When John Currence suggested that his new restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast, would put him on the country’s culinary map, his wife’s response was, “Are you out of your mind?”
Currence, a James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of the acclaimed City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, was already a fine-dining star, famous for his elevated takes on Southern and Creole cooking.
How could humble breakfast food possibly boost his reputation?
But he was determined to give some love to a meal routinely neglected by high-end chefs. Using farm-fresh ingredients, house-smoked meats and the same creativity he employed at lunch and dinner, Currence came up with a menu of irresistible versions of breakfast classics — a beef chili and cheese omelet, a low-country egg scramble with andouille and shrimp, homemade Pop-Tarts. A resounding hit, Big Bad Breakfast spawned a second restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. Three more branches are in the works.
Risking his restaurant group’s bottom line for the greater good, he’s just published a cookbook, also called “Big Bad Breakfast” (Ten Speed Press, $30), so fans (and those too far to make the trip) can prepare his food at home.
He argues that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and not just because it fuels you for work and play. “I truly believe in taking every opportunity to sit down at the table together.” It’s a lesson he learned young. “My mother taught five or six history classes every day. But she made us a hot breakfast, she packed us a lunch, she came home and cooked us dinner. She managed to pull it off without any conveniences like the microwave or frozen dinners.”
Here’s a look at Currence’s recipe for Sausage Cinnamon Rolls. Most skeptics are won over at first bite. He says, “They kind of cock their head like a puppy at the vet’s office. ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Then with the majority of them, you can see the light bulb go on.”
SAUSAGE CINNAMON ROLLS
(Reprinted with permission from “Big Bad Breakfast,” by John Currence.)
1 ( 1⁄4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm whole milk (100 degrees)
4 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup cooked breakfast sausage, crumbled
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1⁄2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (for assembly)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and whisk together well. Allow to stand in the bowl for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the mixture begins to look a little foamy on top. Add the flour, granulated sugar, butter, eggs and salt. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough on low to medium speed until it begins to come together, about 2 minutes. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Dust your hands lightly with flour and then knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a large ball.
3. Transfer the dough to a medium bowl that is coated with cooking spray. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. To test if the dough is ready, poke it with your fingertip. If the indention remains, it’s ready.
4. Once your dough has risen, make the filling: In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, sausage, butter, and cinnamon. Set aside.
5. To make the icing, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt on medium speed until combined. Set aside.
6. To assemble the rolls, turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll it into a 21-by-16-inch rectangle that’s about 1⁄4-inch thick. Spread the 1⁄4 cup butter over the dough, then evenly sprinkle with the sausage filling. With the long side facing you, roll the dough into a tight log.
7. Using a sharp knife, cut crosswise into 14 slices (if you prefer smaller rolls, cut more slices). Place the cinnamon rolls in a lightly greased 15-by-11-inch glass baking dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise, again in a warm place, until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.
8. Once your cinnamon rolls have risen, bake them until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. The rolls should be brown on top with a light crust.
9. Take the rolls out of the oven and allow to cool for 8 to 10 minutes. With an offset spatula or icing paddle, spread the icing on them while they’re still warm. The frosting should melt into the cinnamon rolls, but not run off completely. Serve immediately. Makes 14 rolls.