Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cinnamon-Raisin Whirls and the hands that knead them

Kneading the dough

Her hands kneaded the dough for squash rolls, dill bread, chocolate bread, babka.  They stirred, mashed, sprinkled, poured, formed, and created wonderful treats right before my eyes. Those hands braided strands of dough into challah, and sometimes formed them into turtles or even body parts when she was feeling spunky. Those hands, with their un-manicured fingernails, were adorned with artsy rings and jingly bracelets.  I can see those hands holding a ripe mango (which for some reason chemotherapy had her craving) up to her mouth as the juice ran down her arms, dripping from her elbows.  I can see them clearly still because they are like mine, with long, slender fingers perfect for piano.

Rolling the dough

Sometimes I look down at my hands or my sister's hands when they are working in the kitchen.  Those are mom's hands, I think to myself, or sometimes say out loud. I know it's why I love to cook, because (in my mind) she's there with me sometimes.  Her voice cautions me to toss something that has been in the fridge too long, urges me to exercise wild abandon with my spices, and tells me never to apologize for anything I put on the table.

Her hands made these cinnamon whirls on many occasions when I was a kid.  Now, so many years later, I make them myself, hoping I'll find her standing beside me as I peer nervously into the oven. If only for a second.

Cinnamon-Raisin Whirls

Cinnamon-Raisin Whirls
Makes 12
These instructions are for use with a KitchenAid Mixer. I made them without, just with the use of a large bowl and wooden spoon.  We never iced these in my family, but I'm sharing the icing recipe because I know that some people out there love icing. Baking as instructed, in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, will yield doughy rolls.  You can also slice them and arrange them to rise and bake separately on a cookie sheet, in which case the rolls will seem slightly drier.  Both methods are delicious.

2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
5 to 5 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup raisins

Cinnamon Sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Icing (Optional)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water

Sprinkle the yeast over the water in the large bowl of an electric mixer.  Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar.  Let stand until the yeast is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the remaining sugar (to make 3/4 cup), milk, salt and the softened butter.

Add 3 cups flour.  Mix to blend, then beat at medium speed until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Separate one of the eggs; reserve the white for glazing. Beat in egg yolk and one whole egg, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Stir in about 2 cups more flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough onto the counter or a board coated with some of the remaining 1/2 cup flour.  Knead until dough is smooth and satiny, adding just enough flour to prevent it from being sticky.

Turn dough into a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours).  Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll dough out evenly into a 14 by 18 inch triangle.  Spread with 1/3 cup softened butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and raisins.  Starting from the 18 inch side, roll jelly roll fashion, then moisten a long edge and pinch to seal.  Cut roll into 12 equal slices.

Arrange slices, cut sides down, in a well-greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cover lightly with waxed paper. Let rise until doubled in bulk (45 minutes to 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a small bowl, beat reserved egg white with1 tablespoon water. Brush lightly over rolls.
Bake until well browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Optional icing:
Combine icing ingredients and drizzle over warm rolls, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cinnamon-Raisin Whirl


  1. I like to imagine she is there with you, kneading, checking the oven. The truth is I don't know what happens when we are gone, but it is a fact that your mother and her cooking are living on through you.

  2. One of the magical things about family recipes are they way they conjure that person into being; she's right there with you in the kitchen. Thanksgiving is our biggest tribute to my grandmother. My mother, my sister and I all work side by side in the kitchen to bring her recipes to life. And suddenly, there she is, this very tangible piece of her. What a beautiful tribute to your mom, Nicole. I also want to thank you for posting the perfect recipe to serve to my weekend guests for Sunday breakfast. I can't wait to try it!
    p.s. I'm inclined to apologize for flops and failures in the kitchen. I love the belief: "never apologize for anything you put on the table". I'm going to apply your mom's wonderful philosophy to my own kitchen!

  3. I have been thinking about making these lately; this recipe and the memories that it conjures makes it all the more special. Great-looking and soft and fluffy rolls.

  4. Nicole: i felt a deep, strong squeeze in my heart reading this. I know we live through our foods and the love lingers in the ones that have long traditions in them...like these whirls.
    My mom lives far away from me, in Italy. Sometimes i have to make the dishes she used to prepare for me as a child just to feel closer to her and "feel" her aside me in the kitchen. I can only imagine what it must be for you. Beautifully written and inspiring, as always.

  5. NAF- I really don't know what happens either, but you can carry on a legacy.
    Sarah- Yes, do try them this weekend. I think your guests will love them (and appreciate the effort!)
    ToB- they are worth trying :)
    Amelia- Food is special in our lives for so many different reasons.

  6. What a perfect way to remember your mother! And as a mother it's heartening to think that the little things we do with our kids every day, the rituals and traditions will stay with them and warm their hearts in a virtual embrace when we can no longer be with them.

  7. I really enjoy the photos of you kneading the dough in this entry. There are not many things in life more satisfying than feeling dough beneath your hands...the folding, pushing and refolding...great way to relax. Beautiful images and story.

  8. a beautiful hands-on honor to your mom, continuing a both a tradition, and a connection. and those whirls look wonderful!


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