Rock and roll, like magic

When I was who knows how old (but less than 11), my mother's father (Papa) showed me a card trick.

The gist of the trick is as follows. The magician deals out 10 pairs of cards, face up. An audience member mentally selects 1 pair of cards and then gathers the cards in any order she wishes, while keeping the pairs together. The magician re-deals the cards in 4 rows of 5 and asks the audience member to indicate which row(s) contains her cards. Seconds later, like magic, the magician holds up the chosen cards much to the astonishment of the audience member.

After watching him perform the trick repeatedly and becoming increasingly frustrated, I demanded to know the secret. Papa relented, but on the condition that I'd never tell a soul. Even my closest friends. Even if they begged. (It seems my maternal grandparents loved a good secret.)

So I watched and learned and practiced and showed the trick at every opportunity, keeping the mystery all the while. If you ask nicely, I might bring out the deck and give it a go again for old time's sake.

I'm rolling around to the point any minute now.

Yeast was the magic trick I never quite mastered. How do you pull a pan of fluffy golden cinnamon rolls from a packet of beige granules? I knew there was some liquid, a dash of something sweet, a bit of heat and lots of waiting along the way, but my big reveal at the end was always hit and miss. I never hinged a brunch menu on anything yeast-based for fear that our guests would end up at the greasy spoon down the road an hour later, stomachs grumbling.

Now instead of triggering my fight or flight instinct, the scent of yeast harbingers the sweet taste of cinnamon rolls to come. What changed? I happened upon a great recipe with an easy peasy technique that guarantees a warm spot in your house for that crucial first rise of the dough. This trick is sure to elicit oohs and aahs from your audience members/guests and I'm not afraid to share the secret.

Rock and roll, like magic.

Almond Raisin Cinnamon Rolls


1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1/4 scant teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup butter (or to taste)
3/4 cup brown sugar (or to taste)
lots 'o cinnamon (or to taste)
2/3 cup mixture of chopped almonds and raisins (optional)

To prepare the dough, combine the milk, oil and sugar in a large sauce pan. Scald the mixture by bringing it almost to the boiling point over medium heat (small bubbles will begin to appear around the edges). Turn off the burner, leave the pot where it is, and wait patiently for 30-45 minutes.

Once the mixture has cooled from finger-burning to very warm, sprinkle the yeast on the surface. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes or until the yeast activates and begins to foam. Now stir in 2 cups of flour with a wooden spoon. Cover the mixture with a lid and let rise for 1 hour. Your pot is still on that burner from way back when.

One hour later, remove the lid and take a sniff and a peek at your new dough. Gently stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour along with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

At this point, you can either continue on and make the cinnamon rolls or punch down the dough and store it in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 days. Keep your eye on the dough and make sure it doesn't spill out of its container!

To make the cinnamon rolls, begin by lightly greasing a square baking pan.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough quite thinly into a large rectangle. Spread the butter evenly over the rectangle, leaving a small border around the outside. Cover the butter with brown sugar and pat lightly. Sprinkle with cinnamon until you're satisfied, and then sprinkle even more. Spread chopped almonds and raisins evenly over the cinnamon.

For short wide cinnamon rolls, begin at a short end of the rectangle and roll tightly; for tall narrow cinnamon rolls, begin at a long end of the rectangle. Be sure to carefully seal the filling inside the log by pinching the dough together all along the seam.

Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the log into the desired number of cinnamon rolls. Place each roll, swirl-side up, in the greased pan, leaving a bit of space between them.

Cover the cinnamon rolls with a damp cloth or greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven until lightly browned (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

Yields 9-16 rolls, depending how you slice it.

Note: Instead of making a full batch of Cinnamon Rolls, I used half of the dough to make Monkey Bread. Simply dip golf-sized balls of the dough into melted butter, roll them in a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar, and then stack them randomly in a greased muffin tin or baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes and then bake.

Source: Adapted from a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls posted at Confessions of a Pioneer Woman on 26 December 2006. Her frosting recipe sounds delicious too!

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