The Sea (and Fudge!)

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I went to Brighton this weekend to see my friend Tash, and ate my way through a lot of fudge. A lot.
A lot-a lot.

There’s a little shop in The Lanes that has very good fudge – my favourite is the fudge with sea salt. The runner up is the one with maple and walnuts. I basically end up just eating my way through the box looking for a piece with sea salt, which is how I end up giving myself heartburn. What a tough life I lead. Still, 3 am fudge-induced heartburn is no joke.

It was brilliant to get a good dose of salty sea air and pale Autumn sun.

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We went on the worst, least scary and very rubbish, and therefore most awesome, haunted house ride, the Horror Hotel, on the rickety Brighton pier. And did you know, in Brighton there’s a place called Doughnut Groyne? I kid you not.

We went to the beach and took off our boots and listened to the sea for a while, and I found a bunch of very cool rocks to bring back to Brussels, and managed not to get pooped on by any seagulls.

Also, this happened:

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We took a side trip to Lewes (which is apparently pronounced ‘Lewis’) where we had a pub lunch and a wander around the country side, and saw a cloud shaped like a long-necked dinosaur.

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We also saw several brilliant signs:

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I ate bangers and mash twice, and drank a lot of tea, and stocked up on mini cheddars and M&S percy pig gummies before catching my train back to Brussels.

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Cinnamon Buns (Kanelsnegle)

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This Summer I went to Sweden for my aunt’s 60th birthday. My parents and I flew up to Copenhagen and then drove over to Sweden, where my family has a little house in the woods in Dalarna.

To celebrate my aunt’s birthday we went on a treck across Store Mosse (the Big Bog) national park. We had to wear snow shoes so as not to sink into the marsh, and after walking for a good few hours made it to Svartgölen (‘Black Puddle’ lake), where we  swam in the lake (the sides were so steep we had to jump in, and then use a rope ladder to get back out!) and had coffee from thermoses and Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). It was great. I even got a certificate saying I had ‘wandered the bog with an instinc for adventure and for the wilderness, and survived attacks by mosquitos and midges’! I keep it on my fridge! And even though the sun was shining on the day we walked across the bog, I saw an upside-down (smiling!) rainbow, because of the high level of moisture in the air evaporating from the bog 🙂

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Growing up, I spent a good amount of holidays at my grandparents’ house in Boda, and weather-wise it was always a mixed bag. And since you don’t monkey with tradition, it rained most of the time we were there this time, too. I slept in a tent on account of there being so many of us there for the birthday, and left my suitcase in the front bit of the tent, not realising the floor in the front bit wasn’t waterproof; as a result, my suitcase (and clothes) absorbed quite a lot of rainwater, making for a wonderful surprise on the last day 😉 Other highlights:

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Anyways, kanelbullar; for some reason, cinnamon buns and cold and rainy weather go really well together. I think this is directly linked to the Danish concept of ‘hygge‘, which roughly translates into a feeling of cosiness and the absence of anything bothersome or frustrating, preferably with candles or a fire, and something sweet to nibble on! Danes are way, way into hygge. And for the past week or so, Autumn has seriously settled in in Brussels; the days are growing shorter, and I have had to dig out my woollen socks and mittens. As a result, I am finding myself in great need of hygge, and since cinnamon buns spell hygge, I made some today.

A few days ago I found this recipe for one-hour cinnamon rolls, which promises fluffy, yummy cinnamon buns with no need to leave the dough to rise. Well then! I decided to try it out, although I gave it a ‘Scandinavification’, adding cardammom to the dough, and baking the buns seperately on a tray instead of close together in a dish. I must say, though, that I’m not a huge huge fan of instant dry yeast; I found that it left quite a strong flavour, which is probably partly due to the amount used int he recipe (in order to be able to bake the buns without rising first) – I’m not sure. But they were still very tasty, and I had no problem eating four throughout the afternoon 😉

I will probably go back to my old recipe, although more time consuming! But should you be in need of super easy cinnamon buns in a jiffy, this is the recipe to use.

For the dough, you will need:

  • 350 g / 2 ½ cups flour + more if needed (I used about 35 g / a ¼ cup more)
  • 240 ml / 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 ¼ tsp instant dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp oil (I used sunflower oil, but I think any mild-tasting oil would do)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cardammom

And for the filling:

  • 115 g / 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 150 g /1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon

Prehat your oven to 170˚C / 325˚F. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Warm the buttermilk for just under a minute in the microwave on high, until it feels warm but not hot. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients for the dough; make a well in the middle, and add the oil and buttermilk. With a fork, mix the wet ingredients into the dry until the dough starts to come together. If the dough seems very wet still, add a little amount more flour, then knead the dough for as long as you can be bothered! (I don’t have an electric mixer so I use my hands. My rule of thumb is to, once the dough starts to feel smooth and springy, knead for at least 200 more counts).

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On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle. Smear the soft butter onto the dough, leaving a margin of about an inch/2-3 cm. Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly onto the butter. Roll as tightly as you can into a log.

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Cut the log into 14 slices, using either a sharp cerrated knife or dental floss (it really works, this is the first time I’ve tried it! I only had floss with mint flavour, but it didn’t rub off onto the cinnamon buns, thankfully 😉 ). Place on the baking trays with a few centimetes between them, making sure to tuck in the end of the dough under the cinnamon bun, so that it doesn’t come undone while baking. Flatten the buns with the palm of you hand, then bake for about 15 minutes, until the cinnamon buns start to golden very lightly.

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Let cool, then drizzle with a glaze made of 100 g icing sugar and 1 ½ tbsp just boiled water.

Cinnamon buns keep reasonably well until the next day, kept in an air-tight container, but are definitely best on the first day. You can freeze any leftover ones (just don’t frost them before freezing).

 

 

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

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Adapted slightly from smitten kitchen

I have a slightly shameful secret. Self-proclaimed lover of all things sweet, there is a thing that is universally liked, or so it seems… but I don’t like it. And that thing, is cheesecake. I want to like cheesecake. I like the consistency; I like how they look; but I don’t like the almost buttermilk-like tang of the cream cheese in baking. I just don’t like it. Sigh.

I guess my dislike of cheesecake is, in a way, the exception that proves the rule. 😉

But anyways, I have a point. I’m going to a friend’s housewarming tonight, and her favourite thing is cheesecake. And I so want to make her her favourite thing… so I did a bit of research, and thought perhaps these black-bottom cupcakes might be just the thing, the thing that finally makes me love (or even like) cheesecake! And also a less intimidating first step into the world of cheesecake, for a cheesecake-phobe like myself…

This recipe has the smitten kitchen stamp of approval, and is from David Lebovitz’ Great Book of Chocolate – so it must be good. Even if I’m still not completely sold on the cream cheese filling! Oh man. I’m sorry. My loss I guess. People seem to really like them though! My friend Maya came by while I was making them, and she kept sneaking spoonfulls of the uncooked filling straight from the bowl… And they are good. If you like that sort of thing 😉 (that’s to say a devil’s food cupcake with a cheesecake and chocolate chip filling, that is both super easy and quick to make, and also kinda cute looking!) Even if they do sound kind of rude?! Anything with ‘bottom’ in it sounds slightly like it’s being insulted in a British accent. To me at least. But it’s been a long week, and I’m rambling, and here are the ingredients you’ll need:

Makes for 12-15 cupcakes (all the recipes I’ve seen say 12, but I got 15 good-size ones!)

For the filling:

  • 225 g / 8 ounces cream cheese (I used full fat), at room temperature
  • 65 g / ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 egg (preferably on the large side), at room temperature
  • 60 g / 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (but not too finely)

For the cupcake batter:

  • 210 g / 1 ½ cups flour
  • 220 g / 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons / 30 g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 240ml / 1 cup water
  • 80 ml / ⅓ cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 tbsp white/ white wine or cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 175˚C / 350˚F. Line a 12-cup muffin or cupcake tin (and keep another one handy in case you have more batter, like I did).

Make the filling by beating the room temperature cream cheese, the egg and the sugar with an electric mixer until smooth, about 30 seconds to a minute (remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once). Stir in the chocolate chunks and set aside.

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Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Mix the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla in another bowl, make a sort of well in the dry ingredients, pour in your wet ingredients, and stir with a whisk just until the batter is smooth and everything is combined (never over-stir cake batter, as the cake will become too elastic and chewy when the gluten in the flour mixes with the liquid ingredients in the batter).

Scoop the batter into your cupcake tin, filling each cup a little more than two thirds. With two teaspoons, spoon the filling into the centre of the cupcakes; I used about 3 tsp per cupcake, one at a time as I went around the pan, to allow the first spoonful of filling to sort of sink in a little before adding the next. I had a bit of filling left over, but Maya ate most of it.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the cupcakes start to get golden on top and don’t feel wobbly when you press down on them (gently!).

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Leave to cool before eating, and keep in an airtight container/cake tin for up to three days.

Zucchini and Cinnamon Muffins

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Tomorrow, I have to get up at 5:30 in order to catch a bus. Which causes me no small amount of distress… So I made these zucchini muffins from smitten kitchen, to distract myself from thinking too much about it, and to sweeten the bitterness from having to get up at the buttcrack of dawn.

These are the best. They’re cinnamony and wholesome, I usually keep a bunch in the freezer as they freeze really well and make an awesome breakfast or afternoon snack.

Yield: about 30-32 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup / 235 ml olive oil
  • 1 ¾ cups / 350 g sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (finely or not so finely shredded, whatever you prefer, I do sort of half super finely/half less finely)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups / 375 g flour
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup / 55 g chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 180˚C / 350˚F. Line all the muffin tins you’ve got.

Beat together the eggs in a large bowl, then add the oil and sugar, followed by the vanilla and the grated zucchini.

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Mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, as well as the chopped walnuts. Stir into the wet ingredients, making sure there are no little pockets of flour left, but not over-stirring.

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Fill the muffin tins about two thirds each, and bake for about 20 minutes until the muffins are lightly golden on top and a tooth pick comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack. If not to be eaten that day or the next, put in freezer bags in little batches, and freeze. The frozen muffins take a few hours to defrost, but stay nice and moist.