Book, books, books
Do you own any cookbooks? I do, and quite a few of them. In fact, what started as a small escape from the novel realm into buying a couple of second hand cookbooks on amazon has turned into a very serious addiction. It is true that I have always had a thing for books. Any kind of books. When I was younger it was penguin classics, that I bound in plastic paper so they wouldn't get damaged and stored in alphabetical order. I was also pretty in to every fantasy/sci-fi series that had more than 3 books. That must have been the prerequisite: there had to be more than 3 books in the series, preferably 10. The ideal thing was to discover the series when the author had actually finished writing, so I could just take a trip to that universe (it's fantasy we're talking about), live there for however long it took me to finish the whole thing and come back. Sometimes I discovered a series when the author was mid-way through his plot. In one case the author died and had to leave notes for someone else to finish the story and in another case I think we will all watch the last episode of the HBO series before the author publishes his last book.
Be it as it may, let's just say that I am not the biggest fan of the E-book. No matter how little space I have in my book cases, I never think about that when I press the "Buy" button on amazon or when I find a bookstore I like. It is true, however, that lately I am reading much less than I used to read and that those fantasy universes have somehow turned into food-centric universes. Most of the brown amazon boxes I get at home now contain cookbooks, but it is those cookbooks which tell a story, which make you feel like you are somewhere else, in someone else's home that I like. I am not a big fan of just reading a couple of instructions. Sometimes even the paragraph of anecdote-telling which comes before the ingredients list is even more interesting to me than the recipe itself (unless I am actually cooking from the book).
Which brings me to why or where I read cookbooks. As I said, I like cookbooks with a story, so I very often find myself reading them everywhere except in the kitchen. I might be in the living room, in bed or in the park, sitting on a bench. If I like the cookbook, I will take it everywhere with me for the first few weeks, until I have sucked everything out of it. I might even carry it around from room to room knowing that I am not even going to open it. Often, the book is there, beside me on the sofa, while I am watching something on the television or the computer. I haven't opened it, but it has to be near me. Just in case. It's a bit crazy and very ridiculous, but everyone has their thing. Except from carrying weight around very unnecessarily and having to remove quite a few books before making my bed sometimes, we can all live with this little habit of mine.
The problem with having an increasing collection of books, cookbooks especially, as they are heavier and a bit more expensive than regular books, is that you should, and I say should because I don't always follow this rule, be more careful about buying new ones. You shouldn't succumb to every pretty photo you see on the internet, every new title every one is talking about. Doesn't everyone talk about the same books at the same time? It's like there is a calendar and you can't step away from it! (or a very clever marketing person behind the authors). Sometimes it's hard. I should know.
I have to confess that I had a struggle of this kind a few weeks ago that I lost. As you know if you've ever read what I write I am obsessed with all things British, so when a couple of weeks ago I started seeing pictures of a very pretty bakery in Hackney in London with simple white walls and the word "Violet", written in California-like lettering down one of the façades. I knew it was a bad sign. I knew this fight was going to be a hard one.
I then went on to read the story of Claire Ptak, a woman who was born in California, worked in Chez Panisse and then moved to London for love and started a business called "Violet" which started of as a stand at an outdoor market and turned into this pretty little bakery, the one in the white building with the green letters. The story had too many of the keywords that trigger my interest: California, London, Chez Panisse, outdoor market. I was barely resisting the shopping instinct by ignoring the buns and cookies and just focusing on the cupcakes and frosted cakes she made thinking to myself: "come on, you don't need a cupcake book, colorful icings are not your thing".
I thought I had won this fight when I suddenly saw that she was one of the guests at "Cook residency", a Guardian column about food writers, bakers and chefs, chosen by a British editor. I was lost. Suddenly I didn't see the iced cupcakes, I just saw cookies baked with Kamut flour, banana bread with half a banana slices and burnished gold from the caramel on top and this video of Claire making cinnamon buns. That was it. I clicked the "Add to basket" button on amazon, chose another two Elisabeth David books and waited for the brown box to arrive. (Package and posting is cheaper if you buy more than one book AND I am an Elisabeth David novice AND from what I have heard what Elisabeth wrote was literature, so I am perfectly excused)
A few days later (dear, reliable Amazon), I had my brown box, my three books and I was carrying "The Violet Bakery Cookbook" around the home, happy as anything. After a first quick look, I noticed quite a few recipes I want to make, but my eye was stuck to the cinnamon buns that are not like any other buns I have ever made. Apparently there wasn't enough space in "Violet" to make yeasted doughs, so the author, inspired by the 1950's came up with a recipe for making a different sort of bun, with practically no resting times and delicious results.
For the filling
• 75g unsalted butter
• 250g light-brown sugar
• 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
For the buns
• 560g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
• 2 tbsp baking powder
• 2 tsp fine sea salt
• 2 tsp ground cardamom
• 240g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
• 300g cold milk
• caster sugar, for dipping
• butter, for greasing the muffin tray
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Butter a deep 12-cup muffin tray.
2. To prepare the filling, melt the butter and leave in a warm place so it remains liquid. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon until no lumps remain, then set aside.
3. Now make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all the dry ingredients with the cubes of butter and mix until you have a coarse meal. Slowly pour in cold milk while the mixer is running, until the dough forms a ball and comes away from the bowl. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and leave to rest for a few minutes. Gently fold the dough over itself once or twice to pull it all together. Let it rest a second time, for 10 minutes.
4. Clear a large surface, dust it lightly with flour and roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 5mm thick. Brush the dough with melted butter, and before the butter hardens, sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar. You want a good, slightly thick layer.
5. Now roll up the dough, starting at a long side, keeping it neat and tight. To get a taut roll, gently tug the dough towards you while rolling away from you into a spiral. When finished, gently squeeze to ensure the roll is the same thickness throughout. Use a sharp knife to cut it crossways into 12 even slices. Take a slice, peel back about 5cm of the loose end of the pastry and fold it in back under the roll to loosely cover the bottom.
6. Place in the muffin tray, flap-side down. Repeat with the remaining slices.
7. Bake the buns for 25 minutes. As soon as they are out of the oven, flip them on to a wire cooling rack, so that they do not stick to the tray. Dip each bun into a bowl of caster sugar and serve straight away.
From "The Violet Bakery Cookbook"