I have a friend who shared with me an idea she had for a series involving the Proust questionnaire. I think it’s brilliant, given the people she’d like to reveal more about themselves. The personality test is one she’d like to put to chefs, so often asked to talk about their influences in the kitchen and favourite ingredients. I’d love to know who Jamie Oliver would be if not himself. That’s way more telling than his thoughts on kale. When I get really self-indulgent, I pretend in my head that someone is asking me such questions. It usually happens when brushing my teeth and looking in the mirror. Something about reflecting, I guess. If someone were to ask me the Proust-esque question, who are your heroes in real life or what famous person would you most like to have tea with, I’d say without hesitation Angela Merkel. I might have the odd German relative who would challenge me on this (we never really talk politics when I visit). But I’ve long been a fan of the German chancellor. I admire that she pushed to get her PhD in chemistry at a time when women in science were such a novelty, they were scoffed at. I think it’s pretty flipping great that she’s managed to steer the EU through times of economic and social crises, keeping an even keel and doing what’s right if not what’s popular. When the world turned its back on Syria, she stepped up. It could be argued she couldn’t do anything else with hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers on her doorstep but I don’t recall others being as welcoming. There have been growing pains as her country adjusts, but her grace seems at an all-time high, even as her popularity sinks. She’s tough but fair. A thinker more than a reactor. So I have no doubt she’s taken any less-than-flattering polls in stride. I also think she kicks butt for how she can run a country yet still find time to show up to a World or Euro Cup soccer game to cheer on her team. The way she unabashedly jumps from her seat when her boys score — it’s not stateswoman like at all. And it rocks. That’s who I’d have tea with. Before serving it, I would gladly shake her hand. I, unlike someone else recently, wouldn’t pretend that I didn’t notice she was extending the gesture to me. No, I’d latch on like a total fan girl. I’d invite her into my messy kitchen, apologizing in my anglicized German for the disarray, and offer her a seat at my kitchen table. Louie, my cat, might join us. Maybe not because he’s shy with strangers. I peg Merkel as a coffee type but since I don’t drink it, I’m not very good at making it. So I’d do up my best green tea for us to share instead. And I would serve it with my sweet potato cinnamon rolls. I might apologize again in German that they’re orange. I fear it’s not a favourite colour of many right now, least of all hers. But I’d explain, best as I could in my broken Deutsch, that they, unlike other orange things, come by their hue naturally. It’s the mashed sweet potato I folded into the dough as a Hail Mary for indulging in the sweet. I’d assure her there are no calories in the orange glaze drizzled on top of the rolls to complement the dried cranberries and walnuts tucked inside. And then we’d probably just start speaking in English because my German is so bad. In my nervousness, the conversation would likely deteriorate to a lot of polite nodding and smiling, the same as many of my talks with my Oma Mayer when we both got too tired to speak our pidgin, or pointing and gesturing to be understood. When Merkel finished eating her sweet potato cinnamon roll, I would thank her as best and sincerely as I could for being such a role model to women and men alike. For being the epitome of decorum and grace — stately, really. For helping to keep the world going in a positive direction. I’d tell her how much I admire her. I might throw in the word hero. Then I would thank her for her time. I’d say something about Die Mannschaft in 2018, gush about Mesut Özil, say good-bye. Afterward, I’d go back into my kitchen and eat another sweet potato cinnamon roll, all the while telling Louie, “Would you look at that. I just had tea with Angela Merkel.”
Sweet potato cinnamon rolls with orange juice glaze
Cinnamon rolls are one of my favourite treats. Adding sweet potato to the dough is like a Hail Mary for the indulgence and adds some extra nutrition. At this time of year, it's also a great way to use the last of my winter stores of CSA sweet potatoes when I'm tired of eating them any other way.
The combination of dried cranberries, walnuts and an orange juice glaze is meant to be with sweet potatoes, though aside from the warm colour the tubers give to the dough, you wouldn't know they're in there.
- For the rolls
- 8-10 ounces of sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup sweet potato cooking water, lukewarm
- 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (one package)
- 3/4 cup dairy-free nut or seed milk, such as soy or almond milk
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
- 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- For the filling
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- For the glaze
- 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
- 4-5 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
Cook peeled and diced sweet potatoes in two inches of water until fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain sweet potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and mash until they're smooth and lump-free.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast and sweet potato cooking water, and let bloom until cloudy (about 5 to 10 minutes).
Add the nut milk, coconut oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and 2 1/2 cups flour. Combine at a low speed using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer until the mixture becomes stretchy, weblike and more difficult to mix.
Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Continuing at a low speed, knead the dough, adding remaining flour a 1/4 cup at a time until the dough binds together into a cohesive mass and doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl.
Make sure all flour is incorporated before adding more to avoid making the mixture too dry. You want the dough to be tacky, not overly sticky.
Depending on the moisture of the sweet potatoes, you will need a total of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups flour for the dough. Kneading will take 10 minutes. (See note)
Dump dough onto a floured countertop or cutting board and gently form it into a ball. Put the dough ball back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until it doubles in size.
Line a 9X13 baking pan or dish with parchment paper and set aside.
Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl, working out any lumps in the sugar and breaking apart the cranberries. Set aside.
Dump the dough back onto a floured surface and fold it over four times, in opposite directions each time, to release the gasses.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large rectangle (about 16 inches by 10 inches). Spread the filling evenly on the dough's surface, leaving about a quarter-inch of space along the edges.
Roll the dough lengthwise into a tight cylinder, pinching the ends to close them and ensuring the cylinder is sealed along the seam.
Cut the roll with a sharp knife into 10-12 equal pieces and arrange each piece in the parchment-lined baking pan, leaving some space between them.
Cover the pan with plastic and let the rolls rise about one hour or until they double in size.
Preheat oven to 400°F or 205°C 10 to 15 minutes before baking. Remove plastic wrap and place rolls on the middle rack, baking for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Remove the rolls from the oven and, lifting the edges of the parchment, hoist the rolls from the tray and place them on a cooling rack to cool, for about 20 minutes.
Make the glaze while the rolls cool.
Add the icing sugar to the bowl, whisking it thoroughly to break apart any clumps. Add the orange juice and vanilla and combine until you have a smooth liquid. Five tablespoons of juice gives a glaze with thinner consistency but a stronger orange flavour that soaks into the nooks and crannies of the rolls. If you prefer a thicker glaze and less of a citrus kiss, use 4 tablespoons of orange juice.
Drizzle the glaze evenly over the top of the cinnamon rolls, then dig in.
If you don't have a stand mixer, fear not. You can mix the ingredients in a bowl with your hands, and then knead manually for 10 minutes, adding flour in 1/4 cup increments until you get the right consistency.