Cinnamon Twists in Small Town Texas
Grey rivers of billowing clouds meander low in the sky, scraping along the tall pines and rogue radio towers dotting the east Texas landscape. Rachmaninov whispers through the speakers but I’m listening to the crows, singing southern bugs, distant roosters and the quiet hiss of wind speeding around the trees. I struggle to control my incessant yawning and heavy eyes. The morning has barely started and I’m already miles away from home.
A blur of green and brown caper past my eyes. Urban sprawl dissipates into scattered homes and open farm land. Soon farms and ranches disappear and the landscape is replaced with the old, untouched east Texas pine forests and distant backcountry hamlets. I wait and watch, looking for some forgotten dirt road to get lost on.
I turn down the dusty path, unguarded by gates, posted warnings or even a cow grate. A pair of worn ridges in the ground are the only hint of a road. My truck bounces about on the unkempt trail, churning up clouds of dust behind me. Miles go by before I pass a small pasture. I keep looking left and right, waiting for something to jump out.
A small clearing in the dense pine forrest and evergreen underbrush appears on my right, hidden behind a tattered old chain fence drenched in Tall Morninglory and its purple flowers. Outside, my hands grasp the camera tightly, my fingers running over the studded focus dial of the thirty year old prime lens. My feet sink farther than I expected in the deep grass and texas wildflowers as I make my way into the clearing. Small headstones poke through the overgrowth. I begin to read those I can make out and it’s now apparent I’ve found an old family cemetery. 1917 is the most modern date I see. I snap a few shots and move on.
I trek back down the dirt road, reaching the old farm road highway I traveled along an hour earlier. I contemplate which direction to take, south to Houston or north to more backcountry. Without much thought I find myself traveling north again, on old, worn texas highways I’ve never seen, headed in no particular direction.
This time I stumble upon a small town in the midst of celebration, a massive festival spanning all four blocks of the city center. It doesn’t matter that the sun is hiding behind a cloak of dark grey mass nor that rain and thunder threatens the event at any moment; these townfolk are still out celebrating and each and every one of them is welcoming me to their town – my foreignness all too apparent to this close knit group of friends.
I hop around the festivities, dodging questions, long stories about distant relatives and town happenings, and the occasional request for a photo. I’m not here to photograph people, not today. So I duck into an old antiques shop hidden in a gorgeous white house and spend the rest of the afternoon flipping through disintegrating books, imaging what the 80 year old record sounds like, and eyeing a collection of whiskey bottles. I find myself again staring at remnants from another time, moments of history seemingly locked in place in this middle of nowhere township, in the tiny antique shop inside an old white house just a block away from the town hall. And I smile.
On the way out, after buying far too many antique bottles and kitchenware, the little old lady of a shop keeper – who in a strange twist of chance taught at the elementary school I attended, years before I was ever born though – offered me a homemade cinnamon twist doughnut. Not being one to turn down any sort of sweets, I kindly oblige with a thank you, wrought with the delightful southern draw I somehow get sucked into using when visiting small-town Texas.
People always ask me why I go exploring when it’s so overcast, foggy or rainy. And the answer is always the same. It’s one of the few times you can pretend to have the world to yourself, notwithstanding small town music festivals of course. Even then, you’re bound to discover something amazing.
Caldwell, Giddings, Dime box, Magnolia, Bellville, Hempstead, Brenham, Navasota, Madisonville, Trinity, Kountz, Silsbee, Woodville, and Montogomery. Little towns, most with fewer than 1,000 residents, dot the Texas landscape – these fourteen all within a couple hours of my home. Little towns, I’ve never visited – not yet at least. Today I crossed one off my list: Montgomery, Texas, a town of 585 of the most kind souls I’ve ever met – and I know this because I met each and everyone at that festival. And it all happened completely by accident.
Doughnuts: Those of you keeping track will notice this is nearly the exact same recipe as my jelly-filled doughnuts (with the difference of added cinnamon of course). That’s because in the end most all doughnuts can use the same dough so why make it complicated with numerous doughs. Really, the most important part is what you put in them or on them that makes a difference.
- 6 ounces whole milk
- 1 teaspoon active yeast
- 2 ounces honey
- 1 egg
- 8-9 ounces bread flour
- 3 ounces whole wheat flour
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp.
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 quarts vegetable oil
- 2 ounces sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- Heat the milk to the scalding point (about 200°F). Set aside to cool to 110°F. Oil or butter the proofing tub or large bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk (105-115°F). Add the honey, egg, 8 ounces bread flour, whole wheat flour, lemon zest and butter. Mix the dough until thoroughly combined and a dough just begins to form. Let rest in the bowl, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Add the salt to the dough and knead for 7 to 10 minutes until elastic and slightly sticky. If the dough is excessively wet or sticky, add up to 1 ounce more flour. The dough should be slightly sticky to the the touch though.
- Butter the proofing tub or bowl and place the dough in, letting it rise in a warm place until doubled in volume about 1-2 hours.
- If your house is an ice box, preheat the oven at 400°F for 1 minutes - no longer. Turn the oven off after a minute - the inside of the oven should now feel just barely warm. Allow the dough to rise in the warm oven.
- Once doubled in volume, punch down the dough. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons cinnamon on top of the dough and knead it with your hands for a few seconds - enough to create streaks with the cinnamon. Let the dough rest covered for 20 minutes.
- After resting, roll the dough out until it is about ¼" thick. Cut the dough into 16 strips. Take two strips and twist them together, pinching together the ends to ensure they won't unravel.
- Let the twists rise until the volume expands 1.5x, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- In the meantime put the oil in a heavy bottomed pot and heat to 350°F.
- Also mix together the 2 ounces of sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon together in a bowl and set aside.
- Fry the doughnuts in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly golden brown. Remove the doughnuts to newspaper or paper towels and immediately sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on to both sides. Repeat until all of the doughnuts are fried.
- Let the doughnuts cool until comfortable to handle.