I first met Susanna Brandenburg about seven years ago at a Slow Food Urban San Diego event at the then new Tender Greens in Liberty Station. She was serving the most delightful mini root beer floats and guests were going bananas over them. Brandenburg, whose son Ryan was a chef there at the time, was hired to run the pastry operation and while Ryan has since moved on (and will soon be opening a new restaurant in North Park), Brandenburg has stayed with Tender Greens as it's grown. The desserts she makes and has trained her staff to make are like crack. From the most seemingly mundane chocolate chip cookies to her carrot cake, fig galettes, and lemon curd tarts, Brandenburg is constantly creating and revising recipes that bring customers to their knees in weak desire.
Brandenburg has been cooking, canning, and baking most of her life. Back in the day, she and her husband lived in Oregon. She says it rained so much there that she spent most of her time in the kitchen with her kids. When the family returned to San Diego in 1980, she continued the tradition. She also opened The Soda Jerk in Ocean Beach before launching Creative Dining, a catering company she ran for 15 years. When Ryan and Pete Balistreri asked if she'd like to be the pastry chef at this new restaurant they were opening called Tender Greens she jumped at the chance, saying it was a dream of hers come true. The local, seasonal ethos of Tender Greens is aligned with her own philosophy about food.
"The fun of being here is being able to educate people on the seasons and how that influences what they're eating during the year," she says.
One item that's not limited to the seasons, however, is her classic cinnamon roll. That strolls through the year unhampered by what fruits are available. Brandenburg has amped it up, first with the addition of mashed potatoes to the dough. "I've been making cinnamon rolls forever," she says, "but about a year ago I started adding potatoes to them. I'd been making potato bread and it dawned on me that the potatoes make the bread softer and fluffier, so why not add that to the cinnamon rolls. It doesn't change the flavor but it creates a much fluffier roll."
She also decided to periodically add bacon, which she bakes in brown sugar until it's just cooked. Crispy bacon doesn't work; you want to retain the luscious fat flavor and have the texture meld, not compete with the soft dough.
Last week I went into the downtown branch of Tender Greens and spent time in the kitchen with Brandenburg so she could share the recipe with me. One thing I learned, which is great if you're planning on serving these for a weekend brunch, is that you can make and shape the rolls in advance. Keep the trays of the rolls refrigerated, as well as the cream cheese frosting. Be sure that the frosting comes to room temperature before you use it so that it's spreadable once the rolls come out of the oven.
Potato Cinnamon Rolls with Bacon
from Susanna Brandenburg of Tender Greens
4 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 cup milk
1 cup mashed potato
1/3 cup butter, cut up
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 slices bacon
1 cup plus 1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
For Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 pound (8 ounces) cream cheese
3.2 ounces butter, room temperature
3/4 pound (12 ounces) powdered sugar
Mix cream cheese and butter until very creamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until smooth. You can add more sugar if the mixture is too thin. Refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before using so it's spreadable.
Directions for Cinnamon Rolls:
1. Preheat oven to 325˚.
2. In a bowl put 1 1/2 cups flour and the yeast. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan, mix together the milk and mashed potato. Heat and stir the mixture with 1/3 cup butter, sugar, and salt just until warm (about 120˚) and the butter almost melts. Add to the flour and yeast mixture, along with the eggs. Beat for 30 seconds, scraping the sides. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Add as much as the remaining flour as you can by hand.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in any remaining flour. Knead for 3 to 5 minutes until its smooth and elastic.
5. Shape into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise until it's doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.
6. While the dough is rising place the bacon slices on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle the bacon with 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Don't let it get too crispy or you'll lose the flavor of the fat. Dice the bacon and set aside.
7. Punch down the dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
9. Make the filling by combining 1 cup of brown sugar and the cinnamon.
10. Roll the dough out to 18-by-12 inches. Spread 1/2 cup of butter onto the dough and then sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the butter. Sprinkle the bacon pieces of the cinnamon mixture.
11. Roll up the dough and cut into the number of pieces you want. For large rolls, just cut eight pieces. For smaller, 10 or 12. Place them cut side up into the pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
12. Preheat oven to 350˚ (325˚ if you have a convection oven). Bake for 35 minutes. Cool slightly and frost with cream cheese frosting.