Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Let it Roll, Baby, Roll

Thanksgiving is a spectacular holiday! Any holiday that encourages the eating of mashed potatoes and pie is ok with me. Never mind tucking into all the other luscious dishes, a beautifully bronzed turkey, brilliant scarlet cranberries, sweet potatoes and a fine glass of wine or two. The Thanksgiving feast is an ecstatic occasion.
This year I was a guest for Thanksgiving, not the cook. A delightful change of pace, being a guest.
Jay and Susannah graciously opened their home to a big crowd of friends and neighbors, each of whom contributed something special to the Thanksgiving table.
A brilliant, sunshine filled day, Jay took advantage of mild temperatures to grill the turkey. While it happily cooked under its Weber helmet, guests began arriving, bearing gifts of food, much as the Pilgrims did at the very first Thanksgiving.
One couple arrived with scrumptious shrimp, clams were steamed and served with bracing garlic butter. A neighbor brought his marvelous mashed potatoes, made even more decadent with the addition of certain secret ingredients..cream cheese may have been involved. I must have that recipe, but it was not forthcoming that day, not even another Chardonnay was loosening those lips.
Susannah prepared a brimming pot of fresh cranberry sauce and sauteed baby carrots.
As for me, I was asked to bring a pumpkin roll....??!

Now pumpkin roll was never part of my previous Thanksgiving celebrations.
I grew up with pie for dessert. Devastatingly delicious pie and lots of it. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, cranberry raisin pie and pecan pie. Always pie. With a crust that would shatter at the mere prod of
a fork, flaky beyond compare, and tasting of the tenderness that only my grandmother and mother who have made hundreds of pies could impart. They are the pie masters, those two. As the magician of pie making, they conjured up that apple pie, richly scented with cinnamon and bulging with perfectly cooked slices of Cortland apples and pecan pie, so sweet it would make your teeth twang, melding with crisp pecans wrapped in that perfect piecrust. Absolute heaven.

Well, turns out Jay is a pumpkin roll fanatic. So my mission would be to make the best pumpkin roll I could. Now mind you, I can't roll anything. Not a sleeping bag, not my yoga mat, without it veering sharply off to one side. I had visions of my pumpkin roll, not as a perfect cyclinder of celebration, but a leaking, lopsided mess.
Something so seemingly simple should not have unsettled me so, but I was charting through
unfamiliar territory and was putting enormous performance pressure on myself. I was assured by those
who were NOT preparing pumpkin roll for their Thanksgiving that I should settle down. No sympathetic offerings of technique advice arose from any of my angst filled exchanges with other cooks.
Only my mother, God Bless Her, a constructor of many Christmastime Buche de Noels, had any understanding of the rigors of rolling. “But”, she explained merrily, “ I could always cover up any cracks with decoration!” Yes, there would be no opportunity to cover pumpkin roll cracks with miniature meringue mushrooms like it's Christmastime cousin.
You need a pristinely clean kitchen towel to roll the pumpkin roll in. No old kitchen towel that has been used repeatedly to clean cruddy kitchen counters will be acceptable. I purchased my new kitchen towel at the Christmas Tree Shop, not exactly an oasis of calm during the holiday season. Manoeuvreing my way past gigantic turkey lawn ornaments and flameless Christmas candles, I made a mad dash to the housewares aisle, snagged the kitchen towel, paid in cash and fled. Total time elapsed: ten minutes. I headed back to the kitchen to continue my quest.
I used the Libby's Pumpkin Roll recipe I found online. It's super simple and the only deviation I used, was to include an additional teaspoon of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie spice. It has cardamom and lemon peel, as well as the usual cinnamon, cloves, etc. and adds a little extra layer of flavor.
You bake the cake in a jelly roll pan, which if you're unfamiliar with, is a pan measuring 15 ½ “ x
10 ½ “ , with 1 “ high sides. It works as a cookie sheet and roasting pan too. While the cake bakes, the pristinely clean kitchen towel is laid out on the kitchen counter and liberally dusted with powdered sugar.
Now the fun begins...when you remove the cake from the oven, you need to flip it onto the towel. Then peel off the parchment paper that you lined the pan with, slowly, slowly. Then you roll up the cake and the towel together, starting with the more narrow end. Breathe, breathe, easy..oh no, crackage. Stop. Breathe. Continue rolling. Now walk away. Just walk away and let the cake cool on a wire rack.
While the cake cools and the flush of anxiety on my face cooled, I prepared the cream cheese filling. Again, super simple. When the cake is cool, you get to unroll it. That part is easy. I spread the filling on the cake, spreading edge to edge.
The final roll comes next. The all important roll. I gently laid my hands upon it and gave it a go.
Obliging me, the cake actually looked normal, the previous crack did not deepen and fracture like a glacial gap, it simply rolled into submission. Sublime, glorious submission.
Wrapping it in plastic wrap, I placed the roll in the refrigerator. And when presented to Jay, the look on his face was pure pleasure. I have to admit, it's good stuff. Spicy, moist, creamy and sweet, it was devoured, not even a bird size crumb remained.
Move over a little, pie, looks like there's a new tradition to add to the table.

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