Prepare to swoon from the intensity of it all.
By “it” and “all,” I mean Christina Perri’s new EP, The Ocean Way Sessions (listen, though really – buy).
Oh, you’re looking at that bit of pastry there. Since Perri is from Philadelphia, I thought it might be appropriate to cook an iconic Philly food. Amateurs messing with cheesesteak is simply wrong, and many other choices involve scrapple, so this is a Philadelphia sticky bun. It could not possibly accompany Perri’s EP without some modifications to make it a little rockier and more intense, so start your iTunes and let’s bake.
The foundational recipe for the sweet rolls is here. The foundation of the first track, “Bang Bang Bang,” seems to be the perky voh-de-oh-doh music-hall-style tracks of the late 1960s, similar to where The Beatles were going with portions of Sergeant Pepper. This is the dusty cabaret where the piano player intends to shoot someone… or, rather to watch someone get shot, as revenge is so much more fun when one’s own hands are clean. All “karma tastes so sweet” needs is a line of girls in fishnet tights with feather fans.
Oh… cooking. Um. Mix 1/4 cup of warm water with 2-1/4 teaspoons of yeast (that’s a packet, but I buy yeast in the jar so I can reduce recipes at will). Add 1 cup of milk. Mix it up. Add 1-1/2 cups of flour to make a wet mess. Cover with a damp towel and let it sit for 30 minutes, at which point it will be bubbly.
This is the ultimate break-up EP. Forget pop princess sentiments about longing. Renounce upbeat “I will survive” dance numbers. Perri has a voice of jagged-edge retribution appropriate for spitting on the grave of broken promises. And to milk every drop of vengeance, several of the songs start with musical forms that one expects to hear go another direction, so “Black and Blue” is downright sultry. It also contains a lyric that makes me want to force copies of this song on every gal-pal in the throes of a dying relationship: “If you ask me if I’m over love, you’re a fool to believe you gave some.”
Cream together half a stick of butter and 1/3 cup white sugar. Doing it with vicious force will splatter stuff all over the kitchen, so be gentle. Add an egg, a pinch of salt, and a good shake of apple pie seasoning. Mix this all up and add it to the flour mixture. Then add more flour. And more flour. And more flour. And a lot more flour. Keep adding flour. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead in more flour. If any surface of your kitchen is not covered in flour, you haven’t added enough flour. (The total is supposed to be about 4 cups, including the original 1-1/2 cups.) Grease a bowl, dump the dough into it, cover with a wet towel and let rise for a while, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
For a more soothing note, move along to “Daydream.” It’s funny: I think of piano as gentle and pretty, while guitars are supposed to be forceful; but Perri uses piano as a weapon, while her guitar-playing is more subdued and meditative. In a Perri-style switch-up, the opening guitar riffs have a Mraz-style cheeriness implying that what she’ll finally tell is all perky and bouncing through the daisies.
Oh no. The concept of this (very downbeat) song philosophically pleases me. Pop music usually frames daydreaming about someone as the prelude to romance. Perri admits that reality rarely lives up to a well-developed fantasy that would cease to be “everything I’ll ever need” if she knew anything about him. The music perks right along under vocals of sandpaper and regret.
Since I want one serving of sticky roll, I took about 1/4 of the dough and patted it into a long strip. (The rest of the dough went into the freezer.)
Get a listen to what Perri does with a glory note or ten on “Tragedy,” which is sultry cabaret singing over folksy acoustic guitar. The way she layers one approach in the vocals with another in the instrumentation makes her songs just about impossible to sing along to, but not everything has to be a participation sport.
Pat the dough with butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar, apple pie spice, and cocoa powder. The cocoa powder is important! Then sprinkle with dried cranberries. Roll up.
“Jar of Hearts” remains the diabolically brilliant track, featuring understated piano with a faint Handel-march feel and the splendid line “you’re gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul.” It is literally a funeral march for a relationship — in musical form as well as sentiment.
In a small bowl, melt a couple slivers of butter, drizzle well from your honey bear, mix, and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Drop the roll into this. Melt together a little more butter and honey to pour over the top. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 350. Then bake for 45 minutes.
This is the first time I’ve ever made a yeast roll, so I’m mildly amazed that it came out fine-textured and steamy, as it should (and surprisingly non-sweet). My guess that cocoa and cranberries would provide needed depth and complexity was right: the flavor is dark, rich, tart, and compelling.
By now we’re all wondering if Perri has a tone other than vengeful. The answer is yes. She can write a light-hearted song. Her voice doesn’t lose its edge of pain when she sings “I Think I Like You” (which is not on the EP), so lyrics that ought to imply that daisies got bounced through instead suggest hard-won affection and delight.