A few days ago, I was sitting very still in the din of an airport terminal, surrounded by a throng of disappointed travelers, while my son slept on my lap still clutching the remnants of his peanut butter sandwich in his little hands.
We had been in airports for almost two full days, and after many delays and cancellations had finally given up hope for our beach vacation, and now were just desperate for a chance to go home.
The faces surrounding me were painted with tears of grief and frustration, their voices cracked with exhaustion, their heads were held low — nobody would be getting the holiday they planned.
At four in the morning on Christmas Eve I finally carried my sleeping boy to his bed, three days after we had left, missing both a tan and our luggage.
After a nap, we got to work making a holiday for our little family. My husband took our boy out on the tractor to find a tree while I shopped for food and gifts to replace the ones still in our luggage, lost to the airport gods.
Determined parents make fast-working elves, and by bedtime we were prepared with fresh cookies and carrots for our midnight guests, our home was lit with twinkling lights and perfumed by our festive tree, and wrapped gifts were hidden — lying in wait for sparkling eyes.
While not a creature was stirring, I roused myself to take the cinnamon rolls out of the fridge for their final proof on the counter.
Warm cinnamon and whipped vanilla cream cheese frosting are the official scents of Christmas morning in my house, and after the serious business of opening gifts and assembling toys was done, I served the soft and sticky treats to my happy little family — the beach long forgotten.
1 cup warm milk
2 ½ teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup melted butter
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup half and half
For the filling:
½ cup butter — very soft, almost but not quite melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
For the frosting:
6 ounces softened cream cheese
1/3 cup softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the warm milk, sugar, and yeast and let sit 10 minutes.
When the mixture is bubbly, add in the melted butter, eggs, salt and vanilla and beat to combine.
Add your flour in stages until the dough comes together and is tacky but not wet. You might not need to add all the flour so go slow.
Knead vigorously with the dough hook for 5 minutes.
Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled — about one hour.
While the dough is rising, make your filling.
Soften your butter in the microwave — heat until warm and very soft but not melted. Heat for just 10 seconds at a time until you achieve this.
Mix in the cinnamon and brown sugar into a paste and hold at room temperature until ready to assemble.
After the dough has doubled, dust your clean counter with flour and turn out the dough.
Roll out into as close to a perfect 12-inch by 24-inch rectangle as you can.
Smear the filling in an even layer across the entire surface of the dough. Make sure to go all the way to the edges.
Roll the dough up from the long side.
Use a serrated blade to cut into 16 equal pieces.
Arrange in a greased baking dish with a little space in between each one, cover with plastic wrap, and set in the fridge overnight.
Three hours before you plan to eat, take them out and pour the half and half over the rolls, making sure to wet each one, then cover and set in a warm place to proof for two hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes.
While the rolls are baking, make your frosting by whipping the softened cream cheese and butter until fluffy, then slowly add the powdered sugar and vanilla at the end.
Wait until the rolls have cooled a bit before frosting or the frosting will liquefy.
Serve with coffee or milk and a smile.