Killer yeast

When my friend and Idler editor Gavin suggested that I make cinnamon rolls, I jumped at the chance. I love to bake—everything makes so much sense when you’re baking. There’s none of the stupid ambiguity that exists in cooking (cook until done? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?), and if you just follow directions, everything comes out well. Baking is a perfectionist’s dream.

I found a recipe for cinnamon rolls (and not the Pillsbury kind) on the Food Network’s website. It’s one of Paula Deen’s recipes, which I knew meant a lot of butter. And, according to Julia Child, “With butter, anything is good.” Since I was baking cinnamon rolls, I knew I was throwing healthy eating right out the window and I wanted as much butter and sugar as possible.

As usual, I had a dilemma in the grocery store. All of the ingredients were straightforward except for the yeast. I’ve never cooked with yeast and had no idea what to do with it. I’d read the recipe, and it said something about dissolving the yeast in water. I stood in the aisle for a good 15 minutes reading the backs of the packages of yeast. One said it could be added in with the wet ingredients. Another said you should dissolve it. A third said you could do either. I didn’t know anything about yeast, but I did know that screwing up the yeast would screw up the whole recipe. No pressure. I crossed my fingers, chose the dissolving yeast, and went home.

I knew the recipe would be time consuming, so I took my time on Saturday morning. I ate a real breakfast, drank my coffee, finished a book. Then, I watched the video of Paula Deen making the cinnamon rolls. The yeast had to rise not once, but THREE EFFING TIMES. I counted down the hours, and I realized it would be around 4 p.m. by the time I had my cinnamon rolls. But let’s face it—there is never a bad time for cinnamon rolls.

To start, I opened the packet of yeast, dumped it into a bowl of warm water, then stirred it. In the video to accompany the recipe, Paula sniffs the yeast and talks about some sort of biscuit she had when she was little and because of that, well, she just loved the smell of yeast. I don’t know what in the hell she is smoking, because it smells like something that I should buy from a dealer. And not in a good way. I mixed the yeast in with the other ingredients (the first dose of butter and sugar) and added flour until the mixture actually looked like dough.


Now, I had to let it sit. FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF. The recipe started telling me to preheat the oven, but I decided that I’d only do that if I wanted to burn the house down. Because I had a long, long time to kill and I’d soon be eating a treat that had used 2 sticks of butter and 4 cups of sugar, I went for a run. I spent most of it being creeped out by the yeast. I mean, the fact that you have to let it grow is just wrong. I didn’t feel ok leaving it in my house by itself. What if it just. . . kept growing? WHAT’S TO STOP IT THEN?

I came home, and the dough had indeed doubled in size. The recipe said to punch it down, but I’m not a violent person and I wanted the dough to be flaky, so I pressed it down gently, and rolled the dough out. Then it was time for another round of butter and sugar—a layer of softened butter and a cinnamon and sugar mix, along with some chopped pecans. I was feeling pretty professional, wearing my apron over my running clothes, so I added extra cinnamon. Watch out. I’m pretty much a renegade.


You’ll notice, if you’re looking closely, that I actually got out a ruler to make sure the dough was 15” by 9” like the recipe said.

I rolled the dough up, and cut it into little rolls. At first I way underestimated the size I should cut, so I ended up with a few baby rolls. I decided they could just be appetizers. Or midnight snacks, depending. I lined them up in a pan for round 3 of butter and sugar—the pan was coated with butter and sprinkled with sugar.


And now, I had to wait for 45 more minutes for the yeast to keep doing its thang. I cleaned up the kitchen and also eradicated world hunger. I had all day, after all. At the end of time, the dough didn’t look like it had changed at all, but it was time, finally, for it to go into the oven. For half an hour. I’d aged several years by the time they were done and ready for the fourth and final round of butter and sugar—the glaze. I had a newly-opened bottle of vanilla extract, and it poured out into the glaze way too fast, so they ended up with more vanilla than was probably intended.

But dear sweet jesus, these were some of the best things I have ever eaten. They were sweet, but not too sweet; crispy, but still fluffy. My roommate’s boyfriend said they rivaled something he’d eaten at one of his favorite bakeries, where pecan rolls are their specialty. I’m in such a sugar-and-butter coma that I’ve gone past the point of modesty.

Bring it, readers. What should I make next?

9 Responses to “Killer yeast”
  1. Kate Sloan says:

    I read this in bed this morning and it inspired me to get out of bed at the crack of like, 9:30, to make cinnamon and sugar toast. I couldn’t comment when I read it on my phone, but I assume you like to know these things.

  2. Gavin Craig says:

    So if the rolls were my idea, when do I get to try them? :-)

  3. cd says:

    How about avocado lime muffins with avocado frosting?
    Really I saw it on the food show. Or avocado soup?
    Or another thing I saw was italian apple cake!!!
    It is making me hungry and it must be snack time.

  4. Debbie says:

    Good for you, you overcame your lack of knowledge about yeast. It does work mysteriously. True there is nothing like fresh, warm, homemade cinnamon rolls. I’ve made them several times myself. Congratulations!

  5. Beth says:

    I DARE you to make lamb. Or duck. Don’t be a wuss.

  6. Gavin Craig says:

    OMG, Jill. These rolls were delicious. Thank you for pointing to the recipe. :-)

    • Jill Kolongowski says:

      I’m so glad you liked it! I made them a second time with brown sugar and they were even more delicious.

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