even without the recipe notes) how to succeed better next time. Not finding perfection on my own with the croissants honestly taught me more through the experience than calling my mom – and resulted in lots of laughs along the way.

Taking ownership of the good, the bad, and the messy is important. Letting go of perfection, pastry by pastry, will get me farther in life than needing to rely on a play-by-play of every next step. So, other than an occasional call to my mom and quick Internet reference for some basic guidance, I’m going to make a concerted effort to risk failure for the chance to find success that isn’t manufactured or micromanaged. Whatever the results, it will be a sweet reminder that life is full of happy accidents, and the best ones involve sugar.


Cinnamon Roll Deluxe (with added necessary details)

Ingredients for dough
2 C milk
1/2 C shortening
3/4 C sugar
2 t salt
3 eggs (well beaten)
1 pkg yeast
3/4 C raisins (literally never used these)
4 1/2 C flour + 1 C

Ingredients for inside
1/2 stick melted butter
1 C sugar
1 T cinnamon

1 T soft butter
4 C powdered sugar
1 T vanilla or cold coffee

  1. Scald milk (100-110 degrees F) and cool. Meanwhile, soak yeast in 1/4 C warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a mug. Stir lightly. Yeast will begin to react and may overflow mug.
  2. Combine sugar, shortening, yeast mixture, cooled milk and eggs. Mix well, then gradually mix in 4 1/2 cups of flour.
  3. Let stand until bubbly (around 1 hour). Then mix in 1 more cup of flour with wooden spoon. Cover bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm place (above fridge).
  4. Let stand until dough has doubled in bulk (around an hour). Stir down with wooden spoon. Cover bowl with tea towel.
  5. Again, let stand until doubled in bulk (around an hour).
  6. Roll dough out on a well-floured, large surface into a rectangle measuring about 24″ by 30″.
  7. Melt 1/2 stick of butter and drizzle well over rolled dough. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle generously to edges of dough.
  8. Roll dough along long edge of rectangle into a log. Slice into 1/2″ sections.
  9. Lay down slices in well-greased pans with a little space between. The log should yield about 30 sliced rolls. Cover pans with tea towel and let rise until double (about 30 minutes).
  10. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15-25 minutes. When out of the oven, rub stick of butter lightly over rolls. Let cool.
  11. For frosting: mix tablespoon of soft butter, vanilla/coffee and 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time until a stiff consistency is found.
  12. When cool, frost the top of cinnamon rolls and enjoy! Rolls last about a week if kept covered tightly.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lisa Fox says:

    I saw your photo of delicious rolls on Easter Sunday. Appreciate reading the back story with all your transparency, struggles, laughter and lessons from your journey:)


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