Holiday baking provides a welcome diversion
by Margaret Dabbs
Nov 03, 2010 | 2480 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Once my boys left home to attend college the ultra-quiet that surfaced in the absence of their rowdy voices was almost overwhelming to me at times. The immediate and lasting solution to what feels like dead quiet is to turn on the television for background noise. The simple drone of voices offers just the right kind of company and as I move around doing chores and cooking, I usually do not even actually hear the words or see the images.

However, on the Friday morning before Halloween my attention was caught by the Today Show’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, dressed perfectly for the occasion as Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz from the silly and often hilarious I Love Lucy television show. Kathie Lee and Hoda were stomping real grapes with their bare feet in a big vat out on Rockefeller Plaza just as Lucy and Ethel did in an episode more than fifty years ago when this show was the most popular one in the country.

The rest of the Today Show dignitaries were dressed as a mixed variety of characters and celebrities- Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, President Obama and Superman. Halloween has become a celebration for all ages and anyone with the courage to put on a costume can participate. For the first time in the 25-year history of his medical practice, my spouse was joining his staff in dressing up for the day. He left home as a tourist, complete with shorts, sandals, Hawaiian lei, and wide-brimmed hat. My former law partner of 19 years showed up at our house Saturday night trick-or-treating with his granddaughters in full clown regalia, complete with face makeup, red nose and Elton John sunglasses.

In many ways, in this part of the world the coming and going of Halloween signals the real end of our drawn- out Southern summer. While more warm days may be out there, with the first days of November we anticipate the cool invigorating mornings and the holidays that keep us even busier until another year ends. With the cooler temperatures, the oven beckons and baking becomes a welcome diversion to the holiday hustle and bustle.

Thanksgiving always brings a crowd and a pleasant excuse to bake Mama’s yeast rolls. After Daddy had all his teeth pulled prior to cancer treatment radiation, he could not adjust to dentures and so he learned to live and eat without teeth. Mama’s rolls were one of the things he could eat and loved to eat so she made them regularly. An amazing recipe found in the newspaper years ago, these light, butter-laden treats are appropriately named Out of This World Rolls.

Baking yeast rolls provides a satisfying distraction from the hurried pace we often find ourselves running during the holiday season. The distinctive earthy smell of yeast waking up with water, the use of hands in kneading and rolling out dough, and the aroma of the baking process are bonus benefits we enjoy even before we experience the first taste of the finished product- warm from the oven and drowning in butter.

Out of This World Rolls

2 envelopes Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast (1\4 ounce each)

3 eggs

One half cup sugar

One half cup unsalted butter

2 teaspoons salt

4 and one half cups all-purpose flour

1. Set eggs out to reach room temperature. Set butter out to soften.

2. Mix dry yeast in one fourth cup warm water. Let it stand for ten minutes.

3. Put eggs in mixing bowl and beat until light.

4. Add two and one half cups flour and one cup warm water to eggs. Mix well.

5. Add sugar, butter, and salt. Beat until smooth.

6. Add remaining two cups of flour. At this point you may need to stir by hand as the dough is thick and sticky.

7. Cover bowl and let dough rise until double in a warm, draft free place.

8. Refrigerate dough overnight.

9. Put dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Knead in a little more flour if the dough is too sticky to roll out.

10. Roll dough out to desired thickness and cut out rolls.

11. Melt one half cup of salted butter. Dip each roll in the butter, fold over, and place in a round baking pan.

12. Let rolls rise in the pan until they are about double in size before baking.

13. Bake at 375 for about 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned.

Notes:

• About two minutes before the rolls are done, brush the top with melted butter.

• These rolls freeze well. Cool completely, wrap in aluminum foil, and freeze. When ready to use, unwrap the rolls before thawing. Wrap well and heat at 200 until warm.

When Becky Nelson reminisces about holiday baking, she immediately envisions her 4’10” Grandmother Birdsong in her kitchen in Roanoke, Alabama, her huge Mixmaster Mixer busily whirring. This tiny bundle of energy worked in the cotton mill from about age 9 until she retired at 62. In the meantime Grandmother Birdsong raised four children, took care of her husband and their home, quilted, canned, and developed a reputation as an excellent cook and baker. Her fig preserves and canned vegetables were highly acclaimed while her yeast rolls and big-as-your-fist-biscuits were fought over. But Grandmother Birdsong’s Chocolate Pound Cake was her forte.

This pound cake was always served at Grandmother Birdsong’s holiday meals. Family members who were not lucky enough to be there were not forgotten. She baked for days during the holidays and mailed these luscious, rich cakes to absent family members carefully wrapped in layers and layers of foil and brown paper grocery bags. Amazingly, they always arrived in one piece and tasted even more delicious after aging during the mailing process. Grandmother Birdsong lived independently and continued to make her pound cake until she moved to a nursing home at age 93. She kept her wonderful spirit and engaging personality until her death just short of her 100th birthday.

With the influence of the Food Network, much of today’s focus on cake baking follows the trend of creating elaborate cakes for competitions and custom designing cakes for showers, birthday parties, and business events. However, the beauty of Grandmother Birdsong’s Pound Cake is found in its simplicity- most of the ingredients are on hand in the kitchen and no special knowledge or tools are required.

Grandmother Birdsong’s Chocolate Pound Cake

1 pound unsalted butter

3 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 and 1\4 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1\2 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups all-purpose flour

1\2 cup cocoa

Pinch of salt

1. Set butter out to soften. Set eggs out to reach room temperature.

2. Cream butter until light and fluffy.

3. Add sugar gradually, beating after each addition.

4. Separate eggs and beat yolks.

5. Add egg yolks, milk, and vanilla to creamed butter and sugar.

6. Beat two minutes with mixer.

7. Sift baking powder, flour, cocoa, and salt together. Gradually blend into

creamed mixture.

8. Beat egg whites lightly. Fold into batter and beat until smooth.

9. Bake in a deep greased and floured tube pan at 300 for about one hour and 15 minutes or until done.

Notes:

• This cake may take much longer to bake. Be prepared to wait it out.

• Beating the egg whites may be done by hand with a wire whip.

When my boys were little guys, I hunted for non-messy dessert recipes to prepare and take to the Dabbs family Christmas gathering. Their great aunts always made fudge and divinity and the Atlanta crew brought Red Velvet Cake with at least four layers and mounds of cream cheese frosting. But the boys needed a sweet they could hold in their hands without leaving remnants all over themselves and the furniture. One year my mother-in-law came to the rescue with a recipe for Butterscotch Cookies. My younger son could not say the word butterscotch and called them Scout Cookies. After more than twenty years we still call them Scout Cookies. They have traveled all over the country, been a part of several weddings, and have a permanent place of favor with our family and friends.

Scout Cookies

1 box yellow cake mix

2 eggs

1\3 cup canola oil

1-11 ounce package butterscotch morsels

1. Beat cake mix, eggs, and oil.

2. Add morsels and mix well.

3. Drop by spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Notes:

• A plain yellow cake mix works best.

• You can mix these cookies by hand.

• Add 1\2 cup walnuts or pecans if desired.

As we become overwhelmingly busy in the next few months with holiday activities and expectations, a retreat to the kitchen to bake offers an uncomplicated, reasonable respite. Halting the hectic pace to spend a few minutes with cookies, a few hours with a pound cake, or a day with yeast rolls brings satisfaction to the senses, calmness to the spirit, and pride in a simple accomplishment.

Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.