By Marcia Pilgeram
I made it through my isolation birthday, sans friends and fanfare. Next on the calendar of events was Easter. Easter! Over the years, I have watched the others agonize over whether it’s a “his or hers” Thanksgiving or Christmas, yet I have never applied undo pressure for either holiday. “I understand,” I decree decorously, “go ahead and spend (fill in the blank) holiday with (fill in the blank), and I’ll just take Easter.”
Ever since I was 8 years old and IGA Foods in East Helena, Mont., was giving away a dyed baby chick with the purchase of a dozen eggs (parents need not be present, so I got two), Easter has been my holiday. I used to go to every single Mass offered on Easter Sunday just to show off my new dress (I didn’t get many). I made elaborate childhood Easter bonnets for all who’d wear them and baked sugary cakes piled high with green-tinted coconut.
My love of this holiday has never waned. I once borrowed neighboring bunnies for an elaborate photo shoot (my first-born, Ryanne’s, first Easter), and I continue to bake intricately woven breads and rolls for friends and neighbors.
The week before Easter, it hit me like a wheel of parmesan: There would be no sumptuous brunch at Mimi’s. No eggs to dye, no hide nor hunt. No baskets filled with too much candy, cleverly hidden, filled with jelly beans and love.
In a moment of isolation desperation, I hatched a plan to fill my week. Falling back on my baking bones, I would make and sell a few of my favorite Easter goods: Irish shortbread, cinnamon rolls and assorted scones.
I calculated the food costs and shared the limited menu, pictures and pricing on Facebook with very specific guidelines: order by Wednesday; by PM (Facebook messaging); by the dozen or half dozen only; local orders only; pick up on Saturday and delivery on Sunday; Venmo, Paypal or exact change only; in a plastic bag.
I was all set, and I was frankly pretty excited to have a purpose and a plan to fill not only the week but my Easter morning with lots of deliveries. I even thought of breaking out a bonnet or some bunny ears for my Easter morning mission.
With mask and mist (homemade Clorox spray), I ventured out Monday morning , for the first time in three weeks to pick up my pre-order at Miller’s Country Store (which included a 50-pound bag of flour) and found a willing friend to pick up a quantity of disposable pans from the discount store. I set up and sanitized my workstations, and the living room was converted into a packaging center. I was especially excited to use some of the more than 500 reams of satin ribbon I bought and have stored in totes for six years, since the Coldwater Creek liquidation sale (that’s not a typo folks, 500).
On Tuesday, while the rest of you were watching the Pink Moon rising, I watched five double batches of cinnamon roll dough rising — way too fast. In spite of my elaborate chilling station, and despite the fact that April has been unseasonably cold, it was nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit that night. I vacillated between staying up and making the first batches of rolls or punching it down once more and finding tired and deflated dough in the morning. I decided to punch it down and call it a night. After all, it was 10 o’clock — nearly three hours past my bedtime.
After an hour of tossing and turning, with visions of past critter experiences dancing in my head, I got up and made sure that my elaborate chilling station was also deer-, moose- and racoon-proof.
Wednesday morning, I awoke at four o’clock, to perfect dough, and it was a good thing as I had 15 priority mail orders to be baked, cooled and shipped before 2 p.m. (thanks to the same friend, willing to handle shipping for me).
The rest of the week was kind of a blur. I gave up on making any dough the night before and made batch after batch early each morning. As the dough rose, I reorganized my orders first by product and then by the day it was due. Special orders were highlighted by color. How did I end up with orders for Thursday? I soon realized I needed to add an extra pickup day on Friday to meet demand.
My oven (that once lost the heating element during a scone-making session for Angels Over Sandpoint) never let me down while powered on for 10 to 14 hours a day. As the baking temperatures varied so much, none of the three offered items could be baked at the same time. Each day started with shortbread, followed by rolls and finished with scones.
By the third day, it dawned on me that I was no spring chick, and baking in isolation means no one can help with prep work. Or dishes. Damn those dishes! Each day, between four and six o’clock, I turned off the oven (with a loving pat), closed and cleaned the “shop,” poured myself a large vodka and poured over my emails, texts and Facebook messages to find my hidden orders. It was just like the proverbial Easter egg hunt.
Easter morning, I got up extra early at 3 a.m., made the last batches of dough, baked off the delivery orders, loaded by area and delivered them (nearly) on time. Ryanne, who was on GPS standby, never doubted I could manage the orders but was fearful I couldn’t actually deliver them (reminding me I still can’t find Washington Elementary, even after my third-born, Casey, attended there for five years).
With lots of butter, sugar and love (not to mention equal doses of tenacity and Tito’s), I baked more than 500 cinnamon rolls last week. You might want to start with a baker’s dozen.
Cinnamon Rolls Recipe
A great family project with delicious results.
• 1/4 ounce package yeast
• 1/2 cup warm water (not too warm, you’ll kill the yeast — it should barely feel warm on your fingertip)
• 1/2 cup scalded milk
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/3 cup unsalted butter
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 egg
• 3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup soft butter
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 2 tbs ground cinnamon
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 4 tbs butter
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 tbs hot water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, stir in 2 tsp of the sugar and set aside to proof.
3. Scald milk, add butter and sugar and stir. Cool to warm temperature.
4. Once yeast is proofed, add milk mixture, salt and egg to bowl. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle, but a little sticky. Knead dough on lightly floured surface (or in standup mixer with dough hook) for 5 to 10 minutes. Place in well-greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
5. Mix filling ingredients until well blended and spreadable, set aside.
6. When doubled in size, punch down dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 15 by 9-inch rectangle. Spread with filling mix, leaving 1-inch edge. Roll lengthwise and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12 or 13 slices.
7. Line baking pan with parchment paper, spread with butter, and place cinnamon roll slices close together in the pan. Let rise until dough is doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned (as soon as they come out of oven, I invert on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan for about 5 minutes, and flip baking pan back over — it helps distribute the sticky goodness!).
8. Mix glaze ingredients. Spread over rolls while they are slightly warm.
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