Every month, PMS arrives with what I’ve come to call the “food of the month.” It’s a crazy craving where I’ll eat the object of my craving for two weeks straight. Last month it was sampaloc, this month it’s chocolate bread. A few days ago I made a chocolate yeast cake that cut like a bread but tasted like cake. Last Friday night, I’m overcome by a desire for cinnamon rolls, soft and bready and stuffed with chocolate.
Wading through my favorite cookbooks – no easy feat since I have about 500 – I realize that I’m out of butter. So I step out at 8.30 pm no less (!) to buy some. It’s two days to go before the national elections, and I get caught in a last-minute rally. Police and barangay tanods are crawling everywhere guarding several metal barriers that impede the progress of my SUV, which right now, is just another nuisance along with the other vehicles of the two, three, and four-wheel type. Determined to get my butter at all costs and refusing to be dissuaded since I’ve already made it this far, I make several illegal U-turns, park in a tow-away zone, and wade through a multitude of humanity to get to the supermarket. Throughout this desperate butter-or-bust! undertaking of mine, I’m repeatedly muttering, Please keep me safe, let me get home to any hallowed beings above who may be listening. Almost immediately, a smart-alecky voice punctuates my incantations: Well, who had the smarty-pants idea to go out for butter at an obscene hour days before the elections? Oh, how inconvenient a conscience is! But how right, I grudgingly admit.
I get lost coming home but I arrive alive as does my car (no missing tail lights or side mirrors) thank God, and totter off to bed, taking the time to complain to my Bin the hassle I’ve just been through. (That it’s a hassle I’ve invariably put myself through is beside the point). During times like these when something is just begging to be baked, sleep is an inconvenience, a chore that needs to be accomplished in order to get to the next level. I awake at 4 the next morning, woken by a gentle unseen presence I like to call the “guardian of early morning bakers.”
As I mix flour, eggs, butter, yeast and sundry into a supple dough, the silence is palpable. It’s so quiet that I swear I can hear the paint dry on my newly-renovated porch.
I like it.
It’s during the quiet morning hours when night releases dawn that I’m fully immersed in what I’m doing. I can hear myself think. I revel in the connectedness of my fingers with the dough, feel the silkiness of the melted butter, the walnuts’ nubby-ness, the grit of the muscovado sugar. And as the rolls bake, I’m there to witness their transformation from squat and stubby to tall and tantalizing. If you’ve ever baked bread for yourself, you know there’s nothing quite like the aroma it gives off. Compounded with cinnamon and butter and in this case, chocolate too, it’s an outstanding olfactory stimulus, almost too much to bear.
Three hours after I started the buns, my Bin and Boo come down, bleary-eyed but lured out of bed by the beguiling scent of baking buns. As we settle down to breakfast, I watch them, thrilled at their reactions: mouths open, eyes close, bodies go limp. Edible surrender.
“You’re like a woman possessed,” my Bin remarks, spearing the last of his roll into his mouth. “But Boo and I are the beneficiaries of it,” he ends with a chuckle.
Sour Cream Yeast Rolls Stuffed Silly With Chocolate and Cinnamon and Nuts, Too
Yield: I get approximately 15 large rolls, sufficient for PMS-eating and more than enough to share. Dough
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4-6 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Muscovado sugar glaze
1 cup muscovado sugar, divided
½ cup melted butter, divided
¼ cup light corn syrup, honey, or glucose divided
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
½ cup butter
1 cup muscovado sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup walnuts (or your nut of choice), toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup chocolate chips
In a stand mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and let stand 1 minute to allow yeast to bloom. Attach dough hook to mixer (the paddle attachment also suffices) and blend in sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla extract, butter, and cinnamon. Blend in 3 cups flour and then the salt, and knead with dough hook for at least 3 minutes, allowing dough to come together. If dough is still clinging to sides of bowl, add more flour ½ cup at a time, allowing 1 minute of kneading in between each addition. It’s best to err on the side of too little flour since an excess would make the dough (and consequently, your rolls) tough. When dough has come together and is somewhat silken, transfer it to a greased kitchen counter (I use a Silpat mat) and knead until dough is velvety and blistered, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer dough into a large, greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or enclose bowl in a large plastic bag. Let dough rise 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, spray two 13x9-inch Pyrex glass pans or any similarly sized pans with cooking spray. In each pan, add ½ cup muscovado sugar, ¼ cup butter, 1/8 cup corn syrup, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside. Turn out risen dough onto a greased kitchen counter or nonstick mat. Gently punch dough down and let rest for 10 minutes to prevent it from shrinking. Pat (I use a rolling pin) dough out into a large rectangle (I refuse to give measurements here because I certainly don’t follow them and I don’t think you will either) about ¼-inch thick. Layer the Filling ingredients onto the dough, leaving a ½-inch space from the edge – this will prevent the filling from spilling out. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll up the dough into a snug jellyroll. Carefully push in any filling ingredients that desperately try to escape. Cut dough into 1-inch thick slices and arrange in the prepared 13x9-inch pans. Depending on how large your rolls are, you may or may not have any space left over in your pan(s). Cover pans with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for about 40 minutes. When the rolls are almost flush with the top of the pan (in my hot kitchen, it only takes about 30 minutes before this happens), preheat your oven to 350°. Bake for about 25-35 minutes or until buns are golden and the caramel glaze is bubbling contentedly. Invert buns onto a parchment paper-lined serving plate or baking sheet. Give the rolls a few minutes to cool – oh, the pleasurable agony! – and then eat with no regrets.