Chocolate Butter Roll
My sister-in-law and I have a conspiracy theory that our late, beloved and formidable mother-in-law Millie deliberately thwarted us in her written recipes, ensuring that our attempts to recreate her sons' favorite childhood dishes would always come just so close, and no further, to being "as good as Mom's." Chocolate Butter Roll was a special birthday treat she made for my husband when he was a kid, but we've adopted it as our Christmas dessert, since no one but me appreciates an enormous glass bowl of soggy, booze-soaked pound cake. Some years I turn out a reasonable facsimile, other years, a harmful imitation. I invariably make some mistake. This year, it was a happy one, and according to my husband and his brother, I finally got it right. If you make this dessert as follows, I promise you something so good, you will want to slap your own Momma.
The REAL Chocolate Butter Roll
Start with the chocolate:
Stir 4 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of cocoa, 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt in a heavy bottomed, 4 quart sauce pan. Millie's recipe says "cook until thickened." I say, get out your handy digital thermometer and cook that sauce to 224 degrees F over medium heat. It will take about 20 minutes. For you kitchen luddites, you are going for the thread stage.
Meantime preheat the oven to 425 degrees (you don't have to stir the sauce once it reaches a boil), and make the butter roll:
Make a soft biscuit dough by cutting 6 tablespoons of shortening into 3 cups of flour mixed with 1.5 tablespoons baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk and knead lightly into a ball. Roll this out between sheets of waxed paper to a rectangle 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. I use the long edges of the waxed paper as a guide. Spread this with ONE WHOLE STICK of softened butter. Chocolate Butter Roll comes but once a year.
Now sprinkle the whole thing with 1/2 cup of sugar and a lot of cinnamon. One or two tablespoons. I just go crazy with the shaker. Lift one of the long edges of the wax paper and roll up the pastry like a jelly roll. Some of the cinnamon sugar will fall out. It's okay.
Slice the roll into slices that are about an inch thick. You're trying to cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 pan with a layer of slices, so you'll have to eyeball it. Lay the slices cut side up in a single layer, flattening them a little to close up any huge gaps. They'll rise while baking, and fill in the rest. Sprinkle the top with any cinnamon sugar mixture that spilled onto the wax paper while you were rolling it up.
Millie's recipe says to bake it now. FOOL ME ONCE, SAYS I (actually a dozen times). DON'T bake it yet. Get a fork and prick the dough all over (good thing to do when you are feeling stabby), then POUR THE HOT SAUCE OVER THE UNBAKED DOUGH. Now bake it for 25-30 minutes. It will come out glazed and a little crunchy. Hopefully, you can still summon up a little stabbiness, in spite of feeling justifiably pleased with yourownself, because you need to pierce the whole thing so that the sauce infuses every bite. I mash it down a little with a spatula for good measure. Let it cool and soak a bit, then cut in big squares and eat while warm, preferably with heapings of whipped cream.
It makes about 12 generous servings, but a serving in our house rarely sees the light of Boxing Day.
One more thing: don't tell my future daughters-in-law. I'll hand them the same recipe that was handed to me, just to make sure it's almost, but never, "as good as Mom's." Call it tradition.