March is like childbirth. I forget how painful it is every year and look forward to it, only to be rudely reminded every. time. how annoying it is. For that, we can blame the upheaval caused by birthdays (my birthday and my son’s), spring break, TREE POLLEN (breathing is for suckers), and that source of all evil in the world known as the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. This year, this last weekend, in fact, Easter also fell the day after my son’s birthday; he’s still of an age where he EXPECTS and ANTICIPATES the Easter Bunny, and that son of a bitch had better come through with something more than lame plastic eggs full of Starburst. Then, on Easter afternoon, he lost a tooth, so my husband and I had to make a secret trip to the sad aisles of a Dollar General ("We're just going to buy some cat litter! No need to come along!") to find Tooth Fairy fare. Really, it's been extremely stressful. And I don't know why we couldn't think of anything better than pretend cat litter to shop for. Let's not analyze that too closely.
Remembering a couple of weeks after my own birthday how weird life is in March, I decided to bake Paul Hollywood’s teacakes and baguettes (plain, not sourdough) from How to Bake at the same time last Friday night. You know, get two bakes done, have all weekend to write the blog entries for them . . . could I be more efficient? It's now the end of the month, so it turns out that, yes, I could be a LOT more efficient, but that’s okay. Life is for living! Or for whining constantly about tree-pollen headache and Daylight Savings Time weariness. Potato, po-ta-to.
I was very excited about the teacakes, except WHY ARE PEOPLE IN GREAT BRITAIN OBSESSED WITH RAISINS AND WITH PUTTING RAISINS IN BAKED GOODS? Look, kind and lovely people of Great Britain, I’m going to share something with you: raisins are the worst. We can buy fresh produce at the market and eat it separately--no dried fruits required! In fact, let’s all just pretend raisins don’t exist. It’s very easy to do—indeed, I manage it every day of my life.
I feel like I've gotten off-track.
We shall begin with the recipe, very kindly provided for us on the intrawebs by Mr. Hollywood on his website. It is as follows:
Makes 8 Prep 3 hours Bake 15 minutes
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
60g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
10g instant yeast
50g unsalted butter, softened
300ml cool water
Vegetable oil for kneading
100g chopped mixed peel
1 egg beaten, to glaze
These large, soft, sweet and fruity teacakes are quite different from their shop-bought counterparts, which can have a dry, cotton-woolly texture and disappointing flavour. They are very good when they have just come out of the oven, but even better the next day – split, toasted and slathered in butter.
1. Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt, sugar and cinnamon to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter and three-quarters of the water, and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
2. Coat the work surface with a little vegetable oil, then tip the dough onto it and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin.
3. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.
4. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment or silicone paper.
5. Tip the sultanas and mixed peel on top of the risen dough in the bowl and start working them into it. After a minute or two, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the fruit is thoroughly mixed in.
6. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each into a ball, then use a rolling pin to flatten each out to a round bun, about 1cm thick. Brush the teacakes with the beaten egg. Transfer to the prepared baking trays, spacing them apart.
Put each tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to rise for about an hour until the teacakes are at least doubled in size. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200°C.
Bake the teacakes for 10-15 minutes until risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.
I feel like, at this point, I don’t really need to point out that I didn’t include raisins or mixed peel. My objections re: raisins AND citrus flavors and/or products in baked goods have been noted for the record, and I have sustained my own objections.
The dough for teacakes is pretty standard (as is true of most non-sourdough breads) except that it includes a bit more sugar and cinnamon, so already you know that teacakes are a TREAT, much like my hair the night I baked teacakes and baguettes.
Although they're not anywhere nearly as impressive as my hair, this is what teacakes are supposed to look like:
It wasn't easy to start baking in the kitchen at night with all of the shadows cast by my exuberant hair under the glaring kitchen lights, but, because I'm a fighter, I got those ingredients in the mixer, and I turned that mixer on. #heartofachampion
I'm sure you'll miss the enthralling pictures of dough ingredients and then dough in the mixing bowl; I'm not sure how you've thrived (nay, survived) without them the last couple of weeks. However, unfortunately, I opted out of the dough mixing pictures, and, instead, I present you with pre-rise pictures of both the teacakes dough (bottom) AND the baguette dough (top). I know. I know. It's riveting.
The teacake dough is very similar to regular white bread dough, except it does contain, of course, cinnamon and sugar (a little more sugar than most bread recipes that contain a little sugar). I tried to get the boy pumped up about teacakes by comparing them to Pizza Hut cinnamon sticks. I REALLY worked the "and they're not greasy!!" angle because he hates getting butter or grease on his fingers, and they're about ten thousand times healthier than cinnamon sticks. (That is not a scientific or legally-binding statistic, although it's got to be pretty close. I don't want to brag, but I won several gold medals at the state Science Olympiad competition in high school. I'm pretty much a scientist.)
After it rises for an hour or two, it's time for the divvying up and rolling out of the dough balls. (Cue ball jokes here.)
If you look closely at the last picture (above), you can see a few of those delightful air bubbles that are more fun to pop than bubble wrap or the world's biggest pimple. (Don't be a poser with me . . . I know you do it. It's one of life's little joys that no one can ever take away from you! Except maybe aestheticians. It's their job to pop your pimples. If you get a facial and leave with pimples, your aesthetician is super crappy. I feel like I've gotten distracted again.) I swear, it's totally worth taking the time to make barm cakes or teacakes just for the pleasure of popping those bubbles.
Then it was time for the proofing. I don't remember what happened during the hour the flat rolls proofed because, frankly, I was stressed out about the baguettes, but I learned an important lesson: I've got to stop doing two bakes at one time. It's certainly doable without a huge amount of hassle, but it takes the fun out of a bake because there's less down time and more annoying details to try to remember. Also, I'm not great at "paying attention to more than one thing at a time," which is why I rarely drive and don't cook meals. You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding. I feel like doing one thing at a time has kept me alive a good 15 years longer than I might have survived otherwise.
Can you see the specks of cinnamon? Those are actually specks of delightfulness. The rolls don't look like they'll turn out to be much, I admit. I was a wee bit skeptical. But then I baked them
AND WAS ASTOUNDED BY THESE ROLLS OF MAGNIFICENCE.
'Twas a good bake!
The only way to eat a cinnamon/sugar bun is to butter it while it's hot and inhale it like a dingo who's discovered filet mignon.
They were just as delicious as they look. You're welcome, bread universe. The cinnamon is subtle but noticeable, perfect for me, but my son requested (the second time he ate a couple of them) that I spread them with a little butter and then add more cinnamon and sugar, sort of like making cinnamon toast. That was a winning combination, my friends. I normally don't eat what I make, but I can't resist a yeast roll. Yeast rolls are my crack, even more so than my actual crack . . . which are actually peppermint starlight candies.
If you're new to making bread or rolls, you might try this recipe first, especially if you have a mild sweet tooth because the teacakes check the boxes for both delicious carbs and sweets. In other words, if you're a, say, 42-year-old woman with PMS, make these IMMEDIATELY. (That's just an example, randomly chosen.)