When I told my mom the other day about the recipe I’m about to share, she wisely noted a trend:
Cast-iron cooking is making a big come back.
Right she is. When I search for instructions on the Internet for cooking with or seasoning my cast-iron skillet, I always find articles that begin with the desperate plea not to discard that old, heavy cast-iron skillet your grandma/aunt/mother handed down to you. Clean it, season it, and get cooking.
When I was little, I didn’t know teflon from cast-iron. We had “metal” frying pans (silver ones) and we had the heavy black ones (cast-iron). All I knew was that when it came to making grilled cheese sandwiches, my mom’s little cast-iron skillet was the perfect way to go for perfectly toasted bread.
I’ve coveted a cast-iron skillet for some time now, and I got my first one for Christmas this year. Once I got it, I started researching recipes for cast-iron skillets, and I found that the sky’s the limit, really. I also learned a lot about the history of cast-iron.
Cast-iron cooking stretches back hundreds of years. Before we had modern stoves and ovens, food was cooked over open fire, and we needed cookware that could safely and efficiently cook over hot coals. Enter: cast-iron cookware. From Dutch ovens to skillets, cast-iron could sit over open fire and not break or get damaged.
In the 1960s and 70s, cast-iron fell out of favor because Teflon came on the scene. With a black veneer on the inside of the pan, we had the look of cast-iron but with the ready-made non-stick capabilities of Teflon.
It is true, though, that cast-iron has made a big comeback. As we become more critical and aware of how our food is prepared, the home cooks seek out better ways to prepare meals. We seek out whole foods, clean living, and we have gone back to our culinary roots to a certain extent. Backyard gardens and urban chicken coops aren’t the only examples of the ways we try to capture some sense of homesteading in built-up areas. We go back to traditional cooking methods as well: grinding things with a mortar and pestle; canning summer vegetables grown in our backyards or apartment patios; cooking things in cast-iron.
I want to take a moment to link to a really fabulous blog post I found on cast-iron. This post on Cooking Issues covers the history and science behind cast-iron cookware. It’s really interesting, especially the scientific look at how heat distribution works on cast-iron.
Last week, while procrastinating and avoiding preparations for my conference panel on creative writing in the composition classroom, I decided I needed cinnamon rolls. I mean, really needed them. I searched through several websites for a good recipe, and finally, I just went with Paula Deen. When you’re at that point in the semester where you lack sleep, patience, morale, and inspiration, a good Paula Deen recipe can make the world spin right again. I will say this, though: that woman is crazy with her butter and sugar. I know we already know this, but I’m always astounded when I’m preparing a recipe of hers and I find that I can pretty much cut the amount of sugar and butter she calls for in half. I sort of look at cooking her recipes the way we’re taught to look at creative writing. Follow the recipe exactly as she has it at first, and then modify where you see fit. Learn the rules, then break them. And cut that sugar in half.
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen
- 1/4-ounce package yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup scalded milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter or shortening
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup melted butter, plus more for pan
- 3/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup raisins, walnuts, or pecans, optional
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 to 6 tablespoons hot water
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. In a large bowl mix milk, sugar, melted butter, salt and egg. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Add yeast mixture. Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle. Knead dough on lightly floured surface for 5 to 10 minutes. Place in well-greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
When doubled in size, punch down dough. Roll out on a floured surface into a 15 by 9-inch rectangle. Spread melted butter all over dough. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over buttered dough. Sprinkle with walnuts, pecans, or raisins if desired. Beginning at the 15-inch side, role up dough and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12 to 15 slices.
Coat the bottom of baking pan with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place cinnamon roll slices close together in the pan and let rise until dough is doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned.
Meanwhile, mix butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla [I omitted butter]. Add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until the glaze reaches desired consistency. Spread over slightly cooled rolls.
These were just what I needed: fluffy, sweet, but not quite as cinnamon-y as I would have liked. Next time, I’ll amp up the cinnamon, maybe add some pecans, and see what happens.