Monday, 11 January 2010

Baking not dieting

As I said in my previous post, the New Year always brings thoughts of dieting (thoughts, not action unfortunately) and as night follows day, so are thoughts of dieting followed by the desire to start baking. What really set me off was spending some time looking through my cookery books trying to decide what to cook for friends next weekend. I love that process of browsing through recipes, looking for inspiration, trying to develop a theme or a mood for a menu. Most of the time it's just aspirational fantasising and I end up thinking, oh I'll just make my failsafe chicken chorizo roast thingy and buy some ice cream. But I still enjoy the feeling of possibility evoked by my preliminary explorations of the pages of my cookbooks.

What with all the snow, I was deep in wintery Mittel Europa mode. I have a fantastic book by Diana Henry called Roast Figs Sugar Snow celebraring winter cooking of Russia, Scandinavia and Central Europe. It's all snowy fields, log cabins and frosted leaves. It is food porn of the highest order - food, travelogue and interiors. I'm not actually going to cook anything from it, I just enjoyed pouring over the pictures and fingering the pages, mentally donning furs and awaiting Omar Sharif ....

My bed last Saturday morning - bliss! No Omar Sharif, just cookbooks.

All this Central European / Scandinavian fantasising, plus my recent visit to  Peter's Yard bakery put me in the mood for some baking. I used to make these cinnamon buns regularly when I was playing at country life in Cumbria and frankly, didn't have a lot else with which to fill my time! They are from Nigella Lawson's wickedly indulgent baking book  How to be a Domestic Goddess. This is the sort of book that makes me whimper with pleasure just to read it. Mmm, is something missing from my life perhaps....?!

The great thing about these buns is that they are easy and also fun to make, in that way that playing with plasticine is fun. There's a bit of gentle, tactile faffing involved. They  are delicious - dangerously so. Do not bake them unless you have friends coming round. You will eat ALL OF THEM. You have been warned. Best of all, you can freeze them before you bake them, and then you can be about 30 minutes away from aromatic, warm, sticky cinnamon buns whenever you feel like it. And frankly, that is the only way you are ever going to eat them for breakfast. Even with jet lag, it's unlikely that I'm going to get up early enough to make bread dough from scratch in time for breakfast.

I used to make these with the easy danish pastry recipe from the same book. With danish pastry, they have a delectable, flaky quality, but they are even more fattening than the bread dough version. I leave it up to you! This time, I stuck to the original enriched bread dough version. You could easily mess about with the cinnamon /butter filling and add some raisins, or finely chopped pecans. I just love cinnamon, so I want the unadulterated hit of spice.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

For the dough
600g plain flour
100g sugar (I used soft brown sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
21g (i.e. 3 sachets) easy-blend yeast
100g butter
400ml milk
2 eggs

For the filling
150g softened, unsalted butter
150g sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or a bit more if you like cinnamon a lot!)
1 egg, beaten, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 230C or Gas Mark 8

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Melt the butter and whisk it into the milk and eggs, then stir this liquid into the flour etc. Mix to combine and then knead until it is smooth and springy. (NB I did this in my mixer with the dough hook. My mixture was very soft for some reason, and I added about 50g extra flour as I mixed it until it was still quite sticky, but firm enough to form a proper ball.) Leave to rise in an oiled bowl, covered with cling film, for about 25 minutes.

Before ......

After! You only need to leave the dough to rise for 1/2 an hour. This was after 1 1/2 hrs. I got distracted. Magnificent, if a little alarming!
Roll out the dough, on a floured surface, into a large rectangle. I did this with half the dough at a time, to make it more manageable. Each rectangle was about 25cm x 35cm. Spread the filling mixture evenly across the surface of the dough. Then, roll up the dough from the longest side, so you get a swiss roll of dough. Then, cut the roll of dough into 2cm deep slices.  Sit these rounds of dough in a greased baking tin, lined with baking parchment. Don't squash them together as they will swell up as they prove. Brush them with beaten egg, and leave to prove for about 15 minutes, then put them in the oven to cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Ready for the oven - glazed, and then sprinkled with a little demerara sugar and more cinnamon.
The 'ta da!' moment is slightly spoilt by the fact that I burnt the damn things. I quite often burn things, but usually out of bad judgement or absent-mindedness. This time it was because I relied on the recipe. I just banged them in the oven at the specified heat, set the kitchen timer and didn't look at them again until the buzzer went. You should never do that! They still tasted good, if with the faint tang of charcoal mixing with the cinnamon.  If I bake some more and don't burn them, I'll put another photo up. You can see how they continue to puff up whilst baking and fill the tin. You could make them nicely sticky by pouring some more melted butter over with them when they come out of the oven, with an additional sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.

But this is the most satisfying aspect of the whole exercise ..... I now have a freezer full of ready to bake cinnamon buns. I put them on a baking tray, left them to prove and then popped them in the freezer, still on their trays. When frozen, I transferred them into a plastic bag, which is now stashed ready in the freezer. Now what other defense do you need against the snow?

I was on such a roll (ouch - no pun intended!) I then made my first ever batch of choux pastry - parmesan choux puffs. As practice for possibly making these next weekend. Very successful though I say it myself. And not burnt.


All in all a very satisfactory winter's Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Making the best of jet lag

The disadvantage of jet lag this week has been that I could barely stay awake beyond 8pm. To tell the truth,  I was struggling beyond 3pm at the beginning of the week. The advantage of said jet lag has been that I have been wide awake and perky at about 6am. I am not a morning person generally. Yet, I do love being out and about early, with the day stretching ahead of me, full of potential. The fact that this potential is usually frittered away during the day by doing things like sitting around reading, or checking my e-mail account 50 times, or watching re-runs of Friends that I could probably recite I've seen them so many times, doesn't dull my naive, unrealistic sense of expectation in the dawn hours.

So, what a thrill to be wide awake with all that time stretching promisingly ahead of me. Even time enough before going to work to do something other than throw clothes on and bolt some breakfast.

On Thursday morning, having lain in bed wide awake for about an hour, we decided, somewhat bizarrely to go for a walk - this was 6.30am! It was wonderful. The snow still clean and firm, making that polystyrene squeak under our feet, glittering in the streetlights. The freezing air giving my cheeks that prickling sensation, somewhere between invigorating and painful. Very few people around (unsurprisingly!) except a lot of joggers!

Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags across the Meadows

Of course, this being us, we couldn't just go for some healthy exercise - it had to end with some indulgence. Believe me, there are no cafes open in Marchmont at 7am. However, after slithering our way across the Meadows, we discovered the windows of the Swedish bakery/cafe Peter's Yard glowing a warm, candlelit welcome. After all the travelling we've been doing lately, sitting in a Swedish style cafe in the pitch dark eating exotic cardamom buns and lingonberry jam only added to our sense of displacement. Erm, what country are we in?

I was also so excited about my breakfast that I didn't think to take a photo until we'd nearly finished. So, instead of the crumbs pictured here, imagine hunks of rye bread fresh from the oven, hand-made crispbreads and little pots of home-made jam. One of the amazing cardamom buns is pictured - it didn't last much longer.

Two things strike me posting this. Firstly, this blog is pure hedonism, and frankly, my life is quite hedonistic. Good thing or bad thing? I don't know. Secondly, the minute my mind turns to dieting (in the post Xmas despair, heightened by the viewing of the Australia photos, in which I look like I have been drawn to a larger scale than my sister and friend - big cow, close up, in the words of Father Ted) I start having hearty cafe breakfasts and baking. Mmm - doesn't bode well for dieting does it? Might as well strike that New Year's Resolution from the list - again. Brand new year - same old me.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

I'm back!

Well here I am again, at last. Virtually and physically, in that I'm back blogging and back home after our Christmas trip.

Where have I been? Here's a clue:

Recognise it?

How about this..........?

No? I think this will give it away .....

Yes. We were in Sydney for two weeks, visiting my sister and her family. We also spent 3 days in Melbourne, catching up with a friend whom we met 12 years ago on our honeymoon and whom we haven't seen since. It was great to catch up and amazing how comfortable and relaxed things were right away.

The sharper eyed amongst you will notice that despite the fact that December is high summer 'down under', the weather in these pics is dull and cloudy. This was definitely a case of 'be careful what you wish for'. For the first few days, with the temperature hitting the mid 30s, we spent the whole time whingeing that it was soooo hot. From Xmas day onwards, it rained most of the time!  Although it was a shame not to see everything against a bright blue sky, it was probably better for us to put up with a bit of rain and benefit from slightly cooler temperatures. We still moaned about the weather though, in that great British tradition. It makes me laugh that the most frequently used 'app' on my whizzy i-phone is the weather app. I've got a variety of places programmed in, so I can check up on the temperature and forecast at the mere touch of a button, or as I should say in the case of the i-phone, the stroke of a screen. So, whilst we were in Sydney, I would regularly be exclaiming - "My God, it's 38 degrees in Sydney and its -6 in Edinburgh!". Or, "Thank God, it's forecast to be cloudy and 26 degrees in Sydney for the next 3 days..."

Neither C and I are built for hot climates. I don't like extreme heat (and by extreme, I confess I mean anything above about 28 degrees) but I do like a bit of sun and warmth. C however is never happier than when in drizzle, or gale-force winds, or sleet. It's the celtic genes I think. 

Ironic then that we managed to be across the other side of the world and miss the first white Christmas in the UK for years. Not that we've missed the snow though. I know everyone here is sick of it by now, but I'm still thrilled, having only been experiencing it since Monday. Plus, I can walk to work and to the shops etc, so it's not really an inconvenience. Since we've been back, the i-phone has been out regularly so I can check my weather app and exclaim - It's minus 10 in Edinburgh - and it's 32 degrees in Sydney! Does it make me weird that I am much happier in the minus 10 than in the plus 32 degrees?Sydney Harbour under cloud.