Sunday, 17 July 2011

Cinnamon Buns

It's amazing how much free time you have when you're no longer planning a wedding. We took the easy route whenever possible, tossed out as many useless wedding traditions as possible with blithe abandon, and actively scorned anything that seemed complicated or faffy. Favours? Load of nonsense! Cars? Pah! Receiving line? No, no, no, no, no. 

But despite our efforts to streamline and simplify, we still ended up having to do wedding stuff all the bloody time. There were invitations to design, print, write, envelope and post. Speeches to write and practice, table plans to draw up, print and frame, veils to make, ties to buy, wedding gift lists to compile. 

Seating plans to puzzle over, menus to post, compile and check, first dance music to decide and oh so many contracts to sign. Not to mention all the endless hours of online research and general faffing. Honestly, it's a wonder we got anything else done last year.

I'm not whingeing, and it was all completely worth it for our golden, glorious day. But it means that now, in the bright sunny uplands of married life, we find ourselves with all this time on our hands and no real idea what to do with it. It feels wrong to spend a weekday evening curled up watching a film, or reading a book. 

Aren't we meant to be checking an RSVP list or trying to learn Italian (another job we gave ourselves before the honeymoon)? Aren't there books to trawl for ceremony readings or organ music to listen to? For the love of god, who is taking care of the confetti?

Then you catch yourself and realize that it's all over now. We're free! We've done it! And you go back to watching telly, or having a bath, or painting your nails a defiantly unbridal colour (currently: glittery gold). Or you spend a few hours making Nigella's Norwegian Cinnamon Buns.

These have been calling me ever since I got How to be a Domestic Goddess and I'm glad to say that they didn't disappoint. The sheer pride in making something that looks so proper - and tastes like you could have bought it from a shop! - is overwhelming. And yes, it would probably be quicker and cheaper just to buy it from the shop, but then you wouldn't have the smug glow of self-satisfaction at your achievement. Smug, cinnamon-scented satisfaction. 

They are undeniably faffy - as is anything that requires you to knead, leave to rise, contort into rolls and leave to rise again. I think that's just my objection to cooking with yeast, full stop. Honestly, that's why the only bread I regularly make doesn't need kneading (try saying that ten times, fast).

But oh my god, these are so good. Really light and fluffy, with a burnished, crunchy top and soft, buttery, sweet inside. Whether warm from the oven, cold and buttered, these are definitely worth the faff. On a cold winter's day, when all you want is an excuse to stay inside and turn on the oven, these will be absolutely perfect. I also want to try varying the filling - I think mincemeat would be amazing. 

But even on a cold, wet day in midsummer (yes, I'm still grumpy about the weather), these are a wonderful and worthy use of your time. For everyone except couples planning a wedding. Come on, haven't you got venues to be visiting?

Nigella's Norwegian Cinnamon Buns
From How to be a Domestic Goddess
Makes around 20

For the dough
- 600g plain flour - and be prepared to add up to 200g more
- 100g caster sugar
- half a teaspoon of salt
- 21g, or 3 sachets of easy blend yeast
- 100g butter
- 400ml milk
- 2 eggs

For the filling
- 150g soft, unsalted butter
- 150g caster sugar
- One and half teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1 egg, beaten, for the glaze

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Melt the butter, beat in the milk and eggs, then stir the whole lot in with the dry ingredients. Knead it either with a dough hook or your hands, until you've got a dough which Nigella says is "smooth and shiny". I found that her measurements left me with an impossibly wet and sticky dough, so I added quite a bit more flour until I had something I could form into a ball. Did I do it wrong?  Or is it another attack of Nigella's wonky-recipe-itis?

Anyway, transfer your ball of dough to an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for about half an hour. In the meantime, mix together the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the filling, and line a big tray with baking parchment - I didn't have one big enough, so used two normal cake tins. Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Once the dough has risen, Nigella says to use a third of it to make a base layer in the tin, and make the rest into the rolls. I did this, but I don't really get the point of it - it just made the rolls harder to separate once cooked, and gave a boring uncinnamoned base to each roll. Next time, I'll just use all the dough for the next step- roll it on a floured surface into a long rectangle (about 50cm by 25cm with 2/3 of the dough, so make it bigger if you do the whole lot). 

Spread over the filling in an even layer and roll the buttery, sugary rectangle into a very long sausage shape, then cut into 2cm-thick slices and arrange in a lined tray, cut sides up. They'll swell up again so it's not a problem if there are gaps. Cutting them is tricky as they squish all over the place, but just do the best you can and use a sharp knife. Brush them thoroughly with beaten egg then leave to puff up again for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes and beware that they don't burn on top - Nigella says that they might "catch", but mine started to look pretty dark so I covered them with a loose layer of foil after about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then pull them off and scoff. See, I told you they were worth it!

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