The Millennial, the Baby Boomer & the Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

There's nothing like spending a week at a rented beach house with your husband, parents and brother to highlight the generational and food-related differences between each member of the family. Times have changed from when my brother and I were kids and would merely show up at the dinner table to have food served to us. Now, we gladly—with excitement even—offer to be solely in charge of complete meals. It makes sense—making dinner for your parents is like an older version of standing on the edge of the diving board and shouting repeatedly: "Mom, look!" until she glances over to see you execute a sloppy can-opener into the water. For Matt and me, the dish we were screaming for Mom to take a look at was a variation of that lemon pasta. We were excited. We just had to pick up a few ingredients at the overpriced beach grocery store.

Technically, I fall into the generational category called the millennials (though Matt swears he’s on the fringe of Gen X). I haven't performed any real research on the defining characteristics of this group apart from discussions with similarly categorized friends who seem to have done some and reading this super-depressing article in the NY Times, which includes sentences like: "the so-called millennials, 18 to 29—whose unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent approaches the levels of that group in the Great Depression." But I feel like I get the general idea: us millennials are offspring of baby boomers who told us we were special too often; we had it easy growing up; we never starved, and in fact, weren't even tasked with helping to prepare dinner or too many other household activities; we simply enjoyed the fruits of the nineties and our parents' labor. And now we are all grown up, feel pretty entitled, yet simultaneously find ourselves in a seemingly endless recession. We are highly educated, but not very employable, and despite this unemployment and general lack of funds, we still haven't really learned the value of the dollar. (Again, this is just what I've gathered. Please feel free to chime in if you have more, better-researched millennial data.)

I bring this up because this week spent under the same roof as my mother, a baby boomer and offspring of my Great-Depression-era grandmother who returns unused mayo portions in the mail, I have, for the first time, felt very millennial.

Because I didn't grow up cooking with these women (I was too busy with extra-curricular activities so that I could get into a good college that would guarantee me major monetary rewards, right?), I didn't really start learning to cook until my mid-twenties when I started this blog. Because of this, I've culled the vast majority of my food knowledge from people like Ruth Reichl and Ina Garten; from places like Gourmet, Bon Appetit and glossy cookbooks marketed more toward gourmands than beginner kitchen dabblers with few tools and less money. And the result, strangely, is that I've become, as far as the kitchen is concerned, the opposite of my mother's daughter or my grandma's granddaughter.

My mom and I arrive at the grocery store and I’m getting a feel for what she has brought from home to the beach house in the way of staples so that I’ll know what to buy for the pasta. "And olive oil. Did you bring that?"

"No, but I have canola."

We stare at each other for a moment. I can feel that my face has moved back a few inches so that my chin is scrunched into my neck and my eyebrows are slanting downward. "Canola oil? Are you drinking drugs, Mom?"

"Why not?"

I’m paralyzed by the image of tilting the plastic, oversized bottle of canola oil over the saucepan that would eventually house all of that fresh garlic, lemon zest and cheese.

"You want to get a whole thing of olive oil for one week at the beach?"

"I'll pay for it myself."

She shakes her head and pushes her cart away from me. My mother, a pediatrician with a true expendable income and savings and a retirement plan who won't spring for olive oil thinks I'm crazy.

But as I walk through the grocery store alone, collecting the ingredients for the pasta and a few more for the cinnamon buns I've also planned to make, I start to realize that I can't even really explain to her why the thought of canola oil on my pasta made me look at her like she was a total freakbot. All I can really say in my defense is that no recipe I've ever followed has told me to use canola oil as a part of a pasta sauce. Would the dish taste that much different? Maybe not. The truth is I don't know. Because not only have I never tried it, but unlike them, or M.F.K. Fisher, I haven't had to cook from a place where ingredients were few and far between; because as much fun as I’ve had with this food blog based on tackling recipes out of my skill zone, I’ve never truly had to keep the wolf at bay by making due with the few ingredients I could afford on a given week.

Despite this momentary appreciation for my grandmother’s handed-down mentality, I end up in the checkout line behind my mom with a basket of items I'd deemed necessary. They include but aren't limited to: olive oil, coffee filters, organic milk, and a six pack of beer. "Fancy running into you here," I joke and smile. 

She rolls her eyes, but grabs my basket of supplies. "Fine."

"Mom, I really don't mind buying them."

But she is already placing them on the conveyor belt. “Coffee filters!” she growlsseriously, growls at them. (She wanted to use paper towels.)

On the way home, she sits in the passenger seat reading through the long receipt. She shakes her head. "You wouldn't have lasted in the Great Depression!”

"Didn't have to," I think, but instead say as enthusiastically as possible: "This pasta is going to be delicious!"

And now, with all that said, I'd like to present to you some cream-cheese cinnamon buns, made from many ingredients I fought hard for.


Saveur's version:
photo: Andre Baranowski

our version:
The recipe called for an electric mixer with a bread hook, but again, we were at a rented beach house without one so we made due with our hands, which although messy (especially considering you must work an entire stick of butter into the dough as a last step) totally works.

After the super-buttery dough's first rise, it's time for another round of kneading and for my mom to check in at sun-tanner's anonymous.
For this next part, I was very thankful to the fine people at Saveur who supplied a fool-proof step-by-step slideshow displaying exactly how to fold the dough and work the cream cheese into it. Also, I learned a new graphics trick. What do you think? Super cool or kind of gives you a headache?
All the cream cheese is safely nestled inside here. Major tip: be GENTLE when you roll this out or else the cream cheese will no longer be so safely nestled.
All rolled out with cream cheese worked in, sort of. (You can kind of see that some of it escaped on the edge there.)
See those two little guys with not much topping? Those are the end pieces that Saveur told me to trim off. Who do you think thought trimming anything off was totally ridiculous? Though, I have to kind of agree with Mom on this one. As Matt would say: "It is food, after all." At this point, the guys are ready for one last rising session before getting thrown in the oven. We let this happen overnight in the refrigerator so as to be able to have them for breakfast.
In the morning:
When you bite into something as delicious as the above, it's hard not to think: What brilliant, possibly evil culinary luminary invented this? It's part croissant with that sweet and buttery dough; it's part cheese danish with the tang from the cream cheese; and it's part straight dessert with the cinnamon, pecans, and icing. And altogether, just out of the oven, it is heavenly.

Now if you'll excuse me, my mom has made me a BLT with nitrate-loaded, non-organic bacon and it smells too good to pass up. (Love you, Mom!)

Recipe via Saveur:
1 1⁄4-oz. package active dry yeast
1⁄2 tsp. plus 1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup milk, at room temperature
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3⁄4 cups flour, sifted, plus
more for kneading
3⁄4 tsp. fine salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room
temperature, plus more for the pan

1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
1⁄4 cup finely chopped pecans
1⁄4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1⁄4 cup raisins
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. fine salt
1⁄8 tsp. ground cloves
2 tbsp. maple syrup
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1⁄4 cup buttermilk

1. Make the dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook, combine yeast, 1⁄2 tsp. of the sugar, and 1⁄4 cup water heated to 115°. Stir to combine and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat on low speed until thoroughly combined, 1 minute. Turn mixer off and add the flour and salt. Mix on medium speed until the dough just comes together. Turn mixer speed to high and knead dough for 4 minutes. Add the butter and continue kneading until dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 6 minutes. Remove bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place. Let the dough rise for 1 1⁄2–2 hours, until it has doubled in size.

2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a large bowl; stir to combine. Stir in the maple syrup. Set filling aside.

3. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a heavily floured surface. Gently knead the dough until it's no longer sticky, adding more flour as necessary, about 1 minute. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10" x 10" square. In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese with a rubber spatula until it's smooth and spreadable. Spread the cream cheese evenly over the dough square; then fold square into thirds as you would fold a letter to fit it into an envelope. Take the open ends of the resulting rectangle and fold into thirds again, to make a smaller dough square. Invert the dough so that the seam is face down and, using the rolling pin, gently roll into a 10" x 20" rectangle.

4. Turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you. Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter. Drizzle the reserved filling over the dough, leaving a 1" border at the edge farthest away from you. Lightly press the filling into the dough. Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough and roll it forward into a tight cylinder. Place dough cylinder, seam side down, on a cutting board and, using a thin, sharp knife, trim off the ends; cut cylinder crosswise into 8 equal-size slices. Nestle the slices, cut sides up and evenly spaced from one another, into a buttered 9" x 13" light-colored metal baking pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to let rise for 2 hours. (Alternatively, the rolls may be refrigerated overnight.)

5. Heat oven to 375°. Uncover the rolls. (If refrigerated, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.) Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the rolls comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

6. Make the icing: While the rolls are baking, whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth.

7. Transfer the pan of cinnamon rolls to a cooling rack; brush with remaining melted butter. Let cool for 5 minutes. Dip the tines of a fork into the icing and drizzle all over the rolls. Serve immediately.
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Mary Anne said...

You are so much more than just a cook! I love love love hearing your thoughts on the way we live our lives. More of this, please!!

Matthew said...

According to my wikipedia, Gen X ranges from 1961 to 1981, however Millenials do not have a precise age range and tend to refer to people born from the mid 70's to the early 2000's, so I guess you can be both a Millenial and a Gen Xer?? BTW The cinnamon rolls were amazing.

Rachel said...

I waiver on the gen x vs. millenial. I tend to identify with the latter based solely on the minimal amount of technology available to me at JHU... we still used Lexus Nexus for research!
On a separate note, I thought you might find this bit about nitrites interesting: http://shoutfirst.blogspot.com/2010/06/more-food-idiocy.html

amelia said...

rachel: two words: HAC LAB. :)
thanks for that link. very interesting and just goes to show you how well researched I am sometimes on the foods that I buy/won't buy or eat/won't eat because of what the labels tell me.

Ana Degenaar said...

HOLY MOLY! I am about to through the towel on my Detox... THAT LOOKS AMAZING! I may be drooling right now... Crap! the keyboard!

Jodi said...

These look amazing. Can we make them this weekend!?!??!

Also that gif made me barf all over my computer.

Heather Taylor said...

major lols right now! loving your tanorexic mom and those cinnamon rolls look like my idea of heaven. you turned it up BIG time.

Andrea said...

Love this post, Amers! Those cinnamon rolls look delectable. I found the moving photo to be a little freaky. Maybe because I'm more of a Gen X-er?

amelia said...

dear those freaked out/ made to barf over animated .gifs: thank you for your comments. I will keep them coming?

Rachel said...

oops. I meant I ID more with Gen X... anyway, how were we supposed to know that celery juice could morph into something so unpleasant. you can't research ALL your food... just gotta do what you can.
and those rolls look awesome.

Megan Taylor said...

Any desire to drive up to SF this weekend and make me those cinnamon rolls? xo

Anonymous said...

seriously. i might cry if i haven't eaten one of those rolls by the end of this weekend.

seesaw designs said...

wooooow, those cinnamon rolls look amazing.

Danielle (elleinadspir) said...

That grovcery store conversation is very familiar to me. I also have a lot of talks about expiration dates when I am at home. My dad thinks they are "hogwash" and can and should be ingored. I'll all for stretching them...but ignore? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great post Amelia!
As a Millennial, I prefer this slightly more optimistic look at our charmed/cursed generation: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1501/%20millennials-new-survey-generational-personality-upbeat-open-new-ideas-technology-bound
I wish my clothing didn't cover up my "I love the elderly + Obama" tattoo.

amelia said...

thanks, anonymous! I much prefer that summation as well!!

seesaw designs said...


Holly said...

I started reading your blog a year ago, so I'm just now getting around to reading the archives. I love seeing this and realizing how much better things have gotten in these three short years. When this was posted, I was beginning grad school because there were no jobs and no other options for me. I was broke. I was still living with my mother. I was scared. I think we did learn a thing or two during these few years of recession. While we may still spring for a pricey ingredient, we have learned to repurpose objects and live a bit more responsibly. We have learned the importance of purchasing locally and keeping funds within our community. And even more importantly, I think we have chosen to find a way to be successful with our talents, even if it was hard (and our parents frowned upon it) in the beginning. Perhaps our generation isn't so lazy after all.

Amelia Morris said...

Hi Holly,
Thanks for reading the archives! And yes, it's true. So much has changed in three years. The timing of your comment is funny too. I'm off to the beach to meet up with my family this month!

Sara said...

Amelia, I'm reading your archives as a "treat" for finishing sections of my dissertation (GULP). I just submitted an article somewhere, so archives, here I come. And I have to say, this is one of my FAVORITE entries. I need more.