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A tale of two rolls

The story and the recipes behind two enriched doughs, from South Dakota and Costa Rica

My Grandma Jarratt's caramel rolls, being made by my sister-in-law, Daniela Ruiz, in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Daniela Ruiz.

A tale of two rolls

There were quite a few foods that my Grandma Jarratt made for our family in my childhood in South Dakota that stand out as family staples, recipes that made us all feel loved and seen. Roast beef dinner on Sunday afternoons warmed the soul. Mac and cheese from scratch on summer vacation hit the spot. Oyster stew on Christmas Eve was strange at first, but then became a delicious rite of passage into a unique family and cultural tradition.

But there is one recipe that everyone in the family has tried to learn – children and grandchildren. That is the recipe for caramel rolls. For some reason, caramel rolls feel synonymous with Grandma Jarratt. Whomever was staying overnight at Grandma and Grandpa’s house could count on rolls for breakfast. If you were lucky when you were there, you got to help make them, and see Grandma’s magic in action. The dough always seems soft and light, and always rolled to rectangular perfection for filling with butter and cinnamon and sugar.

The rolls are so delicious that when I started making them in Costa Rica (much too far into our relationship – my husband suspected I was withholding other important information when he found out I had known this recipe for several years), my baking-expert sister-in-law asked for the recipe and periodically makes them. On family camping trips in Costa Rica I am asked to make and bring them along. It’s fun to think about Grandma’s rolls being spread across the continent.

The story of how Grandma herself learned to make these rolls is rather funny, in my opinion, though for the time I suppose it was normal. When Grandma and Grandpa were students at Augustana College (now Augustana University) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the early 1950s, Augustana President Lawrence Stavig’s wife (whose name is difficult to find on the internet) would invite senior women students to the president’s residence. Mrs. Stavig (oh, that was her name – remember, 1950s) would teach all of these seniors - who were, in theory, on their way to become wives and homemakers with a college education – how to make these caramel rolls. She taught them the recipe and the method, and also gave them this advice: “Be sure to make these and other delicious things for your husband and children, so that they feel loved and at home.”

Both my Grandma and my Grandpa made everyone around them feel loved and important.

Well, the rolls sure do that. It’s a strange thing to realize the value of home baking, to feel it as a beneficiary, but also to question the patriarchal practice that brought these rolls to me. Why can’t men learn how to bake rolls? Actually, one of the best current bakers of these rolls is my cousin Andrew.

I’m sharing Grandma’s (and Mrs. Stavig’s) recipe, below. But before I get to that, there is another enriched dough recipe that carries similar meaning for me. And that is the recipe for the homemade rolls (pan casero) that my mother-in-law in Costa Rica makes.

Just like my grandma, my suegra has so many recipes that make her family feel loved. My personal favorites are her beef stew (what’s with beef and root vegetables that is so universal?), empanadas and tortillas hand-made from scratch, and any of the lunches she makes for family birthdays (including chicken lasagna, beef tongue in sauce, mashed potatoes, and beautiful salads). As I have written about elsewhere, my suegra is my hero for her self-taught cooking and baking.

As a deaconess in her evangelical church, Elizabeth also does a lot of cooking for congregational events and her women’s group. She makes the small pretzel-like bites used for communion, cakes for special events, and the following homemade rolls for pot-lucks. In the eight and a half years that I lived in Costa Rica and spent time at her house, I got to sample them right out of the oven. She saw how much I liked them, and sometimes sent some home with me, or even made batches outside of church functions for purely familial consumption.

Such rolls are not used for breakfast in Costa Rica as much as to be eaten with cafecito in the afternoons. This tradition became a life-blood for me during my maternity leave and beyond after my first son was born. Having coffee (or in my case as a nursing mother, hot chocolate) around 3 in the afternoon with friends or with my suegra felt like a prize for having made it through the day so far, and also the push of energy and happiness that I needed to make it until bedtime. In Costa Rica, coffee may never be consumed by itself – it must always be accompanied by something yummy and equally scrumptious relational time with others. My suegra’s enriched roll recipe represents all of that to me.

Having my suegra hold my firstborn, and feed me panes and hot chocolate, made transitioning to motherhood easier for me.

I was fortunate enough on my last trip to Costa Rica to get the recipe. During a recent snow day I tried it out, and was happy to find that it worked! So, I share it with you, today.

Without further ado, two recipes for enriched dough rolls. The recipes and methods are quite similar, though not the same (watch for the secret tropical ingredient in my suegra’s panes!). I dare you to make them both, and eat caramel rolls for breakfast and pan casero during your afternoon coffee break!


South Dakota: Caramel Cinnamon Rolls by Grandma Annette Jarratt

Makes 12 rolls (you may double this recipe to make a double batch – 24 rolls):


For the rolls:

¼ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1 pkg. dry yeast1

¾ cups lukewarm milk

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 eggs

¼ cup soft shortening

3 ½ to 3 ¾ cups flour

For the filling: 2/3 cup softened butter or margarine Mix together: ¼ cup sugar 1 tsp cinnamon Raisins (optional)

For the caramel: 1/3 cup of butter or margarine ½ cup brown sugar (packed) 1 tbsp. corn syrup

Making the dough:

Dissolve yeast in half cup of warm water with a small amount of sugar added. Let stand until it foams up.

Meanwhile mix milk, sugar, salt, eggs and shortening together. Add the yeast. Put three to four cups of flour in the mixer and beat until smooth with your electric mixer with dough hook if you have one.

Add the rest of the flour by the cupful, mixing well after each addition. When the mixture becomes easy to handle, put out on a floured board and knead until smooth, adding flour in small amounts if necessary.

Put into a greased bowl and roll the dough over so top is greased. Cover with a greased plastic wrap and a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 ½ hours. Punch down and let rise again until almost double, about 30 min. Punch down and shape into rolls as directed below. During the second rise, make the caramel:

Caramel mixture:

Melt butter. Mix in brown sugar and syrup. Stir until well mixed together. Put into bottom of 9x13 loaf pan.

Shaping and filling the dough:

Roll the dough into a rectangle about 15x9. Spread with softened butter or margarine and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Can put in raisins if desired. Roll up tightly at the wide side. Cut roll into 1” slices and place in 9x13 loaf pan with caramel mixture in the bottom. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until double.


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 20-25 minutes. Immediately turn upside down on a piece of foil and let pan stay over rolls for a minute so that caramel runs down on them.


Costa Rica: Pan casero (homemade bread) by abuelita Elizabeth Loáiciga

Makes 34 rolls


1 package active dry yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

½ cup milk

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine (melted and then cooled)

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 kilo all purpose flour (start with 4 cups and add more as needed)

1 tsp salt

½ tsp ground nutmeg (or fresh grated nutmeg)

1 beaten egg, for brushing the rolls

Making the dough:

Dissolve the yeast in the water and milk, and let stand until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt and nutmeg together.

Beat the eggs. Add the liquid yeast mixture, sugar, and the melted and cooled butter or margarine. Mix. Add the flour a third at a time, mixing in between.

When the mixture becomes easy to handle, put out on a floured board and knead until smooth, adding flour in small amounts if necessary.

Put into a greased bowl and roll the dough over so top is greased. Cover with a greased plastic wrap and a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 ½ hours.

Shaping the dough:

Divide the dough into equal sized balls. If you have a kitchen scale, try for 60 grams each, more or less. Roll into rough balls, then roll out into “snake” shapes. Form the roll by winding the “snake” together into a roll, or make the dough into a knot and tuck the ends under. Place on greased pan or pan covered with parchment paper. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until double. Heat the oven to 350 F.


When the oven is ready, brush the rolls with the beaten egg. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes. When golden, remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack. You may serve with butter and jam, or eat plain.


Thank you for reading the New Backwater blog! I hope that you find ideas and perspectives here for making connections between the US and Latin America, for finding balance by leveraging tools of the past with lessons of the present, and for achieving transformation to make the world a better place. I'm trying to work on these things every day, and I'm grateful you're sharing that journey with me.

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