One of Lorinda McKinnon’s favorite Christmas memories is sharing angel food cake on the floor in front of the fireplace while listening to Bing Crosby croon.
Her mom’s angel food cake, however, came out of a box.
“Mom was a good cook,” McKinnon said. “But she wasn’t much of a baker.”
Besides the boxed Christmas cake, if McKinnon wanted baked treats – and she wanted baked treats – she had to make them herself.
McKinnon started baking in middle school. Today, the self-described obsessive-compulsive baker runs “The Rowdy Baker” blog from her woodland home near Rice and works on what she hopes will become her first cookbook.
She’s created her own scratch-made version of her mother’s Christmas cake, topped with peppermint marshmallow fluff. But her holiday baking repertoire doesn’t stop there.
Here, she shares her recipe for her Gingerbread Cheesecake Rolls and Harvest – or Holiday – Strudel with a light and flaky rough-puff pastry crust.
Baking – bread, cake, pie, strudel, muffins, rolls, whatever – is McKinnon’s joy. Because of where she lives, though – down a dirt road in the hills between Chewelah and Colville – there aren’t too many people with whom she can share that joy. And for her, one of the best parts of baking is sharing the goods.
“I like to give them away,” she said.
Her husband, Russ, 62, a hunter and retired crane operator, is often on the receiving end. But, “He’s tried so many batches of my Gingerbread Cheesecake Rolls that he’s tired of them,” she said.
As a girl, McKinnon, 61, liked to bake cookies and make fudge. When she got married, she branched out into “everything.”
Bread is one of her favorite things to bake. “It’s like magic to me,” she said.
A self-taught baker who didn’t attend culinary school, McKinnon grew up in Seattle. She was a city girl who dreamed of living in the country like the characters played by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor on the old TV show “Green Acres.”
Not quite 10 years ago, her dream came true. She and her husband moved from the West Side to 20 acres in the woods some 6 miles from the unincorporated community of Rice, population approximately 40.
Colville ia a 35-minute drive; it’s a good 90 minutes to the Costco in North Spokane, where the couple – married 37 years – stock up for winter.
“I love getting snowed in,” McKinnon said. “I stock up and stay home. I don’t get bored.”
Three children are grown and gone. But McKinnon stays busy. She shoots and gardens when the weather’s right. In winter, she reads, writes, crochets, knits, roasts her own coffee, works on her cookbook, bakes and blogs.
McKinnon started blogging at www.therowdybaker.com in 2012. Before that, she was already contributing to the “Yummy Northwest” website. A couple of years ago for her birthday, her husband gave her a Canon so she could do better photos to accompany her posts and recipes.
While many professional pastry chefs weigh baking ingredients to the gram, McKinnon – as her blog’s name suggests – is “not much of a rule follower. I get kind of carried away in the kitchen.”
It is her “happy place. It’s a place to get creative. I like to play with my food. I just don’t do easy. I make everything from scratch as far as I can. There’s no fun if there’s no challenge. I’m very hands-on.”
It took several tries to get her Gingerbread Cheesecake Rolls just right.
“Gingerbread is more of a cake, and this is more of a bread,” she said. “It’s very gingery. I use fresh ginger.”
She made other strudels – apple, breakfast sausage – before she came up with her recipe for Harvest Strudel or, for this time of year, Holiday Strudel. It’s the same recipe, whatever time of year you make it and whatever you decide to call it. For Christmas, she fashioned it into the shape of a wreath.
Her advice: don’t overwork the dough. “I’ve done that, and it does get tough,” she said.
The butter and water both must be cold, and the dough itself needs to be chilled before rolling, filling, brushing with butter and baking.
Plain bread crumbs help soak up some of the juice from the fruit, and, McKinnon said, “You don’t even notice they’re in there.”
In addition to someday publishing a cookbook, she hopes to be on a baking competition show. She’s come close a few times, getting interviews but never quite making the final cut.
She plans to try again as well as keep coming up with new recipes and enjoying her little patch of paradise in the hills near the Colville National Forest.
“I’ve never been happier as I have been here,” she said. “I’m very happy here. Orin-Rice Road in the snow is the most beautiful thing.”
Harvest (or Holiday) Strudel
From Lorinda McKinnon
For the pastry:
1 cup butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup very cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
5 cups chopped pears and apples (about 2 each)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
Powdered sugar, for decoration
Make the pastry: Combine flour and salt on work surface. With a bench scraper or metal spatula, chop the butter into the flour until combined. Don’t overwork the mixture – you should be able to see chunks of butter larger than peas.
Slowly drizzle the cold water over the flour mixture while flipping it with the scraper, just until it’s beginning to stick together. Mixture should be very crumbly and messy looking. Scrape the mixture together into a 5-by-8-inch rectangle.
Roll out dough to approximately 6-by-10 inches, using the metal scraper to help form straight edges. It will still be crumbly at this point. Keeping the short edge facing you, flip the bottom edge up to the middle and the top edge down to the bottom, creating 3 equal sized layers. Turn the dough to the left, again having a short edge facing you. Lightly flour the work surface if necessary. Repeat 4 more times.
Wrap dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Dough may be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several days.)
Make the filling: In large bowl, combine chopped fruit and lemon juice. Cover and set aside. In small bowl, combine nuts, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Assemble and bake: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll chilled pastry dough out on lightly floured surface, as thinly as possible – approximately 14-by-20 inches, with the long side facing you.
Brush lightly with melted butter, leaving just a little for brushing on the top after it’s rolled.
Lightly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs over the entire surface. Spoon the remaining breadcrumbs along the long side facing you, at least 2 inches away from the front edge. The crumbs will absorb excess juice from the fruit as the strudel bakes.
Add sugar and spice mix to the fruit and toss until coated. Spoon over the bread crumbs and press gently with hands to create a smooth, rounded mound all the way across.
Lift the long front edge of the pastry over the fruit as far as it will stretch. Using the scraper if necessary, lift and roll until the fruit is covered. Fold the edges on both sides toward the center a little to seal the ends, and continue to roll. For easy handling, roll right onto a piece of parchment paper.
With the seam at the bottom, pinch the ends again to get a good seal. Lift parchment with strudel onto a baking sheet. (If the strudel is too long for the sheet, curve the ends or create a circle.)
Brush with butter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until rich golden brown.
Place on cooling rack. Lightly mark serving size pieces with a serrated knife, barely cutting through the top. This will make it easier to cut and will allow some of the steam to escape, keeping the strudel crispy. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Gingerbread Cheesecake Rolls
From Lorinda McKinnon
For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon lemon zest
For the dough:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant or quick-rise yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup molasses
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup raisins or finely chopped toasted pecans (optional)
For the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add egg yolk and mix until completely incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add sugar, flour, ginger and lemon zest. Beat until smooth. Cover and place in refrigerator.
In a large bowl (a stand mixer with dough hook is recommended) combine flour, yeast, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
In a small saucepan on medium low heat, combine water, molasses and butter. Heat until butter is melted, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in the ginger and buttermilk. Mixture should be very warm – approximately 125 degrees. Heat gently if necessary.
With mixer on low, add warm molasses mixture and egg to the flour mixture. Once combined, knead by machine for 5 minutes, or place dough on lightly greased or floured surface and knead by hand 7-8 minutes. If kneading by machine, the dough should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, but still be very soft. If necessary, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time to achieve a soft, elastic ball of dough.
Place dough into a well-greased bowl, cover with towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled, approximately 1 hour. (This may take longer if your kitchen is cool.)
Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment.
Once dough has risen, roll into an 11-by-14-inch rectangle, with a long side facing you.
Spread the chilled filling onto the dough, sprinkle with raisins or pecans if desired, and roll dough away from you.
With the seam on the bottom, use unflavored dental floss to cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. (Slip the floss under the roll, bring both sides up, cross over, and pull.)
Place rolls flat side down in prepared pan, cover with towel or plastic wrap, and let them rise until almost doubled, approximately 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush lightly with butter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then use the parchment to lift the rolls onto a cooling rack.
Combine icing ingredients and drizzle over warm rolls.
Christmas Angel Food Cake with Peppermint Fluff
From Lorinda McKinnon
For the cake:
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (see notes below)
1 1/3 cups egg whites (11 or 12 eggs), room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
For the fluff:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
4 candy canes ( 1/2 ounce each)
2 cups mini marshmallows
Make the cake: Sift flour 3 times with a half cup of the sugar into a small bowl. Set aside. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle the salt and cream of tartar over eggs and beat until they hold soft peaks. Add the rest of the sugar, one-fourth cup at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour mixture a half cup at a time, folding gently after each addition.
Put batter into an ungreased tube pan and bake approximately an hour at 325 degrees, until brown on top. Turn pan upside down on rack. When cool, lift pan. If cake doesn’t come out, slide a knife around the outside to release it.
Make the fluff: Crush the candy canes. I put them in a doubled paper bag and hit it with a hammer on concrete. A heavy zipper bag will work, too. Leave some small chunks; you don’t want it to be a fine powder. Whip cream and sugar until it holds a stiff peak. Stir in crushed candy canes and marshmallows. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir to blend the color (it will turn a lovely pink).
This looks very festive when you fill the hole of an angel food cake before serving; then offer the rest of the peppermint fluff in a bowl next to the cake. Put a generous spoonful on each slice of cake. You might want to include a bowl of chocolate sprinkles or grated chocolate for garnish.
Notes: You can make your own superfine sugar if you prefer. Just put regular sugar in a blender or food processor and blend it until the sugar is very fine but not powdered. You can also bake the batter in cupcake pans with liners or in two loaf pans with a piece of parchment paper in the bottoms only. Don’t grease the pans. Cool the loaf pans upside down so the cakes don’t deflate. You might have to get creative: balance them between two pans or even coffee mugs.
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