A few days before Thanksgiving, I did get a call from the friend I had hosted for many years, inquiring if perhaps we could get together for Thanksgiving at a restaurant … and by the way, would The Child and I like to come over for Christmas like we used to? It was nice to be remembered, and invited, and made the day seem more holiday-ish, but in the end, though we thought we might join her for Christmas, The Child and I decided to stick with our original Thanksgiving plan: Watch bad movies all day, listen to Christmas music, and decorate for Christmas.
We started on Wednesday night, and it turned out there wasn’t much for me to do, except let her know where things might be stashed. The Christmas Village? Check the laundry room.
The most helpful thing I could do was offer dinner, and though I fearfully expected this would lead to a dark, rainy drive to her favorite burrito place, she had holidays on her mind, and wanted latkes. Never mind that when I made latkes for Hanukah last year, she didn’t like them. This year, they are all she wants.
It seems like I should have an old family recipe for latkes handed down from my Jewish grandmother, but I don’t, and in fact if my Jewish grandmother ever cooked latkes for me, I have no recollection of it. So I google, and quickly discover there are far too many latke recipes on the internet to sort through (about a zillion, give or take). I restrict my search to the Fine Cooking website, which also has an abundant number of recipes, but at least the numbers are reduced enough that there’s a chance I can evaluate them all and choose the best one. Then I made the second recipe that came up on the search results, because I made the first recipe on the list last year.
The Child pronounced them delicious and proceeded to devour them while sitting at the table and researching which of her favorite stores would have the best Black Friday deals. Last year you put in too much onion, she said. These are perfect.
It’s always a good day when you’ve managed to fix something even though you had no idea what was wrong with it in the first place. But since the ratio of onion to potato is the same in both recipes, I decide to simply accept the compliment.
With dinner done, The Child resumed her decorating, and I thought that it would be nice to make some breakfast treats for Thanksgiving morning. I used to get frozen cinnamon rolls at Costco for Christmas, but this time, I would do better: I would make my own. I didn’t want cinnamon, though; instead, I wanted lemon, partly because lemon rolls sound lovely and partly because I have a bag of lemons in the fridge that are right on the edge, that I want to use up. A bit of searching yielded some recipes, including this one by the Pioneer Woman. I made the dough on Wednesday evening, and finished the recipe Thursday morning.
This is probably a good time to mention that until I attempted this recipe, the only thing I knew about the Pioneer Woman is this: Every so often someone I know posts something from PW’s website on Facebook, which is typically followed by a bunch of comments about how awesome she is.
Lemon rolls from a popular food blogger: Seems safe.
My first clue that something was amiss was this: the instructions for the dough make enough for two batches of rolls, but only one is used. This would be fine, but no explanation is given for why we’re making all the extra, or what to do it. Does it freeze? Do I need to make more rolls ASAP? I decided to avoid answering these questions and simply divide the recipe by two, and this is where I found myself questioning the Pioneer Woman’s recipe testing. Why didn’t she just divide it to begin with? There was nothing difficult about dividing the ingredients in two, no pesky “three eggs” to throw things off. Every quantity listed was easily divisible by two.
Try it. It’s simple math.
Math doesn’t seem to be PW’s strong suit, though, because after following the directions for the dough, I rolled it out as instructed into a 30×10 inch rectangle. After liberally swabbing the dough with butter and lemon sugar, I found myself facing another conundrum: Do I roll it along the long side? Or the short side? The recipe actually does say which side to use, and I quote, “the side furthest from you.”
If there’s a rule about whether you should end up with the long or short side nearest you after rolling out dough, I don’t know it, so I look for clues elsewhere in the recipe. This involves more math, and I’m sorry about that. Here you thought you were getting a lemon roll recipe, and instead you’re getting a math test.
Here’s the problem: The recipe says it makes 24 rolls. The recipe also instructs the cook to cut the rolled-up dough into half-inch slices. How do you roll a piece of 30×10 inch dough to achieve a log that can be cut into 24 half-inch slices?
In case you’re not good at math, there are two possible outcomes for people who follow the directions as written: they will have 60 rolls, or they will have 20 rolls. I guess in theory you could roll it on an angle, but the recipe doesn’t say to do that, or mention starting with a pointy corner, and my geometry skills are too rusty to figure this one out.
I decide to go with rolling the dough into a 30-inch log, which may be why I also needed three pie pans to bake my rolls in – though I’m hard pressed to see how you could slice the same amount of dough in any other direction and still get them into the two pans the recipe claims you’ll need. We’ll chalk that up to my rusty geometry skills, too, and also ignore the fact that the dough at this stage tasted like used gum. Surely, a little oven time and some lemon glaze, and all will be well.
I pop the three pie plates into the oven, and set about making lemon glaze: Lemon zest, lemon juice. Three cups of powdered sugar.
Two cups of milk.
I foolishly poured in one cup of milk and suddenly understood why it was being called “glaze” rather than “icing.” I hadn’t even used half the milk called for and found myself with a bowl full of sweetened lemony milk. Since the Pioneer Woman helpfully instructs the cook to “taste it and add a bit more of whatever it needs,” I added another two cups of powdered sugar, but still found myself staring at a bowl of opaque, lemon … well, let’s call it glaze. Perhaps if I’d followed PW’s instructions to the letter and added the melted butter to the glaze, it would have magically solved everything, but I was beyond humoring her at this point.
When the rolls were nicely browned, I poured some of this stuff all over them, bit in, and noticed two things: First, they still tasted vaguely doughy, and second, the little glaze dribbles that had been sitting on the counter for 20 minutes had still not hardened even slightly.
I hesitantly offered a roll to The Child.
She spit it out and poured herself a bowl of cereal with no hesitation whatsoever.
I’m not even going to try to be polite, she said, because you already know they’re awful.
I resentfully ate a couple of rolls, and a few hours later had developed one of those headaches you get when your blood sugar crashes after having been too high. Lying down, waiting for it to pass, it dawned on me that it was a bit like the sleepy feeling you get after eating turkey, except that it hurt and the only thing I wanted to do with the leftovers was what I did. I threw them out.