Cinnamon buns weren’t even on my radar until I got to third year university. In second year, life was all about learning how to live in my own place for the first time. It was about getting groceries and making my own food, sharing bathroom-cleaning duties, and paying bills. In third year though, I began to seize opportunities to leave my little apartment, to wander around and see what the city had in store for me.
On Saturday mornings, this wandering often found me at the local farmer’s market. The market was housed in an old brick brewery building and visiting all the stalls – the crusty breads, beaded jewellery, vegetables and pottery – required a significant amount of meandering, backtracking over one’s steps and getting lost. I always seemed to find the bakery with the cinnamon buns though. Maybe it was the scent, maybe the long line-up for the hot pastries that stuck to the inside of the paper bags in which they were handed out by the dozens. I quickly realized, in a way that only a trend-seeking girl in her early twenties can, that buying a cinnamon bun and sitting on the steps of the market to watch the crowds push by was a very hip, distinctly Halifax thing to do. These cinnamon buns were a little famous in the city I called home, and I was going to be a part of the trend.
And so it was that every Saturday that the books or a hangover didn’t call my name I ended up on the steps at the market, untwirling the coils of a cinnamon bun larger than the palm of my hand. These cinnamon buns were very economical for a student: they were cheap and so huge and sugar-laden that they would easily make it impossible to eat another meal for several hours. I remember a day in mid-October when I invited a friend to the market on the pretense of buying a pumpkin to carve for Halloween. In reality, this was an excuse to buy a cinnamon bun. We ended up spending the afternoon melting into the cushions of the two hand-me-down couches in my apartment, paralysed by a sugar crash.
In the years since, I have tried other cinnamon buns. Somehow, the icing was too chalky, the pastry too dry, or the cinnamon too sparsely distributed. I even tried to make cinnamon buns myself a few times, unknowingly using bread dough as the base and ending up with dense, crumbly cinnamon-pinwheeled loaves. That is, until recently, as I was unassumingly reading the local newspaper, that I came across a recipe for the sticky concoctions written by a food columnist. As I read I realized that the dough used for cinnamon buns is a mixture all of its’ own – not bread dough or thick batter but a yeasty, heavy lump to be rolled and sprinkled, cut and refrigerated and baked until golden and seeping with runny butter and bursting raisins.
And so, I set about making cinnamon buns again, hoping that they wouldn’t be as anticlimactic as my previous attempts, and perhaps even as delicious and special as the market pastries I came to love. I hadn’t realized that real cinnamon buns were refrigerated overnight before baking the next morning. The idea filled me with anticipation and excitement. What a perfect breakfast food – one that was prepared the night before and would fill the morning air with warmth and comfort. My need for instant gratification in the kitchen would have to be quelled, and so I fancied that something quite special was happening to the buns as they sat in the fridge, waiting for their debut alongside my morning tea and the sunshine streaming through my windows.
The next morning, I could hardly wait for the oven to preheat. Sure to their promise, the buns smelled incredible as they cooked. I snuck peaks into the oven, watching butter and sugar caramelise and dough brown. Soon, I slid a steaming cinnamon bun off my spatula and onto a plate and sat with it on the couch, hovering over it as I slowly unfurled the rope of sugary dough and popped it in my mouth. I had done it. I had a new favorite cinnamon bun, resplendent with the taste of pride that it had been made in my very own kitchen.
Here’s what you need:
1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, whisked lightly with a fork
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
3 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp quick rise yeast
1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
Here’s what you do:
Mix together the wet ingredients in a bowl (including the butter). Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Stir and then knead until you have a smooth, elastic ball of dough.
Place dough in a buttered bowl and set aside in the refrigerator for about an hour. After the dough has chilled, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and press into a rectangle. Spread with the softened butter, making sure you cover every inch of the dough (use more butter if you need to).
Now sprinkle with sugar and raisins, again, making sure you cover every inch and adding more if required. Dust generously with cinnamon.
Roll up the rectangle into one long cinnamonny, buttery roll. Start at one end, slicing off disks approximately two inches wide all the way to the other end.
Butter baking dish – I used a large Pyrex dish but you could use two circular cake pans. Place the buns face up in the dish so that they are squished in next to each other. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
When you’re ready to eat the buns, take them out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature for about half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350F. Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the buns are golden brown. If you can, cool them slightly before eating. Best served with a strong cup of coffee or tea.
Recipe adapted from Nadine Fownes, Chronicle Herald food columnist