Friday, October 1, 2010
Don't Take My Word, If You Can Do an Experiment
Don’t take my word for anything, if you can do an experiment.
That was my rule when I taught chemistry. And that’s the rule in my kitchen.
I was showing my niece how to make RoRo’s Schnecken, a treasured family treat that RoRo said is unrecognizable from my kitchen, but every body else loves. These cinnamon laced rolls have something magical in them. My friend the yogi says they require so much attention that they can’t help bring out the love in the baker.
RoRo insisted that the dough only rises properly if it is beaten by hand. I let my electric mixer do the job. She insists it is only delicious if made with white flour. I use whole wheat flour. RoRo measured everything after sifting and she leveled each cup with a knife. I approximate. I do use measuring cups, but I don’t sift and I don’t level. I just scoop and pour. RoRo insisted on raisins. I didn’t have raisins, so I used dried cranberries. RoRo always used pecans. I’ve been known to use walnuts. I don’t scald the milk – I figure that requirement is leftover from the days prior to pasteurized milk. I just warm the milk in the microwave oven – 15 seconds is plenty. I always use about 2/3 of the sugar called for in any recipe. Nobody ever complains that my schnecken aren’t sweet enough.
But one thing I do that RoRo insisted on – I freeze the schnecken before I eat them. I tried eating them fresh and hot out of the oven. They are good – but not great! There’s something subtle that’s just not right. Her schnecken only taste fully delicious after they have been frozen and reheated.
She insisted they had to be frozen in aluminum wrap. They’re just fine if they get frozen in plastic freezer boxes, or freezer baggies.
But when I told my niece we had to freeze the schnecken, she insisted on eating one fresh and hot out of the oven. I loved watching her do the experiment – never take my word for anything if you can do an experiment instead. I have yet to tell her that schnecken is German for snail.
RoRo’s Schnecken – makes 2 dozen
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 tsp salt
½ tsp honey
1 cup warm milk (or go ahead and scald and cool it you want to follow the original recipe exactly)
– let the yeast grow until the milk is bubbly
Your choice – in a separate bowl, or in the same bowl (If you’re my kind of cook) combine:
1/4 lb room temperature butter (1 stick) or ½ cup oil plus ½ tsp salt
½ cup honey
3 ½ cups flour (your choice white or whole wheat)
½ tsp salt
Beat together until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. You can do this with a wooden spoon (which takes about 15 minutes and very strong arms) or with your electric mixer (if it is strong enough.)
If you are tired now, you can put the dough in the refrigerator over night. Be sure to let it warm up to room temperature before you work with it again.
Or you can let it rise right now, until it is doubled in bulk.
Note: I like to use silicone muffin tins – I used to use cast iron muffin tins, but they take a long time to clean up afterwards.
Prepare the muffin tins.
Melt ½ lb (2 sticks) butter and put about 1 TBSP into each muffin cup
(note: this is not all of the butter – you’ll the rest of it later)
24 pecan halves – put one in each muffin cup
1 ½ cups brown sugar plus 2 TBSP water (soften the sugar with the water – warm over low heat in a pan if necessary) – put 1 TBSP in each muffin cup
Roll out 1/3 of the dough (to about 1/4" thick) on a floured rolling cloth or silicone sheet. You are aiming for a rectangle here - about 18" x 8"
Brush the dough with melted butter
Sprinkle with cinnamon
Sprinkle with brown sugar
Shake ground pecans over the dough
Sprinkle with raisins or dried cranberries or currants
Roll the dough from the long side, like a newspaper.
Cut the dough into 8 pieces (approx 1 ½ inches each)
Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Place one rolled piece of dough into each muffin cup
Allow to rise until doubled in bulk. If you have trouble getting dough to rise, do NOT preheat your oven. Place them into the oven and then turn it on. Set the desired temperature to 375 F.
If you preheat the oven, the schnecken will take about 15 minutes to cook. If you don’t preheat, they take at least 20 minutes. The dough will bounce back when you touch it. It will appear slightly browned, but that’s hard to tell because of the cinnamon.
As soon as you remove the schnecken from the oven, invert the pans. This will allow the butter and brown sugar to drizzle over the outsides. My grandmother always inverted her schnecken pans over waxed paper to minimize the clean-up. You can invert them over any surface you are willing to clean.
Go ahead – eat one fresh out of the oven. Freeze the rest. Remember what the fresh hot schnecken tasted like. Reheat the frozen schnecken. Compare the taste. Decide which you prefer.