Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers: cinnamon and sticky buns

After recently discovering the Daring Bakers group, I’m thrilled to participate in my first challenge this month. The Daring Bakers are a group of cooks and food-bloggers from around the world who, each month, all bake from the same recipe (chosen by that month’s host) and then post about it on a nominated date.

Some of the previous challenges have looked difficult, so I was pleased that my first challenge, hosted by Marce at Pip in the City) was Cinnamon and Sticky Buns. I love baking with yeast, so this, to me, was the perfect introduction to the Daring Bakers world.

The recipe was relatively straight-forward and easy but, because it involved yeast, it also involved time. The recipe called for instant yeast, but I only had dry yeast, so I warmed the milk and sprinkled the yeast over, then set it aside for 10 minutes to activate, rather than mixing it at the same time as the flour and milk, as specified in the recipe. I also struggled a little with the conversions from American measurements to Australian. The recipe called for 1 1/8 to 1 ¼ cups of milk. I used 1 Australian cup (250ml) but I think this may have been too much, as my dough was sticky and I needed to add extra flour. However, it didn’t make a difference to the final result. I used my trusty Kitchen Aid to do the kneading for me and the dough rose beautifully in the two hours’ proving time.

The recipe provided information for both cinnamon and sticky buns, so I decided to make half a batch of each. The cinnamon buns are made by sprinkling a mixture of sugar and cinnamon over the dough. Because we were allowed to modify the spices to our taste, I used a mixture of cinnamon, ginger and allspice.

The sticky buns are made the same way but they are then baked in a tray filled with caramel glaze, which adds an extra sweet dimension. The cinnamon buns are delicious but I found them to be a touch dry, so the stickiness of the caramel glaze alleviated the dryness. I wasn’t going to make the fondant icing but the cinnamon buns looked bare and dry without it, so I decided to quickly make a batch. Other Daring Bakers had warned that the quantity was far too much, so I only used 2/3 cup icing sugar with a teaspoon of milk and even this was far too much. The icing was excellent though and enhanced the buns.

I imagined the caramel glaze to be like a thick, hard caramel but it was more like a thick butter icing. The recipe called for corn syrup, which is not used very much in Australian cooking. I actually had a jar in my pantry, as I recently used it in a chocolate cake glaze, but I think golden syrup would make an acceptable substitute. I find corn syrup to have a weird aftertaste but it is strangely addictive.

My husband and family adored these buns, particularly the sticky buns, and they quickly disappeared. The recipe looks long but, broken down in steps, it’s actually quite easy and the results are rewarding. I will definitely be making these buns again. Congratulations to Marce on a great choice of recipe and I’m looking forward to next month’s challenge!

I’ve copied the recipe below as it was published to me, but I’ve added in metric conversions where I can.

Cinnamon and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice)

Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) - twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) - sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

  • 6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) (95g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) (455g) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast*
  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
  • White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
  • Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
  • Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo below for shaping the buns.

(A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump.
(B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

Step 4 - Prepare the Buns for Proofing:

· For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.
· For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 - Proof the Buns:
Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 - Bake the Buns:

· Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.
· Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 7 - Cool the buns:
· For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.
· For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns: White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns
Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California. NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
  2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
  3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random food jottings

A few days of annual leave from work gave me the opportunity to wander Melbourne's streets and sample our eclectic range of foodie treasures. We are so spoiled for choice in Melbourne with the quality and range of the food venues we have. Here's a sample of what I found in my jaunts around our fair city.

Noisette, Bay St, Port Melbourne
I've heard good things about Noisette patisserie and boulangerie in Bay St, Port Melbourne, so it was great to drop in for breakfast and sample the range. Noisette has a modern, stylish interior, with a chocolate-brown banquette lining one wall, facing out towards glass cabinets loaded with sweet and savoury delicacies: pain au chocolat, almond croissants, danishes, brioche, baguettes and boxes of little biscuits. We planned to share an escargot and an almond croissant, but I took one bite of the croissant and knew I couldn't share. The crescent of flaky pastry is filled with a dense sweetish almond filling and topped with almond flakes dredged in icing sugar. We ordered a pear and chocolate danish to share instead. The escargot was filled with plump sultanas and had a nice firm texture, while the chocolate and pear combination was a perfect match and not too sweet. The coffees were smooth and well-brewed and the cafe latte was served in a groovy giant egg-shaped cup. We left empty-handed but could easily have loaded up with some baguettes and sweet brioches. I will definitely be revisiting Noisette.

Babka, Brunswick St, Fitzroy
In all my years living in Melbourne and dining in Brunswick St, I can't believe I've never visited Babka. It was time to rectify this, so I popped in at lunchtime and perched myself in a window seat. The window bench is nice and wide, allowing plenty of room to spread out a newspaper to read without encroaching on your neighbour's space. Despite the note on the blackboard menu warning of a 20-minute wait, I ordered the dumplings, and enjoyed a well-made flat white while I waited. The 20 minutes passed quickly, as I had my head buried in Epicure, and soon enough a plate of fat dumplings was placed before me. I ordered the mixed dumplings - some came with potato and others with a mushroom mix. The texture was beautiful - filling but not heavy. A plate of dumplings with no greens or salad might seem like a heavy dish, but the accompanying dollop of sour cream, topped with snipped chives, was a perfect counterbalance and this was a satisfying meal. I enjoyed many types of pierogi in Poland and these dumplings reminded me of the pierogi - something I had not yet found in Melbourne.

Jasper's Coffee, Brunswick St, Fitzroy
This is heaven for a caffeine addict. The aroma of coffee beans greets you was you walk in the door, with buckets of coffee beans from around the world on display to tempt you. There are descriptions of the different characteristics of each bean type and the helpful staff are more than happy to talk you through the beans on offer, carefully listening to your coffee preference and the type of machine or coffee gadget you have at home so that they can tailor the type and ground of bean accordingly. There's also loads of coffee gadgets, such as knock bins and tampers, on display, as well as shelves full of chocolates. This is a great place to be tempted out of your caffeine comfort zone.

Hausfrau, Ballarat St, Yarraville
This an airy, welcoming little bakery-cafe that is also relatively pram-friendly. It fills like a European bakery, with the staff decked out in cute little headscarves and deliciously sinful cakes, such as Esterhazy torte or Swiss chocolate cake, filling up the glass display cases. and A long bench, lined with colourful cushions, runs alongside the plate-glass windows that look out on Ballarat St. There's over-sized cooking implements, such as a whisk, hanging from one wall, while two lovely old enamel jugs full of water are set out on a wooden tray so you can help yourself. There is a stack of cooking and design magazines available for you to peruse while you eat lunch or drink coffee. The glass counter holds a mix of sweet and savoury items, with large cakes and tortes also available to take away. On the day I visit, the items on offer include salmon and cabbage coulibiac, sun-dried tomato tarts, quiches, meringue roulade, berry muffins, sacher torte, lemon slice and custard tarts. Jock's Ice-Cream is now also available.

Andrew's Choice, Anderson St, Yarraville
I've read lots of recommendations about Andrew's Choice, a traditional old-fashioned butcher in Yarraville, so I finally made the visit. What a treasure trove! This is more than just a butchery. Of course there are all types of meat available, including the famous cheese kranskys, thick steaks, juicy roastsand plump sausages, but the shelves of the shop are lined with all sorts of foodie treasures, such as Maldon sea salt, jars of duck fat, Phillippa's bread and biscuits, spices, mustards, vinegars and oils. I could have spent hours and hundreds of dollars there, but I contented myself with buying four fat cheese kranskys, which more than lived up to their reputation. They were juicy and full of flavour and I will be back for more soon.

Queen Victoria Market
How could I not mention my favourite food place in Melbourne? It has been too long since I last visited and I just wanted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. It was good to buy my old favourites: spinach and pine-nut dip, a block of creamy Warrnambool butter, marinara mix, fillets of fresh fish, some sausages and rissoles for a family BBQ, and loads of fresh fruit and vegetables at fabulous prices. Apart from convenience, I don't know why anyone would bother buying fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. The quality and range of produce available at the Vic Market is amazing. I love being able to chat to the stallholders and to ask their advice and opinion on what's best that week or how to cook something unusual. We are so very fortunate in Melbourne to have this market in our city and long may it thrive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Orange cake

I recently wrote about the treasure of lemons and their versatility. Give me a bag of lemons and dozens of recipes flow through my mind. Give me a bag of oranges and my repertoire is more limited. I don't know why this is. I'm a big fan of oranges but I've just never cooked much with them.

Although my orange recipes are limited, the few I do have are pretty special. I have a recipe for "The Amazing Orange Cake", a recipe by Margie Agostini of Caffe Agostini in Sydney that she gave to my all-time favourite cook Jill Dupleix to generously share with her readers. It more than lives up to its name - it's the most rich, moist, buttery cake I've ever eaten and seconds is not enough. I think this is the best cake I've ever eaten (and that's a big call from someone whose first preference is for chocolate or lemon cake). But there's a certain freshness and lightness to an orange cake that is different from the tang of a lemon cake or the dense sweetness of a chocolate cake.

The Amazing Orange Cake is an "occasion cake", one to make to impress guests. It's also huge, using half a kilogram each of flour, butter and sugar, and takes more than an hour to bake. So for times when I feel like an easy cake, I make my mum's simple orange cake. She made this cake all the time when we were kids and I can see why. It's a simple cake, using the bare minimum of ingredients that are always in the pantry. It takes a few minutes to mix up and just half an hour in the oven.

Having recently received a bag or enormous juicy oranges as a gift, I quickly whipped this up and it was gone within the day, which is always a good recommendation!


125g butter
180g sugar
250g self-raising flour
2 eggs
juice and rind of 1 orange with enough milk to make 1/2 cup liquid

Cream butter and sugar, add well-beaten eggs, then add flour and lastly liquid of juice and milk and finely grated rind. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) in an orange-cake tin (I used a loaf tin) for 35-40 minutes.

For icing, melt 1-2 teaspoons of butter, then sift in 2/3 cup of icing sugar and mix with orange juice (and some fine zest if you like) to make a soft icing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday morning tea - crunchy amber cake

I recently wrote about the treasured recipes in my grandmother's cookbook and mentioned in passing that a 'crunchy amber cake' won the 1965 Butter/White Wings bake-off. I then received an email from Sally, who had eaten Crunchy Amber Cake many years ago and was keen for the recipe so she could make it again.

I must admit that when I initially looked at the recipe, I was dismissive of it. But, in the interests of research, I thought I should try the recipe before I posted it for Sally, so at least I would have an idea of what the cake was like.

Well, I'm glad I tried it! My initial scepticism was misplaced. Although there are several steps involved in making this cake, it's surprisingly easy to make and looks quite impressive. A butter sponge is sandwiched together with a caramel custard and topped with a meringue topping that is browned in the oven. The finished product looks quite impressive (sadly I don't have a photo to show, as the hungry hordes descended on the cake the moment it came out of the oven and demolished it before I could get the camera) and would make a nice dessert cake. It's quite sweet, so small slices suffice. However, because of the meringue topping, it's best eaten on the day it's made.

As supplied by Mrs B. D. Calvert of Tasmania - the winner of the Butter/White Wings 1965 bake-off competition.

Cake mixture
125g butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 whole egg, plus one egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat lightly. Fold in flour alternately with milk, mix well. Divide mixture into two 7-inch layer tins [note - I used one 8-inch round cake tin and just sliced the cake in half]. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 20 minutes [if you bake in one tin, the cake will take 30-40 minutes to cook]. Remove from tins and cool.

90g butter
4 level tablespoons brown sugar
2 level tablespoons cornflour
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat. Add cornflour and salt and stir until smooth. Return to heat and cook gently, stirring all the time. Beat together the egg yolk, milk and vanilla. Add slowly to mixture and stir well. Bring to the boil and cook for two minutes. Cool. (The mixture should thicken as it cools, so you may need to put it in the fridge to thicken it up. You want it to be spreadable but not runny).

2 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon coconut
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon slivered almonds

Beat egg whites stiffly; add sugar slowly. Beat until smooth. Combine coconut, sugar, cinnamon and almonds in a separate bowl. Spread the filling between the cakes. Spread the egg-white mixture over cakes, then sprinkle the sugar and spice mix over this. Heat the oven to 200 degrees and turn off. Place the completed cake in the oven for five minutes to set the topping.