Breakfast is a challenge for me. “The most important meal of the day” mantra has been drilled into my head but it doesn’t matter. I need an hour or two to fully wake up and get moving before I can eat. At that point, it could be anything. Classic eggs-bacon-toast combos if I have time, a quick bowl of oatmeal, day-old cake or a donut maybe, leftover Chinese food, sometimes just a giant ice tea. I have no regular morning routine besides this: no chocolate. In general, chocolate based breakfasts – besides that leftover cake of course – are not my thing. It just seems weird.
Chocolate chip bagels are an abomination and you know it. Chocolate chip pancakes? No thanks. Nutella and bananas on toast you ask? Oh c’mon. Delicious, sure, but Nutella has 7x the sugar as peanut butter so quit trying to tell me it’s a healthy breakfast. It’s not that I’m opposed to sweet things for breakfast – a ½” sugar sludge in the bottom of my daily Cherrios was an important part of my formative years. It’s just that chocolate, outside of a cup of steaming hot cocoa, seems weird. Time and place people, time and place.
About a year ago, I was working on some really delicious Sweet Orange Rolls and my mind kept straying to chocolate. Could I make a chocolate version of this? Sure, something rich and dark certainly, but restraint was needed. This wasn’t dessert, nor should it be. I started with that basic recipe, made it 3 or 4 times and learned a lot of things along the way. The most important lesson? People love freshly baked rolls of any kind. Even when I didn’t think they were very good, I had no problem getting folks to eat them. Perspective I suppose.
I also discovered that this is not the place for your good, fancy pants chocolate. Save that for something where it will make a difference. Too dark and intense and these rolls lean toward the bitter and somewhat unpleasant side. The batch I made with 70% cacao chocolate, thinking better chocolate would make a better filling, was so dark and intense it bordered on savory. And something was missing … acidity, balance, something. So I dialed the chocolate way back, using semisweet chips right off the grocery shelf. I then added dried cherries plumped in a little kirsch (because we all know booze makes it better.) I changed the glaze to one with some dark cocoa, just to gild the lily a bit more. And there you have it. Boom! Intense in a very chocolate but really special way. It makes a pretty good breakfast too, if you’re into that kind of thing.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY: A BIG CHOCOLATE EXHALE. Making bread is a great project – mixing a few ingredients, watching them grow and puff, creating a beautiful swirly thing that bakes up to a pretty golden brown – it just feels good. I gave a tray of these to some city workers who spent a cold winter morning shoveling the el tracks and it felt good. They were happy, I was happy. It was a good morning.
CHOCOLATE CHERRY BREAKFAST ROLLS
Makes about 12 rolls
For the dough:
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup warm water (105º – 115º F)
1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup vegetable oil
2-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (for greasing the pans)
for the filling:
¾ cup dried cherries (4 ounces)
3 Tablespoons kirsch (cherry brandy) or water, OJ or whatever strikes your fancy
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (½ pound)
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing the dough
For the icing:
2 Tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons hot water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the dough: add yeast to mixing bowl and add the water, stirring unitl dissolved. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.
- In a medium saucepan – or in the microwave – heat the buttermilk until just warm (105º – 115º F). Just before using, add the baking soda.
- Combine flour, salt and sugar to the mixing bowl, the add the vegetable oil and buttermilk/baking soda and mix with the dough hook; slowly at first then on medium until ball forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Continue mixing until a smooth dough is formed and the gluten is developed. Turn out to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes to make sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
- First rise – 30-60 minutes: Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. This may take as little as 30 minutes depending on the warmth of your room.
- For the filling: place the cherries in a small saucepan, add the kirsch (or water) and bring to a boil.
- Remove from the heat, and let steep/plump while the dough rises.
- In a food processor, pulse the chocolate, sugar and salt until very finely chopped.
- Add the butter and pulse until incorporated. The mixture will be moist but crumbly. Set aside until needed.
- To shape: Grease the sides and bottom of a 9”x12” cake pan with the softened butter and set aside.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently roll into a 10” x 18” rectangle, squaring off the corners as much as possible.
- Brush the dough with the lightly beaten egg.
- Sprinkle the chocolate filling evenly over the dough, leaving ½” clean border along one long side. Top with the plumped cherries.
- Roll up the rectangle starting on the long side with the filling; lightly pinch the long edge to seal.
- Cut the dough log into 12 pieces and place cut side up into prepared pan. Be sure not to overly crowd the rolls so there’s room for expansion.
- Second rise – 30-60 minutes: Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.
- While rolls are rising, preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Bake: Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.
- Cool completely on a wire rack.
- For the icing: Combine all the icing ingredients and whisk until smooth.
- Drizzle the rolls with icing and let set for at least 30 minutes to harden. (If desired, turn the rolls out of the pan first.) If the rolls are warm, the glaze will melt and create a light coating. If you want a thicker coating of icing, let the rolls cool completely before applying.
- These are best the day they’re made but if you have some leftover, store at room temperature, tightly wrapped.