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I have three sisters, and we are all lucky to have a mother who regularly cooked and baked for us as kids. We came together for family dinners every night, regardless of soccer practices or homework or bad moods. Sometimes dinner was simple: brown rice and sliced green beans, sautéed chicken and pasta, or spaghetti with broccoli. Sometimes it was fancier. Regardless of the meal, there was always dessert. My mother excels at dessert. She makes the perfect oatmeal cookie (packed with chocolate chips and raisins and Grape-Nuts cereal). She can make a flawless peach pie, the most ethereal angel food cake, and a chocolate pudding you'd want to bathe in. She makes homemade vanilla ice cream, brownies that teeter between fudgy and cake-like, and an apple cake that would make anyone want to eat an apple a day.
But one of her best recipes is one that rarely made an appearance in our kitchen: Orange Sweet Rolls. Loosely tied to special occasions or long weekends, but sometimes just by surprise, these rolls are exceptional—and as an avid baker, I do not say that lightly. Their rarity rendered them famous (with me and my sisters).
They have all the sophistication and decadence of a cinnamon roll, along with the fun swirled shape, but none of the fuss. Instead of making a yeasted dough, you make a quick, one-bowl biscuit dough. You pat the dough out into a rectangle and spread it with a layer of orange filling.
The filling is even simpler than the dough: Just cook together butter, flour, orange zest, orange juice, and sugar for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. It's very sweet, but the biscuit dough itself has no sugar, so it balances out perfectly. When the filling bakes, it thickens even further into wonderfully jammy, marmalade-like swirls within the buttery dough.
My mom used to bake these rolls in a 9" x 13" glass pan, nestling the rolls up against one another. If you do that, they'll be softer and doughier, which I personally love. If you choose to make them in a muffin tin like I did here, though, they'll get crispy, buttery edges with a sticky, jammy base where the filling pools. I recommend the muffin tin if you're planning to transport them, but the one-pan approach is better if you're serving them at a brunch or breakfast table.
This is an excellent recipe for any novice bread baker. It turns out perfectly every time without any fancy technique, but it looks complicated and tastes like you spent years in a French bakery honing your skills. Be sure to reserve some extra filling to brush over the tops of the rolls once they're baked. If you want to up the citrus factor, you could add some lemon or lime zest to the filling as you cook it.
I won't be with my mom on Mother's Day, but if I could make her a batch of these to thank her for all the times she baked, cooked, and nourished us with such love and enthusiasm and good food, I would.
For the filling
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons orange zest
- 1/2 cup sugar
For the dough
- 2 cups (240 grams) flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 1 cup cold milk
What are some of your favorite recipes from mom? Let us know in the comments!