Almond (and chocolate) crescents

You know how you get Instagram food and then you have real life food? Instagram is usually style over substance but the home-made stuff, whilst not being pretty, is actually where we can find real heart-warming soul-bolstering cooking. It’s the same with cookbooks – the things we covet on paper somehow don’t carry the true essence of what is real. The expensive images can’t give the impression of the kitchen filled with the fug of bubbling chicken stock, or the furtive treat of stealing the first biscuit off the tray before anyone’s noticed. They can’t give the life-preserving feeling that you get from a slice of proper toast slathered in salty butter. Nor do they give room for the truth that some of the best cooking actually happens when we mess it up a bit.

On that note, I’ve been tinkering about my cinnamon bun recipe (yes, it is an obsession), thinking it would be fun to try something else that’s Scandi and calorie-laden, and my eye was drawn by these, Gifflar med kanel, or cinnamon crescents, from The Nordic Baking Book. Have you ever seen a thing of such dough-based beauty? Look at the swirl! Look at the shine! Look how NEAT they are!

What a Crescent is meant to look like…

So obviously I had a go and, inevitably, my version look utterly crap. Big and puffy, with all the filling oozed out, like I’ve made some cheesy sausage roll from my Mum’s 1970s M&S Picnic Cookbook. But do not be deceived, for this swirly ugly mass is a thing of caramelised unctuous gorgeous heaven.

…and the homemade version!

Instead of the cinnamon filling that is traditional, I used an almond version called remonce, the type used in Danish pastries and Mandelbullar (almond buns). The almond actually comes from marzipan, creamed with heart-stopping quantities of butter and sugar, so imagine this: Sweet dough baked golden in a puddle of marzipanny-buttery caramel. Then think of the illicit pleasure of peeling the leaked caramelised butter-almond off the paper in shards, shovelling them in your mouth before your 2 year old sees and wants them for himself.

Then imagine a chocolate version. Dear God.

Roll your dough out more thinly that you’d expect, and you might succeed in making crescents that are slightly better looking than mine. These freeze well so any that don’t get eaten can be stashed for future breakfasts, brunches or midnight feasts.

Almond crescents
Makes 32 crescents. Recipe adapted from various things in The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson.

For the dough:
320ml milk
150g unsalted butter
1 heaped teaspoon ground cardamon
15g dried yeast
1 egg
125g caster sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
750g strong wheat flour

In a jug in the microwave, melt the butter into the milk then leave to cool slightly. In a large bowl, place the salt, the flour, the yeast and cardamon (in that order so that the yeast and salt don’t come into contact with each other) and mix thoroughly with a scraper. Whisk the egg into the milk mixture, then tip the lot into the flour and mix to combine. Once you have a sticky mass, tip onto the work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes until you have a soft, elastic dough. Or you can use a stand mixer if you have one. Don’t stint on the kneading, this dough needs it! Shape the dough into a ball, put back in the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove for about 2 hours or so, until really risen and puffy. Meanwhile, make your filling:

Lys remonce – Danish pastry filling
125g unsalted butter, very soft
125g caster sugar
125g marzipan

Place the butter and sugar in a bowl, then grate the marzipan over using a box grater. Cream together thoroughly and set aside.

For the crescents:
Preheat the oven to 220c. Prepare three or four (depending on their size) baking sheets or roasting trays with baking parchment. Tip the dough out onto the work surface with the tenderness that you would treat a newborn baby. Gently shape it into a circle then divide into 4 pieces.

To make crescents, roll each piece into a circle using a rolling pin. They should be quite thin, about 1cm deep or thinner. Spread a quarter of the filling over the circle using an off-set spatula, then cut into 8 equal triangles. Roll each triangle up from the thick edge to the thin, then place on a baking sheet. Repeat and repeat until all the dough is used up. Leave to prove for another 30 minutes or so, until puffy.

If you want, at this stage you can egg wash the crescents, or simply leave them plain as I do. Bake for about 10 minutes until risen and golden. You may need to turn the trays around mid-way through baking to avoid burnt bits. Leave to cool before tucking in but take every opportunity to munch on the crunchy almondy caramelised bits that have leaked from your buns.

Variation: Almond & chocolate buns
To make a sinfully good chocolate version, break up some shards of 70% dark chocolate and scatter on top of the dough after you have spread it with the remonce filling. Either shape as crescents or make into traditional cinnamon or cardamon bun shapes, as I have done here. Bake as before.

The chocolate almond version. Ugly but mind-blowingly good.

Apple and raisin buns

I have just made perhaps the most satisfying sweet bake I can remember. I wasn’t planning to blog it so didn’t photo the process but the results are so good it needs recording, so here goes.

This is based on the Autumn Chelsea Buns in the September 14 edition of Waitrose Kitchen magazine, but I’ve substituted dates for raisins, added in salt (bread always needs salt) and messed around with the proving and baking times.

The apples work really well but I think this would also be fine just with dried fruit reconstituted in some hot water or tea. Actually nuts could work here too, cob nuts, hazelnuts or almonds. The buns are well flavoured and nicely gooey without being too sweet, which can be the killing factor of their sister, the cinnamon bun.

2014-09-20 17.09.48

Swirls of bunny goodness

Apple and raisin buns

Dough:

450g strong white flour

15g fresh yeast

8g fine salt

50g light brown soft sugar

2 tsp mixed spice

200ml milk

50g butter, melted

1 egg yolk

Filling

60g butter – half of it melted, half of it soft

2 eating apples, peeled and chopped into small dice. I used the ones I got from Clives last week.

Handful raisins (I use partially rehydrated)

1 tsp mixed spice

50g light brown soft sugar

Topping

The egg white

Water icing made with 3 dsp icing sugar

Make the dough the usual way: salt into the bottom of the bowl, flour on top, mix it all together to disperse the salt. Then rub in the yeast, sugar and spice. In a jug, melt the butter and add in the milk, warming it through if needed. The add┬áthe liquid plus the egg yolk to the flour and work to a dough. It’s quite hard which initially concerned me but on reflection the apples provide moisture – but add in more milk if needed. Knead it until elastic and then rest to double in size. This batch today (at 19c in the kitchen) took about two hours so don’t rush it. The more solid a dough, the longer it takes.

Prep the baking tray – I use baking parchment on top of foil inside a roasting tray. This avoids having to scrub baked caramel off the metal.

When the dough is ready, prep the filling: mix apples, raisins, spice, sugar and melted butter together.

Ease the dough to the work surface and gently work into a rectangle about 40cm x 30cm. Spread the remaining softened butter over the dough, then spread the filling over as evenly as possible. Roll the lot up into a tight swiss roll, then using a serrated knife, slice into even rounds – this recipe should provide 11 or 12.

Move them spiral-side up onto the baking parchment, close enough to meet when proved a little more. And then prove – 40 or so minutes should do it, they need to look noticeably larger. Meanwhile preheat oven to 220c.

When ready, whisk the egg white with a fork and paint onto the buns. Put in oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 180c and then bake for about 40-50minutes, until hollow sounding on bottom (you can test this because of the double layer of parchment/foil!) and generally looking done.

Cool, then drizzle icing on top.

Apparently these freeze well.