When it comes to the kitchen, there's nothing better than being armed with some basics -- knowing how to roast a chicken (crispy skin, juicy meat) and to whip up a savory vegetable soup, or toss together a fresh salad just lightly kissed with tangy vinaigrette -- for throw-together dinners or simple weeknight dining. And when it comes to breakfast or brunch or after-school snacks, a good, sticky sweet roll -- a soft yeast-risen bun -- laced with vanilla or cinnamon makes people swoon with nostalgia (or gluttony).
When I first moved to Anchorage, I searched for good coffee like a heat-seeking missile and quickly found my target -- SteamDot Café, a perfect spot to watch the roasters in action between errands and meetings. I soon discovered plump, sweet rolls, flecked with vanilla bean and drizzled with lemon sugar, and wasn't surprised to find out that they were baked lovingly by a fellow Southerner who, like me, had recently moved to Alaska for love.
Anna bakes everything from maple-bacon biscuits to dark chocolate cherry scones, and she generously shared her recipe with me.
"Whenever my Mom made sweet rolls for me," she told me, "I always felt like a million bucks. Not only is this recipe fool-proof, and no-knead, but it only messes up one pot, and the result is a delicate balance of airy dough and tart deliciousness."
I invited Anna into my kitchen, where she showed me how to make her rolls, based on a dough recipe by Ree Drummond for cinnamon rolls. For a light, tart spring treat, we added fresh lemon juice and zest, and raspberries, but experiment with your favorite flavors. I've made these before with a lemon-cream cheese glaze, with orange zest and ginger, and in fall, an apple cider glaze.
Lemon Raspberry Sweet Rolls
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 (2-pound) bag powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons Milk
1. Prepare 1 large sheet pan (approximately 12-by-17 inches) with parchment. Butter top of parchment and sprinkle with sugar (this helps create a crunchy, caramelized bottom); set aside. Combine milk, oil, and 1 cup vanilla sugar in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir to combine. Heat until steam starts to rise from the surface and starts to foam on top, being careful not to boil (about 8 to 10 minutes). Remove pot from heat. Let cool for about 45 minutes or until mixture reduces to 110 degrees. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let sit for a few minutes or until it begins to froth.
2. Add 8 1/2 cups of flour to pot. Stir, using a wooden spoon, to combine. The dough will be sticky. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and let rest in a warm, draft-free spot for 45 minutes. It should almost double in size.
3. Add another 1 cup of flour, and the salt and baking powder, then stir to combine. Use hands to thoroughly incorporate flour, salt, and baking powder, turning dough over in pot. (NOTE: Dough can be made to this point, then covered and refrigerated overnight.) Roll out and let rise 45 minutes in pan before baking.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently shape into a rectangle. Roll out with a rolling pin. It should be about 1/8-inch thick and 4 1/2 feet by 1 foot. Yes, it's big!
5. To make sugar filling, combine remaining 1 1/2 cups vanilla with zest of 1 lemon. Melt butter over low heat; let cool slightly and then drizzle evenly over dough, spreading as needed with a spatula. Sprinkle vanilla-lemon sugar evenly over melted butter.
6. Tear raspberries gently with fingers and scatter them evenly over the sugared dough. Roll up the dough lengthwise, toward you, like a jellyroll, pinching with fingers to seal the roll along its length. Cut, using a sharp knife, into 1 3/4-inch rounds. Place on prepared sheet pans and let rise about 15 minutes.
7. While the rolls are rising, preheat oven to 385 degrees and make the Lemon Glaze. Just whisk the juice and zest of one lemon with powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of milk until it resembles pancake batter. You can also add a tablespoon or two of melted butter. Bake rolls 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Drizzle while warm with Lemon Glaze.
Other sweet ways to roll it:
Kim Sunée ate and lived in Europe for ten years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American and Asian American Poetry and Writing. Sunée has appeared several times as a guest judge on the Food Network's Iron Chef America. She is currently based in Anchorage. Her cookbook, "A Mouthful of Stars," published by Andrews McMeel, was released in spring 2014. For more food and travel, visit www.kimsunee.com.