A Need To Knead
(by Lucy Iscaro)
Until the Covid-19 crisis interrupted all our lives, I’d often happily drive the 30 minutes north to spend time with my daughter Jennifer’s family, and bring along a bag full of homemade treats from my kitchen. There might be banana muffins, seven-year-old Reed’s favorite applesauce, ten-year-old Galayna’s favorite challah, or whole wheat bread for their peanut butter sandwiches.
My daughter may be a grown woman with her own family, but she’s still my little girl, and I tucked in things for her as well. Since childhood, Jen’s philosophy about sweets has been: If it’s not chocolate, it’s not worth it, and so I often included brownies or chocolate chip cookies. When she was little, the way her children are now, my mother, who nurtured but didn’t bake, would bring thick chocolate lollipops from Howard Johnson’s on her visits. Jen reminds me of her late grandmother in that my mother, an artist, was more comfortable in a painter’s smock than an apron. Jennifer, a professional therapist, makes sure her family has nutritious meals but is happier creating art—in her case, composing and performing music.
My computer whiz husband helped me brush up on current technology so we could interact, remotely, with the grandkids. Early into our isolation, during one of our video visits, Galayna asked, “Will we all get it?”
We knew what she was referring to. Her expressive eyes told me this wasn’t an idle question. She had overheard too many adult conversations, too many statistics on the news, and seen too many of her familiar routines mutated. She was scared. I ached to hug her and tell her we’d all be fine. That’s when I thought of baking together to comfort ourselves and each other.
Long before I became a grandma, the soothing act of creating, eating, and sharing food was my joy and balm. When I was Galayna’s age, I alternated between reading Nancy Drew mysteries and the newspaper’s food section. I proposed a project to Galayna. “I can’t be there to bake anything for you, Sweetie, but I can teach you how to do it yourself.”
We planned a virtual baking lesson for the upcoming Sunday to make cinnamon rolls.
In my quiet kitchen, I arranged the ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, milk, and eggs. Galayna, in her kitchen ten miles away, was eager to get started.
“Okay, Honey,” I coached, “according to the recipe, we need to crack two eggs into a bowl.”
She went to find a bowl, then the eggs.
They had no eggs.
The pandemic measures were in effect, and running to the store for a thing or two was no longer an option.
FaceTime was postponed until her mom could borrow eggs. I had to trust that my friendly, yet sensible, daughter would keep a safe distance from the neighbor when she retrieved them.
Back on camera, I watched as the borrowed eggs were cracked.
There were more complications and distractions. The brown sugar was hard, so Jennifer had to open a fresh bag. Reed wandered into the kitchen wanting to talk to me, and their old dog ambled through.
I kneaded my dough with a hefty stand mixer, but my intrepid apprentice used her small hands to create an acceptable, albeit lumpy, dough. She patted it into an approximate rectangle and spread on softened butter, sugar, and cinnamon. The dog returned to help clean up spills. Finally, the yeasty rolls on both sides of the computer were gently tucked in to rise.
Sometime before dinner, Jen sent a text message full of heart emojis, plus images of knobby browned rolls and a triumphantly smiling little baker.
It had been a long day but a sweet one. Fear of contagion kept us apart, but bread, technology, and love brought us together.
(adapted from Red Star Yeast)
For the dough:
1 c. lukewarm milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 c. King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 package (1/4 oz.) Red Star platinum yeast
For the filling:
1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar, packed
3 T. ground cinnamon
Mix together and knead all of the dough ingredients—by hand, mixer, or bread machine—to make a smooth, soft dough.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to grease all sides.
Cover bowl, and let dough rise until nearly doubled, 1 - 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Gently deflate dough, and transfer to a lightly greased work surface.
Roll dough into a 16 x 21-inch rectangle.
Spread dough with 1/3 c. softened butter.
Mix brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over dough.
Starting with a short end, roll dough into a log, and cut into 12 slices.
Place buns in a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan.
Cover the pan, and let the buns rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Uncover and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
(We omitted the icing.)