Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Rosemary Rolls: or, Presentation doesn't matter if people eat them in a few short minutes

Some recipes have more potential than their own writers would credit.

Rosemary Rolls
1 c milk
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ scant tsp salt
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp lard (or shortening)
1½ tsp butter
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cake compressed yeast*
½ c tepid water
About 3¼ cup flour, divided into 2½ cup and ¾ cup

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
¼ cup melted butter
Salt to taste

Before making the dough, mix the topping ingredients. Then, let the topping sit out all day to infuse.

Add rosemary to the milk, then scald it (this draws out the rosemary's flavor better than simply mixing it in). Then stir in the salt, sugar, lard, and butter. When all is melted and dissolved, pour into a large bowl and set aside and cool until lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in the tepid water, then beat it in along with the egg. Add enough flour to form a stiff batter (about 2½ cups), mix well. Then add enough flour to make a dough that is only just firm enough to knead, about ¾ cup.
Cover the top of the bowl with a wet cloth and let rise overnight, or until it is bubbly and has at least doubled in height.
In the morning, knead the dough well, lay it onto a well-floured surface, and sprinkle more flour on top so it can't stick to anything. Pat it out to somewhere between ½ and 1 inch thick (this dough is so soft that you really don't need a rolling pin). Then cut it into squares about 1½-2 inches on all sides- you don't need to be precise about this unless you want exactly uniform buns. Then roll each of these into a ball, pressing firmly with your hands as you roll them.
Let rise until doubled in size.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°.
Melt the topping if it has re-solidified and brush it over the rolls. Use all of the topping. If it seems to make puddles on the dough, they will become deliciously concentrated rosemary flavor after they're baked.
Bake for 35 minutes. These go stale quickly, so wrap any extras tightly. Or, cut them small and make croutons.

*or ¼ envelope dry yeast, or ½ tsp dry yeast.

Adapted from "Efficient Housekeeping" By Laura A. Kirkman, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram morning edition p. 10, November 24, 1921

We have made Laura Kirkman's cinnamon buns many times since we first encountered the recipe, and every time people have absolutely loved them. I remain more than a bit surprised that non-dessert cinnamon rolls would be so popular. But oftentimes, people are more broad-minded than we expect, especially when bread is involved.

When it came to Laura Kirkman's cinnamon buns, I couldn't help thinking how the bread itself was quite flavorful and delicious- even without the cinnamon on top and the raisins within. So, I wondered what else might be good with these buns. This brings us to our bounty of fresh rosemary.

We have no working printer, so if I want a recipe typed I have to do it myself.

I was going to write about how rosemary is such an easy plant to grow no matter how relentless is the summer. I was going to cheerfully say that if you put it outside, it practically cares for itself and thrives on getting sun-roasted. However, our rosemary struggled in the fiery summer heat, drooping despite our valiant efforts with a garden hose. Then winter came (or at least, the first round of winter) and finished off the plant. I looked up how to grow rosemary online, hoping the plant was more deciduous than I remembered. But Wikipedia dashed my hopes of plant dormancy by stating that rosemary "is an aromatic evergreen shrub." I then tried to convince myself that it would come back from the roots, but in the spring nothing came up but weeds.

However, my sister-in-law had much better luck with hers, and cut off some branches of it for me.

I first thought I would let the leaves remain whole, and that they would artistically intersperse the dough. However, it looked less like artisan craftsmanship and more like I threw a handful of grass clippings into the food. But that was an easy problem to solve. The blender made short work of long leaves.

This recipe is always easier than I think it's going to be. In nearly no time at all, our dough was ready to rise. Laura Kirkman tells us to leave the dough out all night (or in our case, all day). A lot of modern bakers use a similar technique of adding only the tiniest pinch of yeast to bread and letting it slowly rise all day. This gives the yeast more time to make all those delicious flavor compounds that make yeast bread so good. 

But almost every recipe I've seen directs you to let the lightly-yeasted dough sit for a few hours and then add a whole packet of yeast later on. In other words, you make a delicious-smelling spongy substance, and after it's bubbling you just pretend you're making bread the normal way. Laura Kirkman doesn't have time for that business, and she decided that her readers didn't have time for that either. The bread may be an all-day affair, but we readers of "Efficient Housekeeping" can just drop a wet rag over the bowl and spend the entire long breadmaking time doing literally anything else.

I decided to make the topping as soon as I had covered the dough for its day of leavening. That way, the butter could infuse with herbal oils the entire time the bread was sitting out. I resisted the temptation to complicate things with parmesan, garlic, or paprika. I wanted nothing to get in the way of the rosemary. There's no need to complicate beauty. Unfortunately, our rosemary butter looked like were about to make brownies with Satan's salad greens.

Every time people ask me if I can make special brownies (and that happens a lot), I tell them I will make the brownies if they supply the special. (So far, no one has.) But now I think I should recommend special rosemary rolls instead of special brownies. Not only are rosemary rolls less cliched, but they already look right for it. 

The butter with a damp heap of ground rosemary looked so much like the beginnings of special brownies that I considered putting the rosemary and the butter in a hot frying pan. I am informed that a short time on a hot stove really draws out the, um, herbal flavor. But even before the butter had cooled enough to re-solidify, the rosemary had already dyed it a refreshing jade green. I promise we're not cooking with the groovy greens. It just looks like it.

After sitting out all day while the dough rose, the butter was (depending on your perspective) either well-infused, or a suspicious shade of green. Every now and then, I picked up as I passed by so I could get a whiff of lovely rosemary. The butter had plenty of time to infuse since the dough was extremely slow to rise. I began to fear I had killed the yeast by putting it through a blender. But eventually, the dough got over whatever problem was bothering it and rose to life.

I meant to serve these with dinner. We were eating thrilling leftovers that night, and it's nice to have something fresh alongside the fruits of the microwave. However, since the bread dough took so long to rise, we ended up having middle-of-the-night bread instead. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Here you can see my big mistake: I quartered the recipe. This would prove regrettable as soon as the rolls were out of the oven and before they had a chance to cool off.

Our rosemary rolls came out of the oven looking just as infused with illicit herbs as they did before they went in. I might add paprika to the topping next time just to make these look less like the product of some dispensary, but this time I didn't want to impede the flavor of rosemary.

And gosh, did the rolls ever come out golden and beautiful on top! When you broke one open, it was so perfectly fluffy inside.

I never bother writing about the underside of bread, but I have to note the fantastically buttery crispness underneath these. All of that rosemary butter seeped between the rolls and infused them with pure deliciousness as they baked.

However, because I am picky about what I make (particularly when deciding whether to make it again), I carefully tasted some bread from the middle so I could see if it's good without the rosemary butter, or if the herbed topping was like cream cheese icing making up for an underwhelming cake beneath it. The bread itself, completely unadorned, is absolutely wonderful. The rosemary made it so delicious that I was glad I avoided any other spices.

But the biggest compliment came when I told everyone else that the bread was at last done. (I should not that due to my poor planning, the bread was ready six hours after the rest of supper had been cleared away.) I wandered away from the kitchen for a few minutes, and returned to find everyone else standing over a near-empty pan. The bread didn't even have time to get cold. "This is the best bread you ever made!" they said. "You should double it next time!" So great was the clamor over the bread that I had to promise to ask my sister-in-law for more rosemary branches for future culinary use.

I am surprised that Laura Kirkman didn't recommend using herbs instead of cinnamon glaze as a suggested variation under the cinnamon bun recipe because it is so good. And if you plan ahead and make the dough the night before you want it, it's not a whole lot of work when you want to serve it. While you do need to let it rise for 8-10 hours, you can simply cover the bowl and forget about it all day. You don't even need to check on it occasionally throughout the day.

I'm sure rosemary isn't the only herb that would be good here (and yes, the marijuana jokes keep setting themselves up). So feel free to use whatever herbs appeal to you when you're getting groceries- or whatever you have growing outside. You will be very glad you made these.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Pieathlon X: Glazed Peach Pie, or It's quite nice if you bake it twice

The Pieathlon has returned! Yinzerella of Dinner is Served 1972 asked if anyone wanted to do pies, and a lot of people rushed to answer Yes! This marks the tenth time various people from all over the planet have swapped pie recipes. Is it a tradition now? If it is, I hope we have an eleventh one next year.

Because I am an organized person, I thought it was one week later than today, so I held off on making the pie until a gathering with friends.... which will be next week. But by a stroke of recipe luck, we got a pie that could be microwaved into existence!

Peach Glaze Pie
½ cup cooking oil
2 tbsp milk
1½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Heat oven to 400°.
Combine dry ingredients in the measuring cup.
Pour milk and oil into the pie pan. Add the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork (you may need to use your bare hands to get the last flour-lumps mixed in).
Pick the dough up. Sprinkle and crumble it evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan. Pat it smooth.
Bake for 10 minutes. While it's cooling, prepare the filling.

1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup water
3 level tablespoons peach gelatin
5 sliced peaches (or 16 oz frozen sliced peaches, defrosted)
Whipped cream for serving, sweetened to taste

In a 6-cup microwave-safe bowl or casserole, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in water. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir well. Cook another 1 or 2 minutes, until it is thick and clear. (Watch carefully, it will boil up quite suddenly when it's ready.)
Remove from microwave and add the gelatin. Beat well to mix, and set aside to cool.
Arrange the peach slices in the pan. Pour the cooled glaze on top. Refrigerate until glaze is set and firm. Serve with whipped cream.

Suggested variations: Fresh strawberries or raspberries may be used instead of peaches, with the matching flavor of gelatin in the glaze.

Source: Caloric ME Range Recipes, unknown date (but it looks like the seventies)

I don't think I've ever gotten a more perfect recipe for my needs. The one year I get the date of the Pieathlon wrong by a week, I got a microwave recipe. Could you ask for a better last-minute salvation? 

This recipe comes to us from Surly of Vintage Recipe Cards, who we can blame for the Weight Watchers chocolate "pie" that turned an odd yet lovely shade of purple. This year, she was suspiciously nice and sent in glazed fruit.

Our recipe comes to us from the Caloric ME recipe card set. For those wondering why the heck someone would use the name "Caloric ME" for a box of recipe cards, Caloric was a stove manufacturer. The Caloric ME (ME stands for Microwave Energized) was a combination microwave and oven. Check out how modern it looks with its push-button controls and light-up indicators! 

You could either use it like an ordinary "conventional oven," or you could bake things with the microwave running at the same time to speed things along, or you could turn off the heating coils and use it to microwave last night's leftovers. (It would take me a long time to get used to putting a paper plate of cold casserole into the oven, but apparently that was an option if you bought a Caloric ME.) 

Going by the look of this thing, it's from the mid-to-late seventies or the very early eighties.

Let's get to the recipe itself. I shivered and shuddered when I saw that we got a recipe from a 1970s microwave recipe set. These were the days when microwave manufacturers really tried to convince people that you could do everything from seared fish to crème brûlée with a microwave. For a recipe out a 1970s advertising handout, our pie looks perfectly innocent, doesn't it? 

It reminded me of the Fresh Strawberry Glace Pie from a previous Pieathlon- except this time we're using artificially flavored Jello in the glaze. I didn't see a booby trap ingredient in this that would ruin it all, but remained wary that it would turn out terrible anyway.

To my surprise, the most frustrating ingredient to get ahold of was the title ingredient. You wouldn't think peaches would be a problem to get, but right now the ones in the supermarket are near useless. Before paying retail for fresh fruit, I smelled them. As most of us know, if the peaches smell like peaches, they will be delicious. If they smell like nothing, they will taste like Styrofoam. And indeed, the peaches smelled like someone burned a peach-scented candle near them before the supermarket opened for the day.

In a previous era, I may have thought nothing of buying out-of-season fruit that tasted like upholstery, but we are still stuck with post-pandemic grocery prices. Fortunately, the recipe offers an alternative: frozen peaches! This also meant I didn't have to peel or slice them myself. When they thawed, the frozen peaches tasted, well, peachy.

But we'll get to the peaches later. This recipe comes with its own crust recipe, so we couldn't simply put beef fat and flour into a food processor as we so often do these days. The Caloric ME pie uses cooking oil. You may not believe this, but I had to purchase oil specifically for today's pie. 

We don't actually keep cooking oil on hand around here. One person swears that olive oil is better whenever we put raw ingredients into a hot frying pan, so a bottle of that lives in the pantry- next to the shortening (every time I think I've bought my last can, we run into another recipe that demands it). We also have butter and margarine in the refrigerator, and an embarrassing surplus of beef fat in the freezer. Given this bounty of fat, I haven't felt the need to get a bottle of plain cooking oil until now.

I have to give the writers of the Caloric ME recipe cards credit for having us mix the pie crust in the pan. I appreciate anything that reduces the pile of dirty dishes. You'd think someone who could afford a microwave-augmented oven in the 1980s could also afford a dishwasher- heck, they're still prohibitively extravagant today. But I guess the recipe writers wanted to emphasize how easy cooking can be with a Caloric ME. You're not going to convince anyone that pies are a breeze if they still have to do all that tedious business with a rolling pin.

I've never been particularly convinced by a recipe that tells me to "mix with a fork." That never works. It always seems that the ingredients get nearly mixed, but never completely combine no matter how hard you try. I don't understand why any recipe writers tell people to do it. Using a spoon isn't harder. 

As I expected, using a fork got the dough almost mixed, though there were still little tiny lumps of dry flour in it.

After tossing the fork into the sink and getting into the dough with my hands, it was perfectly mixed. I have never made a pie crust with cooking oil before, and was surprised at how well the dough handled. But I must note that whenever I handled the dough, it left a shiny coat of grease on my hands.


I have to say that while patting the crust into the pan doesn't look as good as rolling it out, I loved how easy it was. 

As so often happens, I used a pie pan that's the wrong size. I rarely use the same pie pan twice, but it seems I can never get my hands on a pan that's the correct size for the recipe. (If you're wondering, I don't throw pans away. But whenever someone takes a pie to a family gathering, we generally leave it in its pan for whoever wants the leftovers. We then take the nearest available one home. Everyone leaves with the same number of baking dishes as they brought, often with the delicious leftovers of someone's cooking still in them. I don't know who originally bought this pan, but it may have passed through all of my aunts' houses.)

As easy as this crust was, whoever wrote "Flute edges." at the end of step 3 was hallucinating. This dough was too crumbly. It only held its place when firmly pressed against the pan. I did my best to tidy things up with a bit of trimming, but my best wasn't very good.

As the pie crust baked, the hot oil made the kitchen smell exactly like I was making popcorn on the stove.

Setting aside the crust, it's time for the microwaved glaze. The recipe looks like a variation of that translucent lemon filling that people often put between cake layers. I've never done it in the microwave before, but it seemed like it should work just fine. For the record, this filling uses equal amounts of water and sugar. The sugar sludge at the bottom reminded me of the delicious residue that's left at the bottom of a cereal bowl if you dump a mountain of sugar on top before eating it.

After microwaving it, the mixture turned translucent as promised. A lot of people talk about how microwaves from the 1980s were super weak compared to the ones we buy today, but apparently a Caloric ME had about the same wattage as the microwave currently in our kitchen. The cooking times in our microwave lined up with the ones on the recipe card. 

You should also know that this stuff boils up very suddenly. Like, one moment it looks like nothing's happening, but only five seconds later it's threatening to overtop the bowl and make a mess of your Caloric ME. (But don't worry, apparently they were self-cleaning!)


The steaming translucent mixture smelled oddly musty, like I had somehow managed to leave it in the back of the cabinet for two or three years without it rotting. But I hoped that the peach gelatin would cover up any unfortunate aftertaste. After adding the Jello, our glaze turned a very pretty rose color.

The resulting glaze tasted oddly familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Then I finally recognized it: this glaze tasted exactly like Big Peach soda! I used to have a minor obsession with this stuff because it's so elusive. And doesn't peach flavored soda sound so charmingly wacky?

Source: Wikimedia (author: Scoty6776)

Well, we set the glaze aside to cool. But purely for the heck of it, I decided to try the raspberry variant of this pie. For some reason, I thought raspberries would be a lot better than peaches, so I splurged on the extra fruit. (Also I found a few tiny pie pans and wanted an excuse to use one.)

Everything about this pie scales down easily, so it was quite simple to make a small raspberry tart. The glaze was not only the same lurid red as cheap Kool-Aid, it tasted just like when I used to make it with only half the water on the directions so it was extra concentrated and almost syrupy.

Anyway, we spooned the glaze over the raspberries and most of it sank to the bottom, leaving only a light drizzle on top.

With that in mind, I brushed the peaches with glaze to ensure they were thoroughly and attractively coated before pouring the rest in. I figured this is supposed to be one of those shellacked-looking fruit pies that seem to be on half the cookbook covers from the 1970s. But when I poured the rest of the glaze in, our peaches drowned.

Here I thought they loved weird lighting in 1970s food photography. Turns out, food really did look like that.

I'm glad we didn't get a picture with the recipe to show me how badly I failed.

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to refrigerate these pies to set the gelatin in the glaze, or if it didn't contain enough gelatin for that. But I figured the pies would be far better cold anyway. Therefore, into the refrigerator they went.

After I could wait any longer, it was pie time! 

The raspberry one was a bust. The crust disintegrated and tasted awful. The berries were perfectly fine since it's hard to ruin fruit in syrup. I ended up scooping out the berries and throwing out the crust. Even years of conditioning to "clean your plate" didn't stop me from letting it hit the trash. 

However, the glazed raspberries went to a different (and delicious) use:

As for the peach pie, we found that it gelatinized in the refrigerator. Check out the sharp corners in the sauce when we cut it. Had we lined the pan with lettuce leaves instead of a pie crust, we could have called this a salad.

When we got a slice onto our plate, a peach slid off, leaving a fruit-shaped cavity in the firmly set sauce.

But no matter, the recipe tells us we are allowed to hide structural pie failures with whipped cream.

The peach pie was... not bad. The crust tasted fine (if not particularly good). The parts of it that were under the fruit and syrup were an inoffensive crisp counterpoint to the sweet gelatin on top. (I think I must have mismeasured something when making the tiny tart shell for the raspberries.) The peaches and glaze tasted like canned pie filling. 

However, you needed a knife and fork to eat this. The peach slices were rock-hard. The pie wasn't terrible, but I would still have needed to mumble a few apologies if I served it to other people.

But I figured it could be salvaged. First, if the peaches were going to be as hard as raw apples, I figured I could at least cut them smaller. And so, I carefully tipped them into a bowl and had at them with scissors.

As a side note, we found a box of antique scissors when clearing through some unexamined boxes that have followed my parents through multiple moves. Because I love (poorly) disguising requests for favors as happy opportunities, I shoved them at a friend who's into knives because he made the mistake of saying he wanted to learn to sharpen scissors a few weeks prior. 

Well, after getting sharpened, all of the scissors in the box are so satisfying to use. He ended up making puppy-eyes at me while holding the last pair to come off the sharpening stone, so naturally I said he could keep a pair. It now lives carefully guarded on his desk. We've been handing a pair of these scissors to visitors with a piece of paper and saying "You've got to try these."

Anyway, the scissors made short work of the hard fruit. 

Meanwhile, we had an entire pie crust to deal with. I smashed and seasoned it.

Because I hate dirty dishes as much as whoever wrote this recipe, I mixed the crust in the pie pan just like the first time.

Where there wasn't any pie on top to hide the flavor, the crust was a little... off-tasting. But because I hate throwing more ingredients at failures, I decided to work with it instead of starting from scratch. And so, I dumped in arbitrary amounts of cinnamon and sugar and hoped for the best.

The resulting pie mixture was unexpectedly good, and almost addictive. It has that perfect salty-sweet balance, and the cinnamon made it as perfect as you can expect cooking oil to be. I temporarily moved the shattered remains of the crust into a bowl and got the peaches back into the pan. (Yes, I baked the pie in the same pan that it had just come out of. Why add dirty dishes to dirty dishes?)

And so, we sprinkled the crust on top of the pie, and it was ready to bake for the second time in one night! Since I didn't end up using all of the oil-loaded crust crumbles, one could technically argue that the pie is reduced-fat. Or at least, that's what I told myself.

We decided to take the casserole approach to cooking our pie (or cobbler, or whatever it is now): bake until bubbly. Twenty minutes later, we pulled it out of the oven looking more golden on top and merrily bubbling away.

All right, everything about this pie tastes fake but somehow it all works. The filling tastes like suspiciously perfect artificial flavoring. The crust tastes weird (though I have to say, a cooking oil crust is better than a shortening one.) However, like the ice cream bread, all that synthetic-ness adds up into something far better than it should be. And so, we will conclude by saying that this pie is... well, it's okay if you make it as-is. But if you smash the pie and rearrange it a bit, it's delicious.

 Thank you for joining on this Pieathlon adventure! If you haven't yet, have a look at what everyone else made!