My husband’s fondest kitchen memory is of eating piping hot, sticky cinnamon rolls straight from the oven of a friend’s mom. At Mrs. Brooks’ house, growing teens—some who lived there and many who did not—would stand expectantly around the kitchen with their car greased hands and garage battle wounds and would stuff their mouths full while enjoying the great smells, tastes and companionship coming from her kitchen.
These were the rolls of the century if you ask him…still the best he has ever had. I am not offended, I understand perfectly well her stellar baking skills and her wonderful “Mother Hen-ness” that she has going for her.
After much begging and pleading by my husband for the famous roll recipe some 25 years later, under strict promises not to share them with a soul, she agreed to mail me the secret recipe. I have combined a few of her great tips with my own tried and true recipe from Alton Brown for a truly spectacular roll.
Personally, I believe,
“The best mother hens are the ones with the greatest wingspan.”
That’s my own personal theory on life. It’s pretty straight forward….take care of all those in your flock and even those not specifically assigned to you…all of those you can reach. I am sure that all of the “mother hens” of our society not only impart a delicious treat or two in their kitchens but also love, empathy and a skillful ear.
I think about the importance of having good mother hens in our world as I watch the wonderful mothers in my kids’ lives rally around to help each other and share their love and “being” with any kid who comes through (Feel free to fill in the word dad, grandparent or any other caretaker where I use the word mom. Anyone can be a mother hen so my rantings lovingly pertain to all of the above).
Being a mom to your own kids is hard enough I have found. We are constantly deluged with appointments, practices, chaos, work and just the general business of living a life and managing a family. Some moms, though, manage to stretch their wings a bit further than their own household.
I have found these moms in droves; the moms who offer up their garages for band practice while kids casually come through to shoot the breeze, the moms who have pool parties so that kids have a fun and safe place to hang out, the ones whose kitchen is like a revolving door (I hope that to be mine!) and ones who are just casually there to lend an ear as they chaffeur a gang of kids from here to there.
These kind of moms are my heroes because all kids need a village of moms so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of life. Also, not every kid is lucky enough to be born into a family of happiness with loving parents, but they get to soak in the warmth and care of their friends’ moms for awhile. They get picked up when they are seen waiting in the rain in front of the school, bake their first homemade cookie, come to a house where there is someone home and generally get protected from the world.
I watched my own mom be an amazing mother hen to us as well as to our friends and relatives. Her wingspan is gargantuan as it turns outs, and I grew up realizing the huge impact it had on some of these kids. I had a friend contact me on Facebook recently, telling me how grateful she was as a child to have had my mom in her life….whether it was the cookies she baked with us or just the home she provided for days spent playing Barbies on the carpet or swimming in the backyard.
My friend felt loved there and actually aspired to be like my mother rather than her own. Judging from the photos on her Facebook wall, and her sentiments, she is doing an A+ job of being a mom so my mom’s wingspan seems to be carrying on far wider than she probably ever imagined.
So this post is sort of an homage to those moms who really manage to test the breadth of their wingspan, and hopefully reminds (and thanks) those mother hens so they realize how important they are to even those on the outskirts of their wings. Although being a mother hen is sometimes a thankless job and ALWAYS an exhausting one, just wait around a few years and see how far your wings have stretched and how many lives were affected. Then see if you can stretch your wings just a little further.
Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil or cooking spray
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons
For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
For the Filling: Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.
Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.
Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes. While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.