The Waiting Game

December 29, 2010 § 3 Comments

My friend, Ben and I have been cinnamon roll fanatics for a long time. We used to meet in Minneapolis, order a bun the size of a healthy grapefruit, and merrily consume all that butter, frosting, and sugar. Ben moved to Portland, Maine about two years ago, but he’s home in snow-covered Minnesota for the holidays, so we arranged a rendez-vous at my house. We decided on a project: homemade cinnamon rolls. Between exchanging news, we molded together the ingredients for the dough, then kneaded it for a good 20 minutes.

“It has to pass the ‘window test’ before we can let it rise,” Ben says, and pinches a nob of dough from the boule we’ve been pounding. He stretches it and it tears. “See how that tears so easy? That means we need to keep kneading our dough,” he says, pressing the failed window test back into the dough. I nod. This is serious business. When Mom made cinnamon rolls, I have no recollection of this test. It would have meant more work. More kneading. So instead of testing our dough, Mom and I would use the “eyeball-it method,” wherein we basically give the dough a stern look, check for gross oddity, and if there is none–then we say, “good ’nuff” and leave the stuff to rise. A total mystery.

Is it possible that as we get older we divide into two camps: one that uses the “window test,” and another that “eyeballs”? Precision versus guesswork? Propriety versus looseness? Measuring spoons versus inexact dashes and pinches? And which am I? Can we be both?

Ben understands the chemistry that’s happening inside that dough that we’re kneading, and he’s baking these rolls as a scientist and food perfectionist/appreciator/gourmand. I’m baking these rolls as a…what? A free spirit-gourmande with a rumbling stomach.There’s something else going on here, too. Ben wasn’t at all trying to rush the rolls. He just wanted the rolls to turn out the best that they possibly could. He was looking for correct execution. And I was…getting hungry. Baking these rolls, for me, became an exercise in patience. Waiting for the dough to rise, rolling out the dough, sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar, rolling it, slicing it, letting those slices double in size in a warm oven, then finally, FINALLY: baking them. They did turn out beautifully when all was said and done. But man, I swear: it’s one of the hardest things in the world. Patience.

The anticipation builds and you get ravenous. You grow claws. Something is going to get ripped to shreds while you’re waiting. You get anxious. Panicked, even. And the more conscious you are of the time it’s taking to get what you want, the crazier and more irrational you become.

I was so crazy that I decided to try and slow cook an egg in the oven at 170 degrees. I had read somewhere that it turned out “velvety” when you did this. We looked in on the egg as we waited for the dough.

Gee, I can’t say that was the most exciting kitchen experiment. But we ate it with some salt and pepper. (And hoped we wouldn’t get salmonella poisoning.)

Then we looked around for the next thing to do as the clock continued to tick. We happened upon a recipe for Morning Glory Breakfast Cookies. A recipe that essentially asks you to clean out your pantry and fridge, then pour all those things into a bowl with some butter, sugar, and flour. Everything from carrots, to apples, to coconut, to raisins and craisins, to walnuts and orange zest. We feasted on these cookies to distract us. (At this point in the day, we had been at it for about 3 or 4 hours.)

Distractions and slow-cooked eggs aside…

When those rolls were finally, finally in front of us, golden brown and perfect, Ben did an appalling thing and informed me, very matter-of-fact, that we were going to have to wait another 10 minutes. My jaw dropped. There is nothing, but nothing, I wanted more in the world at that moment more than one of those perfect cinnamon rolls drizzled in orange-scented vanilla frosting. (5 hours had elapsed!) How do you stay composed when you’ve been waiting so long for something you’ve wanted so bad? It’s like this: cinnamon rolls are a perfect metaphor for life in the waiting line. Look at us 20-somethings, as far as careers go, we’re all working so hard to knead the dough, hoping it will rise, anticipating something that will be worth our while if we can just stay patient. I’ve been doing this, as have all of my friends. We’ve been pushing around this dough, warming it with our hands, unsure about what kind of chemistry is happening underneath all of that material and between so many ticking minutes (read: months and years). We sprinkle some sugar on top, bake and hope that when we finally, finally get to taste a bite of what we’ve been patiently waiting for, it will have been worth every second. And so, as we round the corner into a new year, maybe we can learn that patience usually pays off. If you have good intentions, if you’re generous, and you surround yourself with good people—well, it’s hard to screw that recipe up.

(Oh, and if you couldn’t tell by looking at the pictures, those cinnamon rolls were amazing and worth every single minute that passed between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.)

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§ 3 Responses to The Waiting Game

  • These look amazing and I’ve actually got a batch slowly rising overnight in teh fridge right now! But I eye-balled ’em so I’m afraid that they may be fated to be less than perfect… Really loved this post, Kelli! Bises!

  • Ben says:

    My goodness, I remember you were a bit fidgety about those little dough spirals as they rose leisurely in the oven, but panicked? Crazy? Irrational? I had no idea you were enduring such inner torment. That said, I thought they were worth the wait, and I’m glad you did too.

    P.S. Being the scientist/perfectionist/appreciator/gourmand that you so correctly identified me as, I can’t help but note that we were discussing what’s usually referred to as the “windowpane test.” I’d say it’s likely that my hunger and anticipation for those rolls may have caused me to forget the proper terminology. I suppose the really good bakers are emotionally-detached from their products, but where’s the fun in that?

  • jakethy says:

    Homemade cinnamon rolls?!! I want them in me! Sure, they’re not vegan, but we aren’t hard-line vegans, anyway. We are hard-line deliciousnans, so my tiny, plastic co-writers and I are going to put these on “the list.” It doesn’t hurt our appetites that your photos are awesome, too.
    Kudos!

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