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

Peanut Butter Balls & Peanut Brittle

peanut butter balls (Note the foot on the one at the front where the chocolate was too hot)

peanut butter balls (Note the foot on the one at the front where the chocolate was too hot)

The Christmas that Judson and I were engaged (2011), we gave everyone we knew homemade Christmas gifts. For the most part, these gifts took the form of festively-decorated jars full of peanut butter balls, bourbon balls, buttercream truffles and peppermint bark, all made in huge batches in my tiny flat's kitchen over the preceding weeks.

In the six years since, I've never wanted to face another bourbon ball or peanut butter ball. Actually, I had quite forgotten the existence of bourbon balls (a Kentucky delicacy made of large amounts of bourbon mixed with melted butter, ground pecans and powdered sugar, coated in chocolate and topped with a pecan half) until yesterday, when Judson caught me making peanut butter balls and said 'I'm really surprised after five Christmases in Scotland that you still haven't made bourbon balls.'

'True, but where would I get the bourbon?' I said without thinking, since bourbon here is way more expensive than stateside.

Peanut butter balls

Peanut butter balls

But then when I started thinking about it, I realised that the truth is I can't stomach the idea of bourbon balls just yet. Homemade peanut butter balls, though? These are given an exemption because they're basically higher-quality Reese's Cups, which, as we've discussed, are my favourite candy. And this recipe, with the exception of the Rice Krispies involved, is exactly how they should be made.

The recipe, with the exception of 'one box of powdered sugar,' is possibly the most concise recipe I've found in the Recipe Box to date. One 'box' of powdered sugar, though? Really? I did some googling- you know, standard Google searches like 'how many ounces in a standard size box of powdered sugar in 1975', and between those results and my own best estimations, figured it out pretty easily. The Rice Krispies, honestly, are not really necessary- I think I prefer my peanut butter candy without them (an added bonus: without the Rice Krispies, these are gluten-free), but adding the Rice Krispies definitely helps stretch the batch to be a little bigger, and keeps the candies from being quite as rich as they otherwise would be.

Some Peanut Butter Ball Tips:

  • If your chocolate gets too warm, it will puddle in a 'foot' around the base of the candy. Keep an eye on your finished candies as you go and if you notice this happening, turn down the heat or turn it off temporarily to allow it to cool off.
  • Made as per the below WITH Rice Krispies, you'll have approximately 50 balls. WITHOUT Rice Krispies, plan for about 40. Recipe can easily be doubled to make 80-100 balls.
  • Balls will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge or 4 days at room temperature.
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peanut brittle getting ready to boil

peanut brittle getting ready to boil

As for the peanut brittle... well, it was really tasty. Weirdly, there are two recipes for this exact peanut brittle in the box, one hand-written and one typed, both clearly well used. Technically, it should have been made with 'raw spanish peanuts,' but, as ever, when it comes to nuts my supermarket is always foiling me, so mine was instead made with pecans, back when I could find pecans in my supermarket. I made it without a candy thermometer (I used my meat thermometer instead like some kind of heathen) and it came out just right anyway. Except for the fact that my tin wasn't big enough and so the molten brittle was so deep in the pan that the finished product was practically impossible to break. I'm including directions below for a half-batch of what I made, so that you can use a standard 11x13 pan to pour it into. I strongly recommend using a single pan for this recipe and not trying to split the molten brittle into different pans, as you'll inevitably end up with all the nuts in one pan and the other pan full of only praline. The pictures included here are of my far-too-thick version, so yours will be roughly half this thickness.

peanut brittle

peanut brittle

Some Peanut Brittle Tips:

  • Measure and prepare ALL ingredients and equipment before you begin.
  • Lock any animals or small children or distracting husbands out of the kitchen before you start- this recipe requires no distractions and can't really be 'paused' in the middle. Plus, the molten caramel is really hot and if it spills or splashes, will really hurt.
  • If you don't have a candy thermometer, make sure you know how to tell when your mixture 'spins a thread.'
  • This can be adjusted with other flavourings as you wish: pecans, almonds or hazelnuts work just as well as peanuts, or go the Italian route and make it with pine nuts. You can also add other herbal/spice flavours by blending them with the sugar before you begin or sprinkling them in at the end (I really love a few spoonfuls of minced rosemary, muddled with the sugar or sprinkled in at the end, but cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg are all also lovely, as is a heaping pinch of smoked salt sprinkled on after the mixture is poured into the pan).
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The verdict:
the peanut butter balls:

5 spoons out of five. These are easy, delicious and have far fewer preservatives in them than store-bought candy. Pretty much they are the perfect addition to your holiday dessert collection, and, if nothing else, you should make a batch for yourself and keep them in the fridge for stressful moments over the next week.

the Peanut brittle:

4 spoons out of five. Knocking off a spoon because candy making is a bit of a faff and the cleanup is a nightmare- prepare for your counter to be covered in hardened caramel anywhere you set your mixing spoon, pan or prep dish. But as long as you follow the directions below so that your brittle is more brittle and less brick, you'll be good to go.

one year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Holiday almanac: Cream Cheese Nut bread 

The recipe:

Peanut Butter Balls

the directions:

Melt butter and peanut butter together and pour into mixing bowl.
Beat in powdered sugar.
If adding Rice Krispies, fold them in gently until well-blended.
Chill at least 1 hour until very cold.
Shape into balls between 1/2-inch and 1-inch wide. (I prefer smaller candies so there is a more even balance of chocolate and peanut butter, but you can make them as big or small as you please, and they do not have to be even since you're not baking them).
Chill balls until ready to use.
Place a large sheet of parchment or waxed paper near your double-boiler.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler over very low heat.
One at a time, drop chilled balls into chocolate, flip over with a fork until completely covered.
Lift the ball out on the fork, scraping off any excess on the edge of the pot.
Place the coated ball on the parchment paper and continue with remaining balls.

the ingredients:

85g (3/8 c) butter
8 oz peanut butter
1 ¾ c powdered sugar
2 ½ c Rice Krispies cereal (optional)
8 oz cooking chocolate (milk, dark or a mix)


the recipe:

Peanut Brittle

the directions:

Butter an 11x13 tin very heavily, especially in the corners.
If you do not have a candy thermometer, place a bowl of VERY cold water next to the stove with a small teaspoon for testing the temperature.
Combine sugar, golden syrup or corn syrup and water.
Boil mixture until it 'spins a thread,' 223-235F on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly.*
Add nuts and continue cooking until mixture is very golden brown and hits 295-300 on a candy thermometer (approx. 5 more minutes without a candy thermometer).
Remove from heat and add butter, baking soda and salt.
Stir well and quickly (baking soda will make mixture 'foam').
IMMEDIATELY pour into prepared tin, using your mixing spoon to even out the top.
Allow to cool completely before using the flat side of a meat tenderiser to shatter the brittle.

Store in a very tightly sealed container at room temperature; best served within a day or two in case it gets humid and sticky, but can be stored up to a week.

*This occurs when a very small amount of the mixture, dropped from a small spoon into the bowl of cold water, creates very thin threads behind it as it falls into the water.

the ingredients:

1 ½ c sugar
½ c golden syrup or corn syrup
¼ c water
1 ½ c nuts (plain peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts or almonds)
½ tbs butter
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

This might be the coldest winter we've had in Edinburgh since Judson and I moved here in 2013. It's definitely not the snowiest (last year), but it is cold this year and I don't think the temperature has crested the freezing point in two weeks. It's so bad that last week after catching a late showing of Star Wars at a theatre less than one half mile from our flat, we caught a cab home because it was a straight uphill walk and we didn't want to deal with it in the ice late at night. It's so bad that even when we're just running her out into the garden for a quick outing, we still have to bundle Holtzmann up in her tiny tartan jacket so she doesn't get too cold.

All that cold, alas, has not turned into snow. I still love snow with the relish of a child who grew up in Florida, and despite the fact that I get around solely on foot in this city and am not great at negotiating cobblestones disguised by a layer of ice and snow, it's still worth it when the snow falls on the castle and on these adorably cosy streets. Plus, we really want to see Holtzmann to have a chance to play in the snow. Given the refusal of the temperatures to budge, I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas.

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

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In the meantime, if it's not snowing outside, at least it can snow indoors... which is how I ended up with a batch of Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses gracing my kitchen this weekend. The Lemon Snowflakes are great- another toasty, nutty cookie that is supposed to be made with pecans and so another chance for me to use pistachios instead (if you're reading this and trying to think of a Christmas gift for me, SEND PECANS!). They're easy and they're supposed to be messy, which takes the pressure off of you if, say, you've spent the last week making intricately decorated wreaths, stars and gingerbreads.

As for the Snow Drop Kisses, these are basically just meringues with fruit mixed in, and the mystifying addition of oatmeal. I'm not very good at making meringues. Probably this is because I had never had one until age 20 when I moved to Paris, but regardless, every time I've tried to make them they've come out tan. Add to this the fact that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to be and you have a recipe for meringues that I enjoy but am too embarrassed to serve to friends. Are they supposed to be crunchy all the way through? Should they have a chewy centre? I don't really know. All I know is that I had a really hard time getting these to be firm on the outside without burning all the fruit in the middle.

Here's where I landed: 15 minutes at 150C/300F gave me a meringue with a soft, marshmallow-y centre with a dry exterior. The meringues were just this side of ivory, but when I bit into one I was pleasantly surprised to find that the oatmeal had become a crisp counterpoint to what otherwise would have been an overpowering soft/sweet mess. The apricots (my supermarket is sold out of mixed candied fruit since everyone is making last minute puddings this week) worked well and added another dimension of flavour, and overall, although these aren't pretty enough to serve to other people, I actually rather like them.

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

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The verdict:
lemon snowflakes:

4 spoons out of five. The frosting really makes these, so don't skimp on it! The heavy amount of cornstarch in the dough gives them a silky crumb, and, paired with a zingy bright frosting to cut through the crunch, they're the perfect addition to any holiday party platter.

Snow drop kisses:

3 spoons out of five. I'm really only deducting spoons for the fact that they're not very pretty. If you like your meringues soft and sticky on the inside, make these for yourself asap.

One year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Meltaway Cookies & Hot Cider

The recipe:

Lemon Snowflakes

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and butter two cookie sheet.
Cream butter until fluffy.
Gradually beat in ½ c powdered sugar, then the cornstarch and flour.
Chill at least one hour or up to overnight.
Shape into walnut-sized balls.
Spread chopped nuts on waxed or parchment paper.
Place a ball on the chopped nuts and press gently and evenly with the bottom of a glass until a thin disk is formed.
Place cookies, nut side up on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to turn light golden.
While cookies cool, make the frosting: beat remaining powdered sugar, melted butter and lemon juice until mixture forms a thick paste.
Line cookies up in rows and pour frosting over the cookies by moving back and forth in quick motions.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, softened
1 ½ c powdered sugar, divided
¾ c cornstarch
1 ½ c flour, sifted
1 c pistachios, very finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

The recipe:

Snow Drop Kisses

the directions:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F and grease two large cookie sheets.
In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites until frothy.
Add vinegar and vanilla and beat a few seconds more.
Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Continue beating until mixture is stiff and glossy and you can no longer feel any grains of sugar in it (this will take at least 10 minutes).
Gently fold in fruit and oatmeal with a spatula.
Using a teaspoon (for firmer meringues) or a tablespoon (for softer ones), drop onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake 15-18 minutes until the outsides are dry but give slightly when you poke them.

Best eaten fresh. May also be served with whipped cream like mini pavlovas.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
½ tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
½ c diced mixed candied fruit, or dried apricots
½ c oats