Tart homemade rhubarb filling in a sweet yeasted roll, with a pink rhubarb glaze on top; these rhubarb rolls are a delight. (Jump to Recipe)
I see a lot of things on my daily walks through the city. Some predictable, and some truly bizarre things. I walk 30 minutes each way to work every day, so I have a lot of time to witness the ordinary and the mundane, the rote and the routine, but also the extraordinary and downright strange in a city as large as Chicago.
My walk takes me past coffee shops and bus stops, past corporate office buildings and flashy apartment towers, past decrepit empty storefronts and bustling hotels, past construction sites and sidewalk cafes. I walk next to bankers and lawyers in expensive suits, ladies who lunch in their Lululemon spandex, sunburnt tourists who stop in front of me without warning, gaggles of loud students on field trips, bedraggled homeless people looking for their next meal, cops wandering their beats and getting asked for directions, elderly couples puttering along holding hands, runners training for the marathon, nannies pushing their charges in strollers (and sometimes dog walkers pushing the dogs in strollers), nurses walking home from the night shift, khaki-clad coworkers on their way to a happy hour, musicians trying to make some money on the side, newlyweds in their dresses and tuxes taking photos they’ll have on their walls forever. I see rich and poor and everything in between, all blending together in the daily chaos of the city.
The bizarre moments don’t always announce themselves loudly; you have to be paying attention. I once saw a construction worker bend down and casually rinse his hands in a giant street puddle of tepid standing water. Just yesterday, I saw a well-dressed man walking down the street completely barefoot, clearly having just gone for a run, but not holding any shoes. I’ve seen grisly-looking homeless men giving directions to tourists; I’ve seen people living in alleyways and abandoned doorways. Chicago isn’t as jarring of a place as New York, but it has its moments.
Brian and I live above it all in a little box in the sky. Sometimes it feels strange to live in such a small space amid such a large city. You know?
Our little piece of Chicago usually looks like this – mixer running, flour everywhere. This particular occasion concerns a celebration of rhubarb during its very short season. I feel like rhubarb often gets the short end of the stick because it’s always paired with strawberries, and never the star of the show. Sure, they’re delicious together, but I want to let the tart flavor of rhubarb shine on its own.
These rhubarb rolls aren’t all that different from rolls we’ve made together before – in fact, if you need step by step photos of how rolled-out dough should look, see my cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing or carrot cake cinnamon rolls. The difference here is: (1) the method by which we’re making the dough, using the mixer with a dough hook to form that lovely gluten rather than stirring by hand; and (2) we’re making a jam-like puree of cooked-down rhubarb and using it in both the filling and the glaze. It’s the rhubarb show and I am very pleased with it.
You need to have patience when making sweet rolls. Yeast needs time to do its magical work with the dough. Cooking down the rhubarb actually doesn’t take long at all though, and you don’t need to puree it – you just keep stirring and it eventually takes on a smooth, jam-like consistency. Then we roll out the risen dough, fill with 1 cup of the puree, roll it up, arrange, let rise a little more, and bake!
They’re a little messy, sure, but so is life. It’s worth it.
Once baked, we mix a little more of the rhubarb puree with powdered sugar and lemon juice to form a lovely pink glaze. I am obsessed with this natural color!
After the long (albeit therapeutic) process of making these rhubarb rolls, getting to eat them is a serious reward. Enjoying one of these rolls with a cup of coffee, looking out over this crazy city, is exactly how I want every weekend to be.
I hope you can slow down and give these rhubarb rolls a try before the season ends. They’re worth every minute!
For the dough:
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet); can also use active dry yeast
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the rhubarb filling:
- 3 cups sliced rhubarb (about 1/2 inch slices)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 Tablespoon water or milk
For the glaze:
- 2 Tablespoons rhubarb filling (from above)
- 1 cup powdered (confectioner's) sugar
- 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice (as needed)
For the dough:
- In a microwave-safe container (I use a pyrex measuring cup) heat the milk and butter together until the butter just melts and the milk is warm to the touch (but not hot - about 100-110 degrees F). Whisk together to incorporate the butter.
- Stir in the yeast and sugar. Let sit for about 5 minutes - the mixture should start to bubble a bit, which means the yeast is alive.
- Beat the egg in a small bowl, then add it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the milk/yeast mixture, the flour, and the salt. Beat with the dough hook, first on low speed to incorporate and then on medium speed for about 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and soft, elastic, and easy to form into a ball.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place (I just put it on top of my oven) until doubled, about 1 - 1.5 hours. Make the filling while the dough rises.
For the filling:
- Combine sliced rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the rhubarb completely breaks down and the mixture turns into a jam-like consistency, about 10 minutes. You may have to crush some pieces of rhubarb with your spoon.
- Set filling aside to cool while the dough finishes its rise. Once cooled, measure out 1 cup of the filling, and reserve the remainder for the glaze and/or another use (you will have more than you need).
- Turn out the risen dough onto a lightly floured counter or surface. Roll it out to about an 18x12 inch rectangle (it will probably be more oval than rectangle and that's ok). Spread 1 cup of the rhubarb filling over the dough, leaving a 1 inch border around the edges.
- Starting with the long edge furthest from you, roll the dough towards you, moving your fingers evenly back and forth along the dough, until it is tightly coiled with seam down. Filling will escape and it will get a little messy, but that's ok.
- Cut into 12 even rolls with a bench scraper or sharp knife, and place evenly, cut side up (aka messy filling side down) in a greased 9x13 inch pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until slightly risen and puffy, about 30-45 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water or milk. When the rolls are risen, brush the egg wash evenly over them.
- Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.
- Meanwhile, make your glaze by whisking together 2 tbsp rhubarb filling, 1 cup powdered sugar, and enough lemon juice to make the glaze pourable (1-2 tbsp should do it).
- Pour glaze over warm rolls. Serve with coffee and good friends.