Saturday, July 02, 2005

Cinnamon Therapy

caramelbuns, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Cinnamon can do no wrong by me – it is one of the few spices that makes me curl my toes in happiness when its scent wafts by. This is probably because I associate cinnamon with Christmas. Gingerbread cookies, mulled apple cider, eggnog…what Christmastime delicacy doesn’t contain cinnamon? Nothing worth remembering, surely. Everything served in our home at that time of the year smacked of the spice. I still remember the Christmas parties my mother used to throw where the kids would come over early and bake gingerbread men and apple tarts. While the goodies baked, us kids would (under the patient direction of my mother) rehearse poems or short Christmas-themed skits (nothing hokey like the Nativity) that would be performed later for the parents when they came over for dinner. For dessert were the treats their children had baked for them that morning.

Days after the party, I would still luxuriate in the smell of cinnamon that lingered on and punctuated the happy memories of the parties, friends and presents that had come, but too quickly gone. Cinnamon was my way of holding on to happiness.

Though I eventually (and regretfully) got too old for parties and became a fixture at the Big People dinners, I never gave up on cinnamon therapy. I would burn a mixture of crushed mulling spices and water at after-school tuition classes and each time boredom and restlessness set in, I would breathe in the scent so deeply my lungs would hurt. If that didn’t work, my typical last-resort-attempt-to-make-myself-feel-better would be to beg my mother to bake me her Caramel Cinnamon Buns. I figured that even if the cinnamon didn’t do it for me, the sugar-high-inducing caramel certainly would.

Those buns remain one of my favourite comfort foods to this day. Sure, they take a considerable amount of time to make, but they are the closest thing to a time machine to take me back to my cinnamon-infused childhood. Come to think about it though, there are definitely reasons not to pine for the past: the thought of sharing these buns with 10 other screaming kids is enough to make me thankful that my feet are firmly planted in the present.

caramelbuns2, originally uploaded by emily loke.

(Happiness Is) Caramel Cinnamon Buns
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 package (or 2 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 tsp salt
1 egg

½ cup butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon at least (I use more like 4 tbs and up)

1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 tbs corn syrup

1. Make the caramel by mixing all the ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat till bubbling, then pour into a rectangular cake pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, mix 1 ½ cups of the flour and the yeast.
3. Heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt till just warm (not boiling) in a saucepan, stirring constantly till the butter melts.
4. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and then add the egg.
5. Beat on low till just mixed, then on high for 3 minutes.
6. Mix in the remaining flour by hand to form a soft dough, then shape into a ball.
7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl to rise in a warm spot for 1 ½ to 2 hours, till doubled in size.
8. Punch down and the turn out onto a floured surface, and cover it and let it rest there for 10 minutes.
9. Mix melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl to form a paste.
10. Roll dough into a 24x16 inch rectangle, and plaster it with an even later of the cinnamon-sugar paste.
11. Roll it like a jelly roll, starting with the long side.
12. Cut* into 2-inch slices, and place into the caramel coated baking pan. Make sure to leave some room between buns because they will puff up.
13. Let rise again in a warm place for 30-45 mins.
14. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
15. Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a tray.

*Hint: Use dental floss (or thread, if you’re lacking in the oral hygiene department) to cut the rolls without smushing them. Slide the floss under the roll and hold the ends up so it forms a U shape. Cross the legs of the dental floss U and pull, and it should slice cleanly through the roll without flattening it.