What you are witnessing here, folks, would be what they call “getting back on the horse.”
After the smoke, the blackened loaves, the almost-blazing defeat that was my attempt to make ciabatta last week, I’d begun doubting my quest to bake my way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice along with 200 plus amateur bakers around the world.
Could I really pull this off? (Without burning down my apartment, preferably.)
Should I even try?
But love can be a powerful motivator. In this case, that would be Mike’s profound love for cinnamon buns.
Since I joined the bread bakers’ challenge in May, Mike had been waiting impatiently for cinnamon bun week. And by the time cinnamon buns came up, I had begun to see a greater purpose to baking them — I thought they might help assuage my lingering guilt over a not-so-little visit I made to Stella McCartney in Paris recently. (Hey, 50%-off is pretty good, even in Euros.)
So I grabbed my saddle and called for my horse.
The buns begin easily — first, you take some sugar, salt and shortening …
… and mix it all together. Add lemon extract and an egg …
… and once that’s been beaten to a smooth consistency, add bread flour, yeast and milk and really mix it all up. Then, knead for about 10 minutes.
How do you know when it’s done? The book tells you that’s when the dough is “silky and supple, tacky but not sticky.”
This created momentary panic. Tacky but not sticky? My powers of comprehension, frankly, only go so far when it comes to baking bread.
But that’s the thing about baking along with 200 people — someone out in the ether always has an answer. In this case, that would be Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes. According to Phyl, you press your hand into the dough and pull it away — if dough sticks to your hand but then detaches itself, so your hand is clean, the dough is tacky. If it sticks to your hand and won’t come off, it’s sticky.
I was skeptical of the ability of dough to feel silky but once I touched mine, I knew what Peter Reinhart was talking about. It reminded me of a particular washed-silk Lanvin dress I once fondled that instantly inspired a great hunger in me.
“This feels like warm butter,” I remember thinking. “I want to eat it.”
Lucky for me, that could actually happen with this silken blob before me.
But first, it had to rest for more than an hour so it could rise.
Then came the tricky part — you’re supposed to roll it out into a rectangle of a certain size.
Having lost my tape measure, I grabbed the only ruler I possess — a rather naughty one I’d gotten from the Betsey Johnson Spring 2004 fashion show.
(If you’re wondering about the “Guys (heart) B.J.” printed on the right — that was the theme of the show.)
But, back to baking.
Once the dough’s rolled out, you sprinkle a fairly thick layer of cinnamon sugar all over the top.
Then you take the ends of one side and you start rolling it inward to create a cinnamon cigar or log of sorts.
I started feeling alarmed at how lewd my log was looking. My friends, of course, had plenty to say about it.
Dave Ettlin, one of my former editors at the Baltimore Sun, noted, “I guess if the recipe fell flat, you could use the adjective ‘flaccid’ — which is not often found in cooking tales.”
Next came the fun part — the log had to be sliced up to form little buns.
(Mike noted that I seemed to enjoy this slicing bit a little more than was becoming.)
The end product looked promising …
… and after letting them rest for more time, the dough rose again so the buns filled out and began pressing into each other.
Once they went into the oven, the scent of cinnamon and caramelized sugar began filling my apartment — which was a vast improvement over the smoke and burnt-cornmeal aromas that my ciabatta had produced.
They didn’t look like much when they first came out of the oven …
… but after drizzling on a lemony fondant, we were good to go.
Within minutes of them hitting the cooling rack, four h
“Better than Cinnabon,” Mike mumbled mid-bite.
Perhaps I’ll go shopping this weekend.