Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

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You may have noticed that I like to cook; when it comes to most foods, I'm always looking for new versions of my favourites. Why make plain macaroni & cheese when you can make sriracha mac & cheese? Why make a pepperoni pizza when you can make a goat cheese, leek and mushroom pizza? Why make ramen from a package when you could make kimchi egg yolk ramen? I can hardly remember the last time I made the same recipe twice; while I make loads of recipes I adore, I'm always looking for the next delicious thing or the coolest riff on something I already love.

Which is why it really means something when I say that my other grandmother (not Eleanor) makes the best cinnamon rolls. Her cinnamon rolls are so good that when December rolls around and every food magazine is coming up with new twists on the classic (orange-scented with cranberries! Chocolate with caramel sauce! Mincemeat with Marzipan frosting!), I flip straight past. Ever since I learned to cook, I've never made another cinnamon roll recipe; what would be the point?

It took the Recipe Box Project to get me to try a (slightly) new version of cinnamon rolls and no one is more surprised than me that I actually liked them! It shouldn't have been a surprise; the recipe required pre-made crescent rolls and since those aren't available here, I made my own dough according to the legendary recipe I'm attached to. But instead of her filling and glaze, I followed the Recipe Box version and it's amazing.

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So in honour of both of my grandmothers, one of whom acquired this recipe and the other who nurtured in me a love for cinnamon rolls and whose birthday is this week, here's a hybrid recipe incorporating the best of both of their recipes. Make these to celebrate your birthday, when you need a breakfast treat, when you have someone to impress, or when you just need a grandmother's hug.

the verdict:

5 spoons out of five. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with a heavily-spiced filling, all nestled in a puddle of honey butter- these are the rolls most breakfasts can only aspire to. These won't replace my slightly different Christmas morning version, but these will absolutely be served at my next brunch and are definitely going into rotation... if I can ever get around to making a recipe more than once!

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ONE YEAR AGO: CRAZY CHOCOLATE CAKE
TWO YEARS AGO: CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH DATE FILLING

the recipe:

Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

the directions:

Heat milk with butter until both are warm (butter doesn't need to fully melt), then pour into mixing bowl.
Add sugar and salt and stir well.
Add yeast mixture and stir well again.
Add beaten egg and ½ of the flour and beat until dough is soft.
If dough is still very wet and sticky, add additional flour, ½ c (60g) at a time and continue beating JUST until dough comes together and begins to come away from the beaters.
Cover with a towel and put in a warm, non-drafty place to rise.
Let rise til doubled in size (I usually leave this to go overnight so it's ready in the morning, but if you're waiting for it, will take approx. 1 hour).
While dough rises, make sauce: combine all ingredients except pecans in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth.
Stir in nuts, then spoon 1-2 tbsp into each of 12 muffin cups.
Preheat oven to 190C/375F.
Punch down risen dough then roll each piece into a vaguely rectangular shape approximately 11x15 inches.
Spread dough with softened butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Starting with the long side, roll dough into a log.
Using a sharp knife, slice log into approx. 1 ½ inch rounds.
Place each roll into a prepared muffin cup, then place in a warm spot to rise again for 30-45 minutes until the dough has filled the muffin cups, approximately 45 minutes.
Bake at 190 for 12-15 minutes or until edges are dark gold and middles are pale golden.
Remove from oven and let cool 1 minute in the muffin pan, then turn out quickly and serve immediately while still warm; sauce will be a delicious warm caramel at the bottom of each roll.

the ingredients:
the dough:

¼ c (60ml) milk
½ c (114g) softened butter, divided
¼ c (50g) sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp fast action yeast dissolved in ¼ c (58ml) warm water
1 egg, room temperature and beaten slightly
1 ½-2c (180-240g) flour

the sauce:

2 tbsp honey
¼ c (50g) sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water
¼ c pecans, chopped

the filling:

2 tbsp butter, softened
¼ c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Battle of the Apple Cakes: Apple Nut Coffee Cake vs French Apple Cake

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It's officially fall here in Edinburgh- I mean, obviously, it has been for awhile, but we've had a bit of an Indian Summer here and it's been great. Judson and I have been taking the dog for long walks in crunchy leaves that she loves to pounce around in, and she's totally camouflaged when she goes frolicking in them. I've gotten out my tonka beans and my tiny nutmeg grater, have had my annual desire to spend an afternoon peeling and chopping apples and have finally given up on stone fruit and have started experimenting with pork chops, roasts, pies and anything I can think of with potatoes in it.

I've gotten really into having friends over for brunch lately- this new habit has two root causes: 1) the brunch scene in Edinburgh is fine, but it doesn't compare to the brunch scene in any other city I've ever lived in, so there aren't a lot of options outside of my own kitchen (or at least, not options for breakfast foods I enjoy) and 2) I now have a doggo who gets me up every Saturday morning at... well, not the crack of dawn but awfully close. Which means I've got time in the morning to put the finishing touches on brunch things I prepped the night before, like quiches and fruit salads and baked eggs and loads of danishes and coffee cakes.

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My rules of thumb for planning a brunch are as follows, made up entirely by me so don't take these as etiquette gospel, but they've served me well in two cities in two countries for countless brunches with my lady friends, so you should probably still write this down:

  1. One savoury dish (usually egg-based; baked eggs en cocotte are my current go-to, but in the past I've been really into quiches laced with bacon, cheese, mushrooms or onions, and I'm about to host my first large-scale poached egg brunch)
  2. One salad (berries with mint or greens with bitter vinaigrette).
  3. One sweet dish (pound cake or homemade danishes or muffins or a sweet bread or one of these apple cakes)
  4. Hot drinks: coffee and tea
  5. Cold drinks: OJ and sparkling water
  6. OPTIONAL booze: prosecco or bloody marys or Bailey's to add to the aforementioned coffee

While banana bread or pumpkin squares or pound cake or gingerbread are all great options for a sweet dish because you can prepare them the night before, there's something about apple cakes that make your entire house smell like fall- a smell that somehow always persists until the next morning, and anyone who cooks always knows the faff that is peeling/coring/chopping a billion pounds of apples, so I feel like you enjoy it more because you know you worked for it.

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So here are two different recipes for apple cakes- one marginally simpler than the other, both delicious, one coffee-cake bar-style and the other bundt-pan, sliced and served with sauce style, but both totally worth serving the next time you have weekend guests or friends coming over on a Sunday morning or you just need a treat to reward yourself for making it through another harrowing week.

The verdict:
Apple Nut Coffee Cake:

3 spoons out of five. This is very much my own preference, because this cake was great. Crunchy cinnamon mixture on top; pillowy-soft cake underneath? What's not to like? The answer: Nothing, I just liked the other one better.

French Apple Cake:

4 spoons out of five. I knocked a spoon off because the first time I made this, it broke coming out of the pan. Since then, I've made it successfully about a billion times, but I feel like I should provide you with the warning. Caramel-y and sweet with a brown sugar toastiness you'll love, this cake is everything I love about breakfast in the autumn.

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One year ago: Red & White Delight
two years ago: Baked Noodles Romanoff

the recipe:

Apple Nut Coffee Cake

the directions:

Grease a 13x9 pan and preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Cream together shortening and sugar.
Add eggs and vanilla, then beat well.
Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream.
Fold in apples, then spread in prepared pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Stir in melted butter, then sprinkle nut mixture over pan.
Bake 20-30 minutes until cake batter is cooked through.

the ingredients:

½ c shortening or Stork
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 c sour cream
2 c apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
½ c pecans, coarsely chopped
½ c brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, melted

the recipe:

French Apple Cake

the directions:
cake:

Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Beat eggs.
Add oil and sugars, then beat for another three minutes.
Sift together brown sugar, white sugar, cake flour, baking soda and cinnamon, then add slowly to creamed mixture, stirring constantly.
Fold in apples, nuts and vanilla.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out slightly sticky (if in doubt, poke the cake a few times as batter will look thinner if you poke a piece of apple).

Glaze:

While cake cools, make the glaze.
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Turn off heat and allow to cool completely, stirring occasionally, before drizzling or pouring over cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 eggs
1 ¼ c oil
1 c brown sugar, packed
1 c sugar
3 c cake flour (or 3 cups minus 3 tbsp flour, plus 3 tbsp cornflour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3 c apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1 c pecans, chopped
2 tsp vanilla

the glaze:

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
¼ c milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make a caramel cake so good that my mom begged for it every year for her birthday. When I was old enough, and we no longer lived in the same town as that grandmother, I got the recipe from her and used to make it every year for my mom's birthday. I can't remember the recipe anymore, but I do remember that the cake took two sticks of butter and the frosting took another two. It wasn't... a diet cake. I liked it, but the star was definitely the caramel frosting, and something about the richness of caramel almost begs to be offset by a lightweight cake with a bitter tang to it- something with coffee and dark chocolate, not unlike this cake.

And this cake, you guys. I've never tasted anything so plush. It's literally the softest cake I've ever tasted, and while I usually equate that with a heavy texture and a lot of moisture, this one is actually really light and fluffy, which is a nice contrast with the heavy frosting. Also, the dark chocolate gives it a deep flavour with a hint of bitterness- perfect to complement the strong coffee (I used espresso) and contrast with the dense frosting topping it all off.

The most difficult part of this recipe is trying to spread incredibly thick icing onto the softest cake imaginable. It's not impossible, but you'll fare better if you plan to go a bit heavy-handed on the icing. I'd also recommend skipping the sides of the cake- the icing is so rich that the sides don't need the frosting, and you'll want the additional amount to help you cover the top of the cake completely.

It's a perfect cake for a celebration- deep, grownup chocolate cake with just enough coffee flavour coming through to persuade even the strongest anti-desserter among you that it's worth it and sweet, rich and buttery frosting to appeal to the sweet tooths in the group... which is why I found myself making it to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of The Recipe Box Project!

While year 2 has been markedly slower paced than year 1 was, I've still radically enjoyed working, reworking and writing up these recipes. There are moments when it feels like Eleanor is in my kitchen cooking along with me and the tiny hints she left behind on her most-used recipes are like little clues to guide me along this project... and then there are other times when it feels like she's sitting next to me yelling at me because I a) used all of the coffee at once instead of splitting it in half or b) measured out white sugar instead of brown or c) forgot to soften my butter or d) screwed up the conversion from imperial to metric before I added the butter to my cake.*

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

In two years I've learned that it's easier to keep posting regularly when I hate my job than it is when I actually enjoy my day job and the people I work with. I've learned that my kitchen in Scotland is never, ever going to be warm enough to make bread dough rise and I've learned the exact temperature I need to put the oven at in order to get my dough to rise correctly when I set it in a bowl on top of the oven. I've learned good substitutes for buttermilk, cake flour, instant yeast, Club crackers, zwieback, graham crackers and a host of other things I can't get either in Scotland or, in some instances, in the 21st century. I've also figured out exactly which recipes I can convince Judson to get excited about (anything involving marinades, meat loaf or chili) and which ones he'll whine about enough to make it worth the extra time to cook it when he's away (anything involving canned meat, Jell-O or Spam). I've got a long way to go if I'm going to make it through Eleanor's box, but it took her a lifetime to assemble those recipes, so I figure I've got time on my side.

*All of these, by the way, are mistakes I made on this cake before it was even in the pans, so don't panic next time you're facing a stupid cooking conundrum. Instead, just think of me and know that there is no way I haven't done something stupider.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This cake is awesome. I knocked off a spoon because it's hard to frost and it's so rich that you couldn't have it every week, but it's still perfect for a celebration and I hope you'll give it a try on your next one.

One year ago: Swiss Chocolate Cake (still a favourite!)
NEW! two years ago: Airy, Crustless Cheesecake (not a favourite)

the recipe:

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

the directions:
cake:

Divide coffee in half and put ½ c in freezer to chill.
Melt chocolate and ½ c coffee in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly.
Add ½ c brown sugar and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring.
Set aside.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F and line two round cake pans (9”) with paper on the bottom.
Cream butter and remaining 1 c sugar.
Add vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Beat cooled chocolate mixture into butter mixture.
Add dry ingredients alternately with remaining ½ c cold coffee.
Beat until smooth, then pour into prepared pans and cook 20-30 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Melt butter on the stove over very low heat.
Add brown sugar and let bubble over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add cream and bring to a gentle boil, continuing to stir.
Remove from heat and, using an electric mixer, beat in powdered sugar and vanilla.
If too thick, add more cream or milk to thin. If too thin, add more powdered sugar until desired consistency.
Allow to cool until lukewarm before frosting cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c very strong coffee, divided
1 ½ c brown sugar, packed and divided
½ c butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 ¾ c cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
 
 

 

the frosting:

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
¼ c cream
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla