Cinnamon Buns

The smell of cinnamon buns baking in the oven is hard to beat. One of the best things about baking is that you can fill your house with the aroma of delicious sweet and savoury treats but within those smells there is a definite hierarchy. Bread, chocolate brownies and cinnamon buns have to be at the top of the list; I love cake as much as the next baker but the smell of cake in the oven doesn’t quite make me salivate and prepare to overeat in the same way that breathing in the scent of pure chocolate goodness or hot, sweet, fluffy buns does.

 

Cinnamon can be bought either as sticks or as a powder but, no matter how you try to disguise it, cinnamon is tree bark. There are several species from which it can be obtained but, in essence, it is the dried inner bark of trees of the genus Cinnamomum. This genus is part of the Lauraceae family, which also includes herbs such as bay leaves (bay laurel) and the classic millennial food: the avocado. Cinnamon is extracted by scraping the outer bark off freshly cut trees, beating what is left of the tree until the inner bark detaches from the rest of the plant and finally prying off the inner bark and leaving it to dry. After all of that work, only a thickness of around half a millimetre is actually used for the spice. The cinnamon trees are far thicker than the final cinnamon sticks which you can buy but as it dries, the bark curls up into the tight spirals which can be seen in the sticks (or quills). In Sri Lanka – one of the primary suppliers of cinnamon to the world – the tightness of the curls is used as a method of grading the product.

 

There are records of cinnamon dating back over four millennia, although some believe that what was recorded as cinnamon back then was actually cassia (native to China) – another species within the Cinnamomum genus but not true cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum which is native to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar). Cinnamon was highly prized and was gifted to leaders as well as being used as an offering in temples. Around 2000 years ago, the price of a pound of true cinnamon (about 1500 denarii) was roughly equivalent to 50 months labour for the average Roman. The price dropped rapidly from there as people started to use cassia which was far more available (a mere 125 denarii per pound) and tastes very similar. Nowadays cinnamon costs about £35 per pound for the standard own brand cinnamon sticks in a supermarket.

 

The primary constituent of the essential oil in cinnamon, and the one which gives cinnamon its distinctive smell, is cinnamaldehyde. This is what infuses your house when you bake cinnamon buns. As the boiling point of cinnamaldehyde is 248°C, baking will not drive off all of this compound so there will still be plenty left in the buns after cooking to give them the taste that you want. Obviously you can change the amount of cinnamon in the filling to suit your own taste but be careful not to put too much in. If you over cinnamon your buns, the filling can trigger pain receptors in the mouth giving a feeling akin to burning – this is what hot cinnamon sweets do. In the quantities given in the recipe, you won’t experience the burn and all you will get is cinnamon flavoured, yeasty heaven.

 

These things really are divine.

 

Cinnamon Buns

For the dough:

500g plain flour

80g caster sugar

1.5 tsp salt

10g instant yeast

2 eggs

60g butter

100ml water

80ml milk

 

For the filling:

100g unsalted butter

90g soft brown sugar (or white sugar if you don’t have any brown)

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Glaze:

150g icing sugar

2tbsp milk

Pinch of salt

Optional: vanilla extract

 

 

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast.

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In a pan, gently heat the milk, water and butter until the butter has melted and the mixture feels warm to the touch but not hot.

Add the milk and butter to the dry ingredients along with the eggs.

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Mix together slowly using a dough hook until a dough is formed – this will prevent you accidentally covering the kitchen in flour.

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Switch the mixer to medium and knead the dough until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

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While the dough is rising, beat together the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the filling until it is very soft. You need to be able to spread this on the dough after it has been rolled out without tearing it.

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Grease a large baking dish. I use a tarte tatin tin.

Roll out the dough to a 24×18 inch rectangle.

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Spread the dough with the filling making sure to spread all the way to the edges.

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Roll the rectangle of dough up lengthwise into a sausage shape.

Trim off the ends as they will be messy and not have as much filling.

Cut the sausage into twelve to sixteen little spirals.

Place the spirals into the baking dish making sure to leave an inch or so between them so they can rise.

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Cover again and leave to rise for at least half an hour more or until the rolls have doubled in size.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (170°C).

Bake the cinnamon buns for 25 minutes. If they start browning too much, cover them with silver foil to stop them darkening any more.

Allow the buns to cool in the tray for about five minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack. You may have to invert them onto a tray and then back onto the cooling rack as they are very soft and you don’t want to tear them.

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Sift the icing sugar into a bowl.

Add a tablespoon of milk and mix to make a thick paste. If the icing sugar is too thick, you can add more milk but be careful not to make the icing too runny.

Spread of pipe the icing over the still warm buns. The heat will cause the icing to be absorbed more and flow into all the cracks and divots of the buns.

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These can be served either hot or cold. They are so delicious however they are eaten.

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If you are a fan of fun bread, why not try making some bagels? You can make them cinnamon flavoured too…

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a dish which is far easier to make than you would expect!

H

Banoffee Cake

If the name fusarium oxysporum cubenese doesn’t strike fear into your heart, you are probably like most people in the world. When information about pathogens, whether they affect humans, animals or plants, is disseminated to the public, the full scientific name of the causative agent is rarely used – if it is used at all. This is because most people don’t care about the tiny fungus/bacteria/virus etc. as the science of the pathogen is irrelevant to them. What they want to know is what this thing does and how it can be treated – in the cause of fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubenese, what is causes is Panama disease.

You are far more likely to have heard of Panama disease than the fungus that causes it. The name rolls off the tongue better, it’s short and it mentions a place that you probably recognise. It is also the biggest threat facing bananas. The fungus is resistant to fungicides and as it displays no symptoms on around 40% of growing stems and buds is easily spread when cuttings of the plant are taken. Banana plants are reproduced asexually – cuttings are taken and grown into new plants – so there is almost no genetic variation across the community. The most commercial variety is the Cavendish banana – the classic curved, yellow, sweet bananas you buy in shops – and the near identicality of the plants makes them highly vulnerable to disease. Genetic variation within the banana plants relies on random mutations which results in far less diversity than is gained by reproduction which requires two plants.

Panama disease has struck before. Back in the 1950s, it almost completely wiped out the Gros Michel banana – the variety that was most commonly available at the time – and banana farmers were forced to change to a new variety (the Cavendish banana) or face bankruptcy as their crops failed. There are currently some varieties of banana which are resistant to fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 4, the type that affects the Cavendish banana, but these are not commercially available yet. Changing an entire species is an expensive thing to do, the plants take time to grow and there is always the threat that the fungus will mutate again to affect the new variety of banana at a later date.

The disease has been known about since the cultivation of Gros Michel bananas started in the late 1800s – this was fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 1. The first formal identification was in Panama, whence the name derives, but the disease did not reach its devastating pandemic levels until the 1950s. When a plant is infected symptoms display first on the older leaves and sections of the tree before spreading to the newer growths. The fungus causes the equivalent of an immune response in the plant which causes it to secrete a form of gel into the xylem (the vessels which carry water around the plant – think of them like the veins of a plant). This gel forms a barrier inside the xylem that blocks it off preventing any flow along it. The plant gets the equivalent of thrombosis before the affected areas start to wilt and die.

There is still hope though. As I have mentioned, this has happened before and the banana survived so don’t be too afraid. There is a lot of ongoing research into new, resistant strains of bananas and of course, fungicides which will actually affect fusarum oxysporum. That being said, you should still definitely make this cake as soon as you can because it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. The cake takes the classic flavours of a banoffee pie and transfers them into a new form: banana bread style layers sandwiched with caramel buttercream and brûléed bananas. It simply must be tried to be fully appreciated!

 

 

 

Banoffee Cake

Time: 4+ hours including cooling

 

Caramel:

200g caster sugar

90g unsalted butter

250ml double cream

 

For the cake:

290g plain flour

125g caster sugar

100g brown sugar

250g butter

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 bananas

150ml buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

 

Icing:

To fill between the layers, use the quantities below. If you want to cover the sides of the cake too, double the recipe.

200g butter

300g icing sugar

 

Brûléed bananas:

5 bananas

A sprinkling of brown sugar

(you will need a cooks blowtorch)

 

 

To make the caramel:

Tip a third of the sugar into a heavy based steel pan – non-stick pans encourage crystallisation which ruins caramel.

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Heat the sugar on a medium heat and as it starts to melt, use a wooden spoon to gently move some of the unmelted sugar into the melted areas. Move the pan on the hob so no area gets too dark when melting. You don’t want to burn the sugar. Turn the pan onto a medium to low light for the rest of this.

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Once about half of the sugar in the pan has melted, sprinkle on half the remaining sugar and gently stir the melted areas. The sugar may start to clump but don’t worry!

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As more of the sugar melts, sprinkle on the remaining sugar and continue to agitate the melted areas in the pan to prevent burning and to bring the unmelted sugar into contact with the heat.

Once the sugar has all melted, you should have a light caramel. If it is cloudy, that means not all the sugar has melted! Swirl the sugar in the pan a little to help stir it but at this point, do not use the spoon as it will make the sugar crystallise.

When the caramel is clear, continue heating slowly until it is a deep golden colour. Swirling it gently will help to mix it in the pan so it doesn’t burn.

The moment the caramel is a rich golden brown, turn the heat to minimum and immediately pour in the double cream. BE CAREFUL – the cream will bubble and steam vigorously so make sure you are using a big pan so it doesn’t spit out of the pan. Stir the caramel to make sure it is all mixed. The area with the cream may be thicker than the melted sugar as it is cooled a little but it will remelt and everything will mix together nicely.

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Add in the butter chopped into small cubes or slices. Do this slowly and mix after each addition.

Leave the caramel to cool.

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To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (200°C).

Line three eight-inch cake tins.

Peel the bananas and put them into a bowl. Using your hands or a fork (I find hands are much faster, more efficient and give you a better end result) mash the banana.

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Pour in the buttermilk and stir it through.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the flour.

Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, add a small amount of the flour.

Slowly beat in the flour in three additions.

With the mixer on minimum, add the banana mixture and stir it through.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing them and leaving them to cool fully on a wire rack.

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To make the buttercream:

Beat the butter until light and fluffy. I find this easiest with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer but you can use the paddle instead.

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Sift the icing sugar and add a third of it with the mixer on slow as you do not want to cover your room in a cloud of sugar. Once the icing sugar has mostly been incorporated, switch the mixer back to high for a minute to beat everything together again.

Repeat with the rest of the icing sugar.

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Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooled caramel until you get to your desired flavour. Remember that the caramel will soften the buttercream so don’t add too much if you want to do intricate pipework.

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This stuff is delicious

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Once the buttercream has been made, you are ready to brûlée the bananas and assemble the cake.

Peel the bananas, slice them into 1cm thick rounds and lay them out snugly on a heatproof mat or surface.

Sprinkle with brown sugar until there is a thin layer over them.

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Using a chef’s blowtorch, caramelise the sugar – it is ok if it burns in a few places!

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Leave for five minutes to cool.

 

If your cakes are very domed, you may wish to level them but this step is up to you.

Place one layer onto your serving dish/cake board and spread a thin layer of icing over it.

Lay half of the banana on in a single layer on the top of the cake. You may wish to pipe a thin border around the edge to ensure they do not slip out but this isn’t strictly necessary.

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Add another layer of cake, icing and the remaining bananas.

Add the final layer of cake and top with the rest of the icing.

Optional: if you also wish to ice the sides, spread a thin layer of icing around the sides and on the top. It is ok if you can see the cake through this as this is only a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes and then add the rest of the icing to the outside, smooth it with a bench scraper or another flat edge that is taller than the height of the cake. You can buy specialist tools for this if you so wish.

Decorate as you see fit. I decided that I wanted to dye some of the remaining icing yellow and ice it with the same design I would use for cream on a real banoffee pie but it is totally up to you. Yolanda Gamp at How To Cake It, where the idea for this cake came from, uses toffees along with banana and plantain chips to cover the outside and give another texture if you are stuck for ideas.

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This cake made me happy

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you have a sweet tooth and are thinking of other caramel recipes, my chocolate and caramel layer cake and tart are both amazing or you could push the boat out with my white chocolate mousse and raspberry caramel tart. For something a little bit more on the simple and savoury side, my hummus and falafel recipes have gone down tremendously well so why not have a go at one of them?

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and I will be back next week with a recipe that has survived the test of time, it originated over 4000 years ago!

H