April 1, 2010

On Cinnamon Buns; a discussion.

Posted in Baking, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:29 pm by Dani

I was at the mall this afternoon with a friend of mine, and on our way out we smelled something we all know and love, and hate to love. Yes, kids, that would indeed be Cinnabon!

cinnabon logo

My friend told me she’d buy us a Cinnabon if I shared it with her. I couldn’t say no. Once you smell that delicious aroma, there’s no resisting. Yes, they’re 750 calories, according to Wikipedia, but hey! You only live once! I savored that gooey goodness. It was utterly oozing with buttery cinnamon and glaze. The dough in the center was just as I remember from when I was a kid: warm and soft!

cinnabon

Everyone loves cinnamon buns. Ellen Degeneres once said, “I really don’t think I need buns of steel.  I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.” Tasty. It’s also about the smell. There are certain things in life that are universally irresistible. The taste of chocolate, the sound of ocean. The smell of cinnamon buns. The late great stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg had this to say on the subject: “I like cinnamon rolls, but I don’t always have time to make a pan. That’s why I wish they would sell cinnamon roll incense. After all, I’d rather light a stick and have my roommate wake up with false hopes.”

You know what Mitch? They do sell them! You can also buy candles or fragrance oils. You can even buy cinnamon bun scented perfume, in case you want to be eaten by random passersby! Oh science, you have made my life just a little more enjoyable.

How about history? Where do these scrumptious pastries come from? Well, I don’t have any answers for you. I’ve seen lots of sources (ranging from credible to not-so-credible) talk about the origin of the sticky bun being Northern Europe. I read somewhere that they came to America via Pennsylvania from Germany. I’ve read that they come from Sweden, and in fact October 4th is national cinnamon bun day in Sweden (Our national sticky bun day is February 24th). None of these facts come from 100% reliable sources, and it is indeed a difficult thing to do, tracing the origin of a specific food. Foods evolve organically, depending on what foods are grown where, politics (which nations are doing trade with which?), and chance.

I mentioned Pennsylvania in the previous paragraphs, and it should be noted that Pennsylvania has its own style of cinnamon buns–they include raisons.

Lets talk now about what a sticky bun actually is. Historically, sticky buns are sweet dough rolls, cut, with spices (not always cinnamon). Historically, the “sticky” part of the name came from the fact that the method of keeping the buns from sticking to the sides of the pan was to douse the buns and pan in syrup. Yeah, that sounds sticky!

I know you’re all saying: when is she going to tell us what Alton Brown says? That’s right now, folks.

You may watch yourself, if you’d like. I’ll happily recap as well:

Here is the link to the second part.

The part of this episode I find most interesting is when he talks about cinnamon. Cinnamon, as he explains, is not actually cinnamon. It’s actually the cassia plant. The bark is ground to form what we buy at the market labeled “cinnamon.” There is a plethora of types of cassia plants, and each is subtly different. Cinnabon advertises the use of “Makara cinnamon.” Real cinnamon, however, only comes from one plant, and it is not as suitable for baking as cassia. The flavor is much less pungent and aromatic. Alton describes it as “meek.”

Of course, he also talks about making cinnamon buns. Basically, combine ingredients in a stand mixer (I REALLY NEED ONE), let rise, punch down and roll, fill, cut, let sit overnight, proof, bake, gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

One last thing. Check out this great t-shirt from zazzle.com!

synonym bun

Love it! Yeah, I'm kind of a nerd.

March 26, 2010

On donuts (with bacon).

Posted in Baking, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:39 pm by Dani

Straight from the things-that-seem-gross department, Bacon donuts:

Bacon Donut
I apologize for the quality. Phone camera. Who wants to buy me a camera?

Oh, so you want a little more explanation? Fine, be that way.

First thing’s first. Gotta give a quick shout out to my friend Sarah, with whom I have a friendship based entirely on our love for food. In short: We like cheese. Without Sarah’s support, I never would have had the courage to throw bacon on a donut.

 Bacon Donuts (and regular ones too!)

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now that I live (well, bake mostly) by the word of Alton Brown. So, without further ado, I give you where I started:

***PLEASE NOTE: This is not the entire episode. This is part two.

If you don’t want to watch, of if you can’t memorize all that: here is the recipe all written down for you. Food network dot com is wonderful.

First thing I do when baking from a recipe is gather the ingredients and measure them all out into containers. This might mean more dishes, but it makes everything so much easier. The end result looks like this:

Ingredients

Now lets talk about the bacon element. I really wanted to fry the bacon donuts in bacon grease, which meant I needed a lot of it. So, when I went to the market to buy bacon, I looked for the fattiest one I could find. In order to save the grease, what you have to do is lay the bacon onto a cooling rack or something similar (It needs to have holes big enough for the fat to drip through, but not too much space that the meat falls through. And of course, it needs to be oven-safe). Then put the cooling rack or equivalent into a cookie sheet or baking pan; something that can catch all the grease. This is what it should look like:

Bacon
Really really really fatty bacon. You might want to spread them out more, but I found that it was fine like this.

Bake in oven at 400 degrees F or until the fat is almost completely melted away. Be careful not to let the bacon burn because you’re waiting for the fat to melt off completely. Something to try: Maybe cut a big portion of the fat off and “cook” it without the bacon for about 10 minutes, then add the strips of meat. I didn’t do this, but it’s something to think about. I almost burned all the bacon waiting for the fat to liquify. If you really want to go all out, you could buy the fatty bacon and also a package of bacon to cook for the meat part. That way you could cook the first former without worrying about overcooking.

I poured all the grease through a regular strainer to get all the chunks out. If you have a cheesecloth you could run it through that to get a pristine oil, but this was sufficient. I ended up with about 2 cups of grease, which was enough for a small saucepan. Yeah, I know, you’re not really “supposed” to fry things in saucepans, but I can tell you from experience that it works, so who cares? This amount of grease lasted me about 10 donut holes, which was quite enough. Lastly, crumble bacon once cooled. You’ll be sprinkling it onto the donuts at the very end.

Left: Grease. Right: Bacon.

DONUT TIME!!!

Follow the instructions on the food network site I linked to at the beginning of this post. Yeah, this one. But first, read the next three paragraphs. Don’t have a stand mixer? Neither do I. Read the next two paragraphs.

two donuts: a warning
See the one on the right? That’s why you should read my advice first. The left was the second attempt. Lots of flour. You’ll understand in about 2 paragraphs.

This is the part where you’re going to think I’m crazy (assuming you didn’t already think that). I watched Good Eats, and proceeded to spend half a day trying to find a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment to borrow. Seriously. Half a day. I REALLY wan’t one. Anywho, in the end I didn’t manage to get my hands on one, so I kneaded the dough by hand. After sufficient googling, I felt confident that this would work just as well. In fact, I found many webpages dedicated to the question, “Can the dough hook ever replace kneading by hand?” I took this to mean the two are relatively interchangeable. So I used my hand mixer to mix the dough until it was too think to use with my sad little-engine-that-could machine. Then I started kneading. I kneaded for about 45 minutes total.

If you use this recipe and decide to do what I did, note that the dough will be VERY VERY sticky. One option is to flour your hands and add flour until kneading is comfortable, but I didn’t want to do that because I worried that it would ruin the fluffiness of the donuts. So instead I went the patiently-deal-with-dough-stuck-to-everything route. I just kept working at the dough even though it made my hands look like Incredible Hulk hands, only not green. At first it didn’t seem like anything was happening, but I kept working the dough until eventually it was more interested in sticking to itself than anything else. The key point here: Patience.

Also worth noting is how much flour you need when rolling out the dough. The answer is: A lot. The dough was really soft, which is good, but it also means it doesn’t hold its shape so well when you try to pull it off the counter. So remember: LOTS OF FLOUR. Again: LOTS OF FLOUR. Cover your surface ENTIRELY before you start working with the dough.

Next time we’ll talk glaze. Stay tuned.

March 19, 2010

On themed parties and cupcakes.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:02 am by Dani

This past weekend, a good friend of mine celebrated her 26th birthday with a little blast-from-the-past party: kindergarten themed! Of course, little ol’ me volunteered, well actually insisted on making the deserts. My original plan was a layer cake: plain yellow cake with chocolate ganache and strawberries. I made 1/3 of a batch of yellow cake to see how it would taste, and was heading out to the market to purchase chocolate, when I saw the cutest little girls in green vests outside my market. That’s right, it’s GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON.

Girl Scouts

Adorable

What a better way to celebrate childhood than with some girl scout cookie themed cupcakes! So here was the plan:

4 types of cupcakes, each in the theme of a girl scout cookie:

  • Tag Along: Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
  • Thin Mint: Chocolate cake with mint frosting
  • Lemon Chalet Creme: Yellow cake with lemon frosting
  • Shortbread Trefoils: Yellow cake with sugar vanilla frosting
Cupcakes

Completed Cupcakes

First, the cake. For the yellow I used Paula Deen’s basic 1-2-3-4 cake recipe. This cake recipe is a standard, crowd pleasing southern cake that every Louisiana grandmother makes for her grandchildren’s birthday.

I love Paula Deen’s desserts, even if they are a little butter heavy. This, however, I do not endorse:

But, I digress.

Lets talk cake first:

This is Paula’s recipe. Just a few notes: I made this cake twice, and it seems the key to a moist and fluffy texture is to (1) sift the flour once before you measure it (make sure you sift directly into the measuring cup) and then once you’ve got your 3 cups, sift it again. Also, (2) 6-8 minutes is a minimum creaming time in my opinion. I creamed the butter alone for a good 5 or so minutes with my hand mixer, then for at least 10 more minutes once I added the sugar. THIS REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Don’t be lazy. My shoulder was only burning a little by the time I finished, but it was worth it (if anyone wants to buy me a stand mixer for my birthday, I’d basically love you forever). Also, I added a little almond extract. I couldn’t taste almond, per se, but it gave it a little indiscernible kick. I poured the batter into a cupcake pan, filling each hole about 2/3 of the way. Cupcakes always cook faster than cakes, so I checked on the cupcakes at 10 minutes, and every few minutes afterwards. Check by inserting and removing a toothpick from the center of a cupcake. When it comes out clean you know it’s done (about 15 minutes cooking time total) and you can remove the cupcakes and let them cool.

Trefoil Cupcake

Trefoil Cupcake = White cake + sugar vanilla frosting

For the chocolate cake I used the recipe on the Kroger Baking Cocoa can. I am personally a big fan of recipes that are found directly on the products. There is an exception: recipes that refer to each ingredient according to brand. It irritates me on principle, and I try to steer clear of these. But the recipes where the only brand is the product on which the recipe is found tend to be great. The makers want to really highlight their ingredient, which means the recipe will taste great, and since the recipes are meant for the average every day grocery shopper they tend to be really simple. So here it goes:

Chocolate Lover’s Cake:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 sticks margarine (I used butter, also 2 sticks usually means 1 cup, in case your sticks are differently sized)

1/4 cup Kroger Baking Cocoa

1 cup water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

Blend sugar and flour in a large bowl (I sifted them together). Combine 2

sticks margarine (I used butter), Kroger Baking Cocoa and water in a saucepan: bring quickly to a boil. Pour over flour mixture and mix well. Add buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and baking soda, mix well. Next pour into the cupcake pan, filling each about 3/4 of the way, and baked for about 15 minutes. Do the same process with the toothpick, and be careful not to over cook any of these cakes.

Thin Mint Cupcake

Thin Mint Cupcake = Chocolate cake + mint frosting

Now you’re ready for frosting!