Christmas cinnamon rolls

When I was very young, my mother baked bread. It was extraordinary bread with a soft golden crust coated in melted butter. The crumb (what bakers call the inside of the loaf) was soft and sweet and saffron yellow. I later learned that the yellow color and divine flavor came from copious amounts of butter, milk and eggs.

Mom made her bread in different shapes. I remember cloverleaf rolls that rose from three little balls of golden dough. My favorite were pull-apart loaves mounded into palm sized chunks just the right size for an after-school snack.

Each batch was mixed and proofed in an enormous deep red and green antique stoneware bowl. I recall it as the biggest bowl I’d ever seen. The vision of this yeasty dough rising in a great mound under a white flour sack towel is a memory I will forever cherish. Sadly, the bowl, the recipe and my mother were all lost when her short life was ended by a drunk driver in 1972.

When I grew up and learned to bake, many years later, I used whatever big bowl was handy. It was never special or memorable. So in 2001, I made my own bread bowl at one of those pottery painting shops. I recalled the colors of my mother’s bowl, and reproduced it as best I could. In my heart, it represents my mother’s lost bowl. Each time I use it, I think of her, that bread, and the love she put into it.

As I write this, it’s Christmas morning and I’m baking my traditional cinnamon rolls for breakfast. This is my annual communion with my mom. I remember her soft yellow dough and try once again to reproduce its magic. As she baked for her children, so do I. On Christmas morning, she and I do it together.

Soon my wife and our children, who never met their grandmother, will dive into this sweet yellow buttery goodness, never knowing that I still don’t have Mom’s recipe quite figured out.

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