Sunday, October 18, 2009

Better Buns

The smell of a cinnamon roll is a pretty great thing. I haven't had a Cinnabon since high school, but whenever I pass a shop at a mall or a highway rest stop, the sweet, yeasty aroma tempts me (and then I walk on by, knowing that three bites in I'll feel stuffed and sugared into a coma). Even though Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns don't have cinnamon in them, this morning, they filled our apartment with that delicious, bready, buttery scent. It didn't hurt that it was cold and rainy outside, so our home, with the scent of the buns plus a freshly brewed pot of coffee, was a pretty heavenly place to be.

Okay, enough olfactory descriptions. The recipe for these rolls comes from a forthcoming cookbook on baking around the world, and is a nice twist (ha) on the traditional cinnamon bun. Instead of lacing the buttery dough with cinnamon, you use a blend of finely chopped hazelnuts, cocoa powder and sugar. Other than that, things are pretty straightforward: make a dough from flour, yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter, an egg and lukewarm milk. Knead, then let it rise. Roll it out into a big rectangle, spread it with butter and top that with the filling. Then roll the whole thing up, slice it and pack each bun into a baking pan. And get ready for some mighty fine smells to come out of your kitchen.

The rolls are very good, not too sweet but perfect with coffee. I'm not sure how they'll taste at room temperature, but five minutes after baking, they're pretty perfect. And much better than a Cinnabon.--S

Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns
Makes 9 buns [I got 9 large buns and 3 mini buns out of the recipe]

2 1/3 c white bread flour
1 1/2 t active dry yeast
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled [I used unsalted]
1 egg, beaten
About 2/3 c milk, lukewarm

2/3 c hazelnuts
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 stick butter, very well softened

1. Place all the ingredients for the dough in a large bowl and mix to moisten the dry ingredients. Use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook to knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. Alternatively, turn out onto a floured surface or a non-stick silicone mat and knead until smooth and supple. Bring together in a ball and return to the bowl. [I used a plastic bowl because I've heard dough doesn't rise as quickly in a metal bowl.] Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size.

2. For the filling, pulse all the ingredients except the butter in a food processor until the nuts are very finely chopped. Set aside until needed.

3. Punch down the dough and knead briefly until it is smooth. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a rectangle about 16" x 12". Use a pastry brush or your fingers to spread the butter over the dough, leaving about 3/4" clear on all sides. Sprinkle the filling evenly over this. It is a generous amount, but the butter will eventually absorb it. Roll up from one long end. Trim the roll so that it measures 14" and discard the end pieces [I used the ends to make mini rolls with the filling that fell out as I cut the main roll.] Cut the resulting log at intervals of 1 1/2", so that you end up with 9 pieces.

4. Grease and line an 8" square baking pan, then arrange the dough pieces in three rows of three [I tucked the mini rolls in there too]. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until almost doubled in size. The buns will now be pressing cozily against each other; this slight over-crowding gives nice soft sides.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave in the pan for about 5 minutes before turning out in its entirety onto a wire rack. Break the buns off as needed. That way, the sides stay softer for longer.