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What's Cooking? - Posted December 29, 2017 noon
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Life-Changing Cinnamon Rolls

There’s a story behind the delectable cinnamon rolls served by Dianna Donathan at the The Windy Cow Cafe and Dessert Bar in Wildorado, and it’s a good one. Decades ago, Dianna took a home economics class during her freshman year at Vega High School. The class was learning to bake a simple Daisy Braid bread recipe. “It was a sweet dough you could do so many things with,” remembers Dianna. “We were putting a pecan-and-brown-sugar topping on it.” While the bread was cooking, a junior football player named Kenny Donathan passed by in the hallway. The aroma caught his attention. “I can still see him poking his head through the door, saying, ‘What am I smelling?’”

That aroma changed Dianna’s life. The freshman baker and junior athlete got to know each other, started dating, married, had three kids and are now grandparents. And the Daisy Braid recipe that first brought them together is at the heart of the from-scratch cinnamon rolls Dianna serves most weekends at her cafe. In this issue, she shares how to make them. While her recipe may not necessarily result in a lifelong romance, the results will definitely make your heart pitter-patter.


Cool Rise Sweet Dough
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages yeast
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups very hot water
2 eggs, room temperature
Cooking oil
Cinnamon
Sugar or brown sugar
Half-and-half
Powdered sugar

Combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Stir to blend and add butter. Add water to mixture. Beat for 2 minutes, scraping sides to blend. Add eggs and 1 cup flour. Beat 1 minute, scraping sides of bowl. Stir in remaining flour and pour onto floured board. Divide dough into 2 batches. Knead each for 5 to 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 15 to 20 minutes, and then punch down. Roll dough into a rectangle by rolling from the middle to the outside corners, then roll along the edges to even it out. Spread room-temperature butter over dough, covering completely. Combine sugar or brown sugar with cinnamon in bowl. Sprinkle dough with sugar mixture. Don’t skimp on the good stuff!


Start rolling the widest side of dough evenly until the rectangle is a long roll. Squish in ends to make even cuts. Cut 1 ¾-inch wide sections using dental floss or thread.


Put rolls in greased pan (round or square), leaving space to rise. Let rise and bake at 375 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on size of rolls.


Meanwhile, make frosting for rolls. Combine half-and-half with powdered sugar to make thin icing (not runny).



After baking, let rolls cool for 5 minutes.



Frost with powdered sugar icing. Make sure to cover rolls completely, as it will keep rolls moist longer.

Makes 50 rolls

Meet the Cook: Dianna Donathan of The Windy Cow Cafe and Dessert Bar


For years, Wildorado residents and travelers along I-40 would visit Jesse’s Cafe for its down-home cooking and wonderful pies. Dianna Donathan’s first job was working as a waitress at Jesse’s. Her grandmother, a local chicken farmer, even provided eggs to the iconic restaurant. But eventually the owners sold the business, and the building that once housed Jesse’s saw a lengthy string of unsuccessful ventures in its wake.

A few years ago, Donathan learned the old roadside cafe was headed for the auction block. “It was just sitting there,” she says. “I hated to see that happen.”

By that time, Donathan had raised three daughters and was passionate about cooking and baking from scratch. Several years earlier, she had co-owned a coffee shop in Wimberley, Texas, where she baked and sold cinnamon rolls, muffins, puff pastries, and more. Her husband, Kenny – who works as a construction manager in the wind and solar industries – had entered a season that often took him away from home. Their daughters were grown.

Donathan decided the time was right to resurrect the old cafe.

Naming the new venture The Windy Cow Cafe and Dessert Bar after the turbines and feedlots that dominated the Wildorado landscape – “one of my granddaughters came up with it,” she says – Donathan opened her doors two-and-a-half years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She maintains a steady clientele of local farmers, ranchers, utility and wind-farm workers, and hungry tourists traveling I-40.

All are drawn to what Donathan describes as a simple recipe for success: “What has kept us going, by far, is the good food,” she says. From the chicken-fried steak and catfish to the old-fashioned cherry pies she bakes, everything at Windy Cow is made from scratch. She uses fresh squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and jalapeños grown in a garden. She serves hand-pressed, charbroiled hamburgers on locally made Snowhite buns. She hand-cuts fries and prepares two kinds of tartar sauce to accompany her hand-breaded catfish. And she’s picky about presentation. “It takes effort to make sure everything is consistent, because it’s not something we pull out of a bag or out of the freezer,” she says.

That effort extends to the weekend cinnamon rolls she shares in this issue. Donathan says her most loyal customers seem to be around retirement age or older – including a few who’ll regularly drive 20 minutes from Amarillo or 30 minutes from Hereford to dine at a throwback, small-town cafe. “That generation grew up with good food,” she says. “That’s why people pull off the road to eat here. They just don’t want to stop at a chain restaurant.”

But a scratch cafe with a touch of Wildorado history? That’s totally worth the drive.

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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