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COMFORT FOOD : Forget frivolous fare. Ignore the exotic. In times of trouble we turn to the familar and seek the solace of home. : Foods that reassure: Big breakfasts. Warm doughnuts. A simple steak. Beef stew. And ambrosia. : A Few of Our Favorite Things : . . . Giant Caramel Rolls

January 24, 1991|KATHIE JENKINS

The first time I remember food being comforting was when I was 6 years old and my Mom said I could have my friend Christine over for lunch. It was really pouring that day and as we were walking back to school after lunch, we spotted a package of Switzer's Black Licorice laying on the sidewalk in the rain. We picked up the package, shook off all the water, and opened it for inspection. We figured it couldn't have been there all that long because the licorice wasn't very wet, so we split it and ate it.

Licorice is still one of my favorite comfort foods--but that package we found was the best I've ever tasted.

Like licorice, my favorite comfort foods are old familiar childhood dishes: Cream of Wheat, split pea soup, rice pudding, macaroni and cheese. But when I'm really feeling miserable there's nothing more soothing than climbing into bed with a good mystery book, a pot of tea and a huge gooey caramel roll.

And nobody makes better caramel rolls than my Mom's next-door neighbor, Nancy Johnson. Hers are moist and buttery with exactly the right amount of pecans and caramel. They're the best I've ever hand--even better than black licorice.

NANCY JOHNSON'S

CARAMEL ROLLS

1 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees) milk

1 package dry yeast

1/2 cup sugar

5 to 5 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

Melted butter

Filling

Topping

Pour warm milk into large bowl. Stir in yeast and sugar and let stand 5 minutes. Beat in 2 cups flour, salt, softened butter and eggs until blended. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough.

Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place dough in buttered bowl, turning to coat top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. On lightly floured surface, roll dough into large rectangle, about 1/3 inch thick. Brush with melted butter.

Sprinkle Filling evenly over dough and press into dough with rolling pin. Starting at long edge, roll up dough as tightly as possible, jellyroll fashion.

Lightly butter sides of 13x9-inch baking pan. Pour Topping over bottom of pan, distributing pecans evenly. Cut dough crosswise into slices 1 1/2 inches thick and arrange cut side up in rows over Topping, leaving space for rolls to rise. Cover and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake at 350 degrees 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Invert onto large platter and serve immediately. Makes about 12 rolls.

Filling

1/4 cup sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Combine sugar and cinnamon.

Topping

1/2 cup butter

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Bring butter, brown sugar and corn syrup to boil. Add pecan halves.

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