Two of my lovely readers, Smidge and Granny, asked me separately what the theme for November would be on The Kale Chronicles. I said I wouldn’t know until Sunday. Here it is Sunday evening and I have had a little time to think about themes for November. My first theme for November is returning to solvency. To that end I sold some more books. To that end I studied the buskers at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market yesterday, watching to see who was making money and who was not: the guy playing quietly to himself and not looking at passers-by had two or three dollar bills in his hat; the guy who sat in a chair playing the blues with his face to the crowds had a guitar case full of dollar bills. Who do you suppose I plan to emulate when I make my debut next Saturday afternoon? In the spirit of solvency I will be continuing to work with what we’ve got around here: today’s recipe incorporates some of the lovely pecans Lisa Knighton just shipped out here.
My second theme for November is NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. As a NaNoRebel I eschew the novel form altogether and have started another 50,000 word installment of my memoir, covering the history of Johnny and Sharyn, my pitiful finances and my various attempts to make money. I may post an excerpt of it here sometime in November to honor what I am doing (I spent the afternoon at a write-in at the Berkeley Public Library, scarfing leftover Hallowe’en candy and black tea, participating in “word wars” with my fountain pen — trying to write more words than dextrous young-ens typing on laptops — and feeling a little like John Henry meeting the steam drill…). At the end of the day I dropped my pen nib into my bottle of black ink by mistake and was grateful for my garage rag and bottle of water with which I scrubbed it clean, wiped the table and began to remove ink from my hands before going home to knead the roll dough that I had left rising in the fridge.
Which brings me to the third theme for November, always and forever a month of gratitude with Thanksgiving the third week in to remind us Yanks about sharing food with others, helping people and other things that got the Native Americans run out of their territory. My friend Vicki has started a month of gratitude posts on Facebook and it makes me happy to go to her page once a day and think about what I am grateful for: today it was the computer I type on and the apple pie that Mom made last night, specifically the slice of it I had for breakfast this morning with my decaf coffee.
When I was in the kitchen this morning mixing up sweet roll dough I realized that I had not had my hands in soft dough for a long time: roll dough is the lightest of yeast doughs — I can knead a full batch by hand without resorting to the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. I used to make bread every week. I don’t know what happened to that habit — I just fell out of it somehow, between the demands of sourdough starter and the activities of daily living. I enjoyed having my hands in the fragrant dough, stirring with a wooden spoon, working in six cups of flour, greasing the bowl with a little butter before heating a tea towel and setting the dough to rise.
My pecan roll (and cinnamon roll and orange roll and spice roll) recipe comes from our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I make a full recipe of Sweet Roll Dough, using mostly butter, amending it to include a cup of whole wheat flour for health’s sake, scalding the milk because my Grandmother Carroll always scalded the milk. Before I leave to write at the library I divide the just rising dough in half. I give half to my mother to shape into clover leaf rolls and tell her to transfer my half to the refrigerator for a slow rise when she punches her dough down.
For the pecan filling I look at The Cheese Board Collective Works: they make delicious pecan rolls except for the mornings when some misguided person throws Sultanas or golden raisins in them and I have to pick them out. Repeat after me, “Raisins do not belong in pecan rolls, which are all about pecans, brown sugar and butter.” I take inspiration from their recipe, but not proportions: there is no way I am going to include a stick and a half of butter in twenty rolls. Theirs are good. Mine will not induce a heart attack. Pecans have healthy fat for you; butter not so much. If I use half a cup of butter it will be a lot.
To make your own pecan rolls, procure at least a cup of pecan pieces. Make sure you have milk, sugar, eggs, white and whole wheat flour, butter, yeast and brown sugar and cinnamon in the house. Then proceed with the recipe below.
Proof 4 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. (If your yeast is sluggish, add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of flour)
Scald 1 cup milk.
Add to milk one stick of soft butter (1/2 cup) and 1/2 cup sugar. If you use salted butter you will not need to add any salt. Otherwise, add a pinch.
Pour milk mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Beat 2 eggs in the cup that you used to measure the milk. Temper the eggs with the warm liquid and add them to the mixing bowl.
Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, plus 2 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour.
Check temperature with fingers. When mixture is no more than warm add reserved yeast.
Continue to add flour by the cupful until you have a soft but firm consistency. I used six cups total flour today, beginning with the cup of whole wheat and eventually adding five cups of unbleached flour, but sometimes the recipe takes as much as seven cups altogether. You know how bread is.
Cover roll dough with warm damp dish towel and go away for awhile. When dough has doubled in size, punch it down. If you do not have time to wait through the next rise, put the covered dough in the refrigerator and pull it out this evening or tomorrow morning. Let it warm and then roll it out on a floured board into a large rectangle. Roll it thin, but not so thin that it will break, perhaps 1/2 inch or a little thicker.
Let dough rest while you melt 1 stick of butter and stir in 3/4 cup brown sugar, plus 1/4 tsp cinnamon.
Spread one third of this mixture in the bottom of a baking pan (I used a 13″ x 9″ Pyrex pan), leaving a clear border at the edges with no goo.
Spread the rest of the butter and sugar mixture on the dough. Sprinkle on the pecans evenly and roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting from the short side of the rectangle. Slice one-inch rounds from the log with a sharp, serrated knife and place each roll atop the goo in the pan. Let rise for fifteen minutes while you preheat your oven to 350.
Bake 25 minutes or until sufficiently brown. Then invert carefully onto another plate so that the goo runs down over the rolls. Enjoy, perhaps with a glass of milk.
Painting Note. No painting. I started one but I prefer not to paint after dark. When I finish it I’ll pop it into the post later in the week. Meanwhile I have NaNoWords to type.