Wednesday, 14 October 2015

cinnamon pecan rolls & the importance of staying connected

If we could sprinkle happiness over people the way we sprinkle sprinkles over sweet stuff, life would be so much sweeter wouldn’t it? It saddens me that people are sad. Not the open wounded, terrible sadness that is instantly recognisable but the quiet sadness and dissatisfaction that slowly chips away at the resolve of otherwise happy, well-adjusted and beautiful people. We all have moments when we battle internally with a terrible loss, boss, and a friend who turns out to be a snake - even loved ones who wear us down. And during those times we occasionally slip into a little bit of the blues, a toxic stress cycle and a quiet withdrawal from everyday life. 

I was asked once if I wanted to write a column called ‘Dear Dina’ and I remember feeling quite pleased. That people would write in to little old me for advice and help was heartening. I totally ignored the fact that it was a women’s glossy, and the chances of me helping to change someone’s life with lipstick and eyeshadow tips were rather slim. The column never happened and the world narrowly missed another Dear Deidre in the making - (If you’re not from the UK, Dear Deidre is our nation’s agony aunt and just as contentious as marmite!)

Trying to be altruistic is something we should all aspire to 'but everyone’s just so busy these days!' I hear you say, and if we're not busy then we're busy trying not to get messed around by other people’s rubbish so we end up building up walls and protecting ourselves, until we're impenetrable. It happens to the best of us. Especially living in a metropolis we become mini megalomaniacs on an endless voyage of self-discovery and achievement. There’s nothing wrong with those things of course – but only if we remember to stay nice!

When I was mulling over how to help a friend another friend asked 'don't you feel that it'll drag you down too?' I responded with a firm 'no.' No man or woman is an island and I truly believe that if you reach out – no matter what it is you are fighting – someone will only be too willing to be there for you. So this post is really about sending out positivity and a teeny message to those stuck in a rut or just feeling blah. Staying connected with friends and the people you love is the best gift you can give yourself. Call a friend, visit a friend, or even venture out for tea and cake. You know what I say? There are few things that a cup of tea and cake cannot solve.  

There's something about baking that always puts me into a state of Zen. It's my meditation and helps me soothe little worries and de-stress.  The science of baking is fascinating - the exact precision of ingredients, the flakes, puffs and rises. The magical way a few ingredients can make amazing things such as caramel or meringue. Cinnamon is one of my favourite spices and I love the way it elevates dishes with its earthy sweetness. These cinnamon pecan rolls are soft and fluffy with swirls of cinnamon and sugar woven through the layers and then topped with a cream cheese frosting and toasted pecans! Pretty much guaranteed to make you smile!

Adapted from Laura Vitale's recipe

Ingredients (makes 12 large or 16 small rolls)
For the dough
40g melted butter
40g granulated sugar
2/3 tsp salt
1 package easy bake yeast (7g)
45 ml warm water for yeast
1 tbs sugar for feeding yeast
140 ml milk
Flour plain 375g
1 small free range egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs butter melted to brush over top

For the filling
40g granulated sugar
100g brown sugar
1 heaped tbs cinnamon
50g butter room temp

For the pecan glaze topping
4 tbs cream cheese
4 tbs milk
1 tbs softened butter
100g powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g toasted pecan roughly chopped

To get the dough started, add warm water to a small bowl along with a tbs of sugar and sprinkle your package of yeast on top – this needs to be set aside ofr about 5 minutes so that the yeast can activate.

Meanwhile in a large bowl mix whisk the egg and add milk, sugar, salt and melted butter. Add about half of the flour and then add the yeast mixture and mix well. Add the vanilla and the remaining flour and knead thoroughly so that everything is incorporated.

Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10-12 minutes until the dough is smooth. You can also do this in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes. Oil a large bowl with about 1 tbs of oil and drop the dough into the bowl, turning over once for even coverage. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside in the warmest part of your kitchen for about 1 ½ hours to prove.

Make the filling by mixing the granulated sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon together and set aside. Once the dough has doubled in size knock the air out and turn onto a lightly floured surface. And either roll out with your hands or use a rolling pin to make a rectangle, slightly larger than your baking dish. I used a 7 x 11 inch baking dish so I made the dough 7 x 13 inch.

Gently smooth the softened butter over the dough with an offset spatula – you can also use the back of a spoon. Once the butter is on, evenly distribute the sugar and cinnamon mix all over the dough. Then gently form a fairly tight roll by working the dough inwards lengthwise. I find it easier to bring the roll towards me by working from the end away from me as it’s easier to control. Cut into about 12/16 even slices. I did 16 to make slightly smaller rolls and place cut side down on your oiled or buttered baking dish.  Cover with cling film and set aside again for proving the second time. This takes about 20-30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190c/170c (fan)/Gas mark 5.

Once the rolls have risen, brush lightly with melted butter and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Once you’ve taken your rolls out of the oven, toast pecans for 2-3 minutes, coarsely chop and set aside.

Make the glaze by incorporating, butter, milk, cream cheese, vanilla and sifted icing sugar and drizzle over the warm rolls reserving a couple of tbs. sprinkle toasted pecans on top and drizzle the rest of the glaze to lightly cover the pecans. Serve warm or cooled. Best eaten on the day but they taste great the next day too!

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