For the Love of Baking: Lake City’s Ellis Family Showcases Favorite Iowa Farm Recipes (Caramel Rolls, Pumpkin Bars and More!) 

While some kids run lemonade stands, Tori Ellis, 11, sells homemade caramel rolls, pumpkins bars and more from a food stand in her family’s front yard along Main Street in Lake City. As she and her older sisters Aspen and Payton earn money for dance classes and dance competitions, they’re also learning the fine points of baking, using recipes passed on from their great-grandmother and grandmother.

“You kellis-girls-baking-sept-2016-1now it’s always good if you make it yourself,” said Aspen Ellis, 18, who is a senior at South Central Calhoun High School and reporter for the local FFA chapter.

The Ellis girls learned to bake from their mother, Dannette (Smith) Ellis, who credits her mother, Jean, for teaching her learn how to cook. The Ellis family enjoy favorite recipes from the Smith and Schleisman sides of their family, including Grandma Loraine Schleisman’s famous caramel rolls and chocolate chip cookies. Other recipes, such as a creamy vanilla dessert and hearty beef stroganoff, are Dannette Ellis’ own creations. All have passed the Smith family’s “field test.”
“We take many of the things we make to the field at harvest or to the crew at our family’s hog barns,” said Dannette Ellis, whose girls get inspired by cooking shows like “Cake Boss” and “Good Eats” on TV.

Experimenting with new recipes is especially fun for Toi Ellis, who has sold homemade treats since she was seven years old. She’s glad her family bakes caramel rolls about every other week, since she has been known to sell 15 dozen in only three or four hours. “Baking makes the house smell like fall,” she said.

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Dannette’s Pumpkin Bars

1 can pumpkin (or 2 cups fresh pumpkin)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 / 4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients. Bake in an 11-inch by 17-inch jellyroll pan for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Frost with cream cheese frosting of your choice.










Grandma Schleisman’s Caramel Rolls
Don’t want to make caramel rolls? This recipe can also be used to make dinner rolls. Just don’t dip the knots of dough in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and skip the caramel sauce.

2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups shortening or lard
3 teaspoons salt
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 packages yeast (2 1 / 4 teaspoons per package)
1 cup warm water, plus 5 cups warm water (or use potato water)
5 to 10 pounds flour
2 1 / 2 sticks of butter or margarine, melted
3 to 4 cups granulated sugar
Cinnamon, to taste

Mix together sugar, eggs, shortening, salt and mashed potatoes. (The Ellis family uses their large stand mixer for this process.) Set mixture aside.

Mix together 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast in a glass bowl. Let mixture rise about 15 minutes.

Begin adding flour and water to mixture of sugar, eggs, shortening, salt and mashed potatoes. Add flour (a large spoonful at a time) and alternate with the 5 cups of warm water. Keep mixing and adding flour and water. When about half the water has been added to the dough, add the yeast water mixture. Continue to add flour and water until the water is gone and the dough begins to form a ball.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Knead the dough until it’s nice and smooth. Divide dough into two balls; place each one into large bowls that have been lightly greased with oil. Then cover each bowl with a damp towel.

Place bowls of dough in the warmest part of the house to let dough rise until it has doubled in size. Punch dough down. Cover bowls with a damp towel again. Let dough double in size once again.

Make the caramel topping (see recipe below). Pour caramel into 9-inch by 13-inch pans. (The caramel roll recipe makes 5 to 6 dozen caramel rolls. You can get 12 rolls into one 9-inch by 13-inch pan.)

In a bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Melt butter or margarine in a separate bowl.

Punch down dough. Take a handful of dough and roll on the countertop. Form a strip of dough; then dip into the margarine and then into the cinnamon sugar. Tie dough into a knot. Place each knot on top of the caramel in the pan. Continue until dough is gone.

Bake each pan of rolls about 25 minutes, or until rolls are dark brown. The rolls need to be fairly dark on top in order for the middles of the rolls to bake properly. Cover rolls halfway through baking so the tops don’t get too dark. When baking is complete, let the rolls cool on the counter for about 2 minutes. Put tinfoil on top and flip pan over to invert. The pan should come off with no problem.

Let rolls cool. Store in air-tight plastic containers. Makes 5 to 6 dozen rolls.


Caramel Topping
2 / 3 cup brown sugar
1 / 4 cup margarine (Imperial brand margarine works well)
2 tablespoons corn syrup

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Cook 1 minute, and then stir. Then cook 1 more minute. Pour mixture in bottoms of 9-inch by 13-inch pans.


Grandma Schleisman’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies
A mixture of shortening and butter help these cookies achieve the right shape and texture when baking.
1 1/3 cups shortening and butter (combine a mixture of roughly half butter and half shortening)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 / 2 cup chocolate chips

Using a mixer, combine all ingredients except chocolate chips. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Chill dough in refrigerator for 1 hour. Scoop out balls of dough onto baking stone or pan. Bake about 12 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cookies are nicely browned. Store cookies in air-tight container. These cookies freeze well, too.

Dannette’s Sugar Cookies
Almond extract adds a special flavor to these cookies, which work best when they are rolled out thin and are not overbaked.

1 cup margarine
1 1 / 2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 / 2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1 / 2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream margarine, powdered sugar, egg, vanilla and almond extract together until smooth. Add dry ingredients until well blended. Chill dough at least two hours, or overnight. Roll out dough on a floured surface to desired thickness. Cut dough with cookie cutters of your choice. Bake cookies on greased cookie sheet or baking stone at 350 degrees until bottoms and sides of cookies start to brown. Frost when cool.


Dannette’s Sugar Cookie Frosting
1 / 2 stick margarine
Dash of milk for right consistency
1 teaspoon almond extract
Powdered sugar (enough to make a nice, smooth frosting to coat the cookies)

Combine all ingredients together. Frost cookies, as desired.

Dannette’s Vanilla Dessert
This takes great on a crisp fall day with a warm cup of coffee.

1 / 2 cup walnuts
1 cup flour
1 / 2 cup margarine, melted
1 8-ounce contained whipped topping, reserve 1 cup
1 cup powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 3-ounce packages instant pudding (any flavor is fine, although the Ellis family prefers vanilla)
3 cups milk
Chopped walnuts for garnish

For the first layer, combine walnuts, flour and margarine. Pat mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees, and cool completely.

For the second layer, cream together 1 cup whipped topping, powdered sugar and cream cheese. Mix well. Spread over first layer in pan; chill.

For the third layer, combine pudding mixes and milk. Beat until thick. Pour pudding over second layer in pan; chill.

For the fourth layer, spread the remaining whipped topping over the third layer. Garnish with chopped walnuts. Refrigerate.


Dannette’s Beef Stroganoff
The Ellis family likes to serve this hearty stroganoff over mashed potatoes and cooked noodles.

2 pounds ground beef
1 / 2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon beef bouillon
Salt, pepper, onion salt, garlic, meat tenderizer, to taste
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 soup can of milk
1 / 2 cup sour cream

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain fat. Add onion, garlic, beef bouillon, and seasonings. Cook until browned. Add cream of mushroom soup and milk. Cook for 5 minutes. When ready to serve, add sour cream.

I originally wrote this article for Farm News, Ft. Dodge, Iowa. 


One response to “For the Love of Baking: Lake City’s Ellis Family Showcases Favorite Iowa Farm Recipes (Caramel Rolls, Pumpkin Bars and More!) ”

  1. Laura says:

    It looks delicious. Wish I lived closer to sample! Question, what temperature is oven to bake the Caramel Rolls?
    Thank you

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