Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saffron Sugar Buns (Trini Hot Cross Buns)

It's been many years now since I first discovered Trini sugar buns.  I don't often venture into West Indian / Caribbean cooking, but when I do I'm usually pleased with the results.  There's something incredibly appealing about that kind of fusion cuisine.

I came across Trini sugar buns one year when I was searching for a new take on hot cross buns.  The idea of adding in saffron to a lightly-sweetened, milky cinnamon bun was just what I was searching for.  In the years since it's become a tradition of sorts, though I never actually add the icing.  They're just as good for a non-holiday brunch as they are for Easter, too.

Saffron Sugar Buns (Trini Hot Cross Buns)

Total Time:  30 mins prep, 2-2.5 hours rising, 25 minutes baking.

Credits:  The idea of adding saffron and turmeric to sweet rolls came from The Trini Gourmet.  The base roll recipe is a sweetened version of a dinner roll recipe that's been in my family for generations (affectionately known as The Rolls).

Makes:  24 small buns or approximately 18 large ones.

  • 0.5 cup raisins (optional, can sub currants/sultanas if preferred) + roughly 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon milk (whole is best, but ok to sub as per your preferences)
  • 0.25 tsp saffron threads
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 package (2.25 teaspoons) yeast
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 0.5 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1.25 teaspoons salt
  • 2.5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 0.5 tsp cinnamon
Icing (optional):
    • 1 cup 10x (confectioner's/icing) sugar
    • 4 tablespoons milk
    • 1/4 tsp lime juice
    • pinch of salt
  1. Place the raisins in a heat-safe cup and cover with enough boiling water to leave 2 inches of water on top.  Set aside for 30 minutes to plump.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the milk using stovetop or microwave and stir in 3 tablespoons of the sugar until completely dissolved.  Once milk is hot enough to produce steam, remove from heat and add saffron.  Set aside to cool while the saffron infuses the milk.
  3. Dissolve the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar into the lukewarm milk.  Add yeast and set aside to proof (5-10 minutes or until foamy).
  4. Whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, and turmeric.
  5. Add shortening to the flour mix.  Blend until the flour takes on a grainy texture.
  6. Add yeast mixture to the flour, mix.
  7. Whisk eggs into the milk and mix until well-combined.  Knead 2-3 minutes.
  8. Drain the raisins, pressing out any extra moisture.
  9. Add raisins to the dough and knead 1-2 minutes or until combined.
  10. Cover with a warm, damp towel and side aside to rise until doubled (about 90 minutes).
  11. Form rolls (24 small or 18 large) by stretching dough over itself and pinching together at the bottom [see pictures below].  Space approximately two finger-widths apart in a well-greased pan.
  12. Brush with milk glaze, cover with warm, damp towel, and aside aside to rise until doubled again (about 30-45 minutes).  NOTE:  if preferred, rolls could be covered with plastic wrap at this point and allowed to rise in the fridge overnight.  
  13. Brush again with milk glaze just before baking. 
  14. Bake at 325F for 25 minutes (may take slightly longer for large buns).  Halfway through, rotate the pans 180 degrees and brush again with milk glaze.
  15. Allow buns to cool completely on a wire rack.
  16. Optional:  whisk together the icing ingredients while buns are baking and place them in the fridge to cool.  Top with icing once buns are completely cooled.

The trick to this particular recipe is to start the raisins and the saffron milk before doing anything else.  

The reason for plumping the raisins in hot water is to keep them from sucking all the moisture out of the buns as they bake.  If you're feeling adventurous you could also use milk or whiskey/rum.  I find hot water does the trick just fine.  Just make sure whatever cup you use can handle boiling water.  Cover them completely, plus a few inches extra on top to give them room to grow.

See how much they plump up? 

Next up is the saffron milk.  One important thing to remember if cooking/baking with saffron is that you won't get much flavor unless you infuse it into a warm liquid first.  I did this on the stovetop.  Microwaving is also an option.  You don't need to get the milk boiling or anything -- just warm it enough to steam a little and dissolve the sugar.  Once the milk is warm sprinkle the saffron on top, using your fingers to crush the threads a little as you go.  I took this picture as soon as I could grab my camera, and you can already see the color/flavor leeching into the milk just a few seconds after I put the saffron in.

Take it off the heat and let it cool.  You don't want the milk to be too hot when you add it to the dough or else it'll kill your yeast.  Lukewarm is okay. 

Note:  if you want to cut down on dishes, you could put the raisins into the hot milk along with the saffron.  I tend not to because then I find the buns get a little too raisin-flavored and the saffron flavor gets buried.  Up to you.

While the milk and raisins are busy working their mojo dissolve the remaining sugar and yeast into the lukewarm water.  

This is calling "proofing" because what you're doing is making sure (proving) that the yeast is alive.  That was more of an issue in the old days but is still a good idea if you tend to keep yeast for months or years.  It's not a strictly necessary step, though.  The proof that the yeast is active/alive is that it starts to digest the sugar, which we can indirectly observe by the gas that it lets off.  That's where the foam comes from:

Neat, huh?  And only a little bit gross.  Try not to think about it.  

While the yeast is chowing down on the sugar water and belching up proof (yum), whisk together your flour, salt, cinnamon, and turmeric:

The spices will kind of disappear into the flour.  Not to worry, the saffron is going to give the buns a nice yellow color.  

Next up is the shortening.  If you're like me, shortening kind of freaks you out.  If you want to give butter or even lard a try, I won't stop you though I can't guarantee that it'll come out the same.  You might have to play around with measurements a little.

Blending in the shortening will change the texture of the flour so that it's more grainy:

Okay, so now you've got all the major components.  First the proven yeast goes in:

Mix that up, whisk the eggs into the cooled milk (make sure it's only lukewarm, not hot):

See how yellow the milk got?  That's all the saffron-y goodness.  Once the eggs are whisked in, add that to the flour:

Blend it all into a dough.  If you're using a mixer, like I was, you may want to stop partway through to change from a paddle to a dough hook.  

Once it all comes together like the above, you can knead it for about 2-3 minutes.  That should give you a soft, springy dough:

At this point drain the raisins, pressing any extra moisture out, and add them in.  Another minute or two of kneading should be enough to mix them in.  

Your dough is done!  Wet down a clean cloth with hot water and drape it over the top of your mixing bowl.  The dough will rise at different rates depending on how warm your kitchen is -- usually about 90 minutes is adequate to get it to roughly double in size.

When the dough has risen it's time to shape it into buns.  I usually opt for smaller ones for the simple reason that I really like these buns and usually go for a second one whether I need it or not.  

There's a trick to getting round(ish) buns and rolls that goes like so:  stretch the dough through your fingers and tuck it in on itself until it's round and smooth.  Here's the first step, where I'm using the thumb of my left hand to push the dough through a ring made with the fingers of my right hand:

Please forgive my giant ham hands and instead focus on how this is stretching the top of the bun so that it's smooth.  Doing that will give you a kind of pocket at the bottom, which you can then pinch together:

Again, ham hands.  Sorry.  But anyway, if you put the bun seam-side down into your pan, nobody will ever know that the bottom is kind of puckery:

See?  And now your bun isn't all lumpy.

Lather, rinse, repeat until all the dough is used up.  Space them about two finger-widths apart and don't panic if you don't end up with an even number.  I had to go back and add extra leftover dough to a few just so I wouldn't have to start a third pan.

Aside:  does anyone else think it's weird when recipes say to put baked goods X inches apart?  Does anyone actually get out a ruler and check?

Next you'll want to brush these with the milk/sugar/cinnamon glaze.  This will add a little extra sweetness, but more importantly it'll keep the buns from drying out too much while they rise.  

Cover them with a warm, damp cloth and let them rise again until the buns are about doubled in size -- roughly half an hour, maybe a smidge more.

Brush 'em down with the milk glaze again when they're all risen:

And now it's time to bake!  The total baking time is 25ish minutes at 325F.  Halfway through brush them down with the milk glaze again and rotate the pans 180 degrees so that they bake more evenly.

When you're done the tops should be lightly browned and shiny:


If you're making the icing:  whisk the sugar/milk/lime juice together while the rolls are baking and put it in the fridge to firm up.  Drizzle it over the top once the buns are cooled.  I don't particularly care for icing so most of the time I skip that step.  

I prefer to eat them hot out of the oven with a little coffee.


What I like best about these is that they're a-mazing right out of the oven, but they also toast up nicely the next day.  Just split them in half and pop 'em in the toaster oven for a minute or two to heat them back up.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bawstin Baked Beans

I don't think it would be a stretch to say that every person out there holds the belief that their own corner of the world is in some way unique.  I even talked a little on the post about Morioka jajamen about how each town in Japan has something it considers itself famous for.

New England is unique, I think, in that it's an entire region that bands around a single city.  It's not to say that there aren't other cities in that corner of the States.  It's just that we all think of Boston as The City.  Our City.  Even if you're closer to some other metro area, or if you differ politically or culturally from its harsh, young, aloof, diverse, gruff, open-hearted way of life, Boston's the rally point.  Boston sports are New England sports.  Boston tragedies are New England tragedies.  So whether or not we personally knew anyone running in or helping at the marathon, we all felt that Our City had been hurt when the bombings happened.  And why, a year later, so many of my New Englander friends each took a moment to reflect in our own way.

Me, I laced up and went for a run in the morning, then came home and fired up the stove.

It may not surprise you that I have a strong connection with food.  It's my main conduit for both self-comfort and celebration -- whether I'm exuberant or grieving, food is how I express and share my feelings.  Like any number of other fat chicks out there, I eat my emotions.

So it's probably not a shock that on a sad day, the first anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings, I was feeling a little homestate pride (for our resilience) but also a great deal of grief (specifically for the victims and more broadly that there are people in the world who feel that violence is a potential avenue of expression for their anger or their beliefs).

At any rate, Boston + comfort food means one of three things:  chowdah, beans, or donuts.  Doc wasn't in a seafood mood and donuts are not very nutritious, so I put my energies into making baked beans.

The nice thing about baked beans is that they're actually super easy to make.  These work 100% as well in a slow-cooker, too, so that's an option for sure.

A more detailed description follows the recipe below.  Enjoy!

Bawstin Baked Beans

Total time:  Overnight soaking for the beans, 10-15 minutes to assemble, 4-6 hours of cooking.
Credits:  The bulk of the credit goes to A Family Feast, whose recipe for the sauce is spectacular.  Other recipes that contributed ideas are The Pioneer Woman (if it goes in cast iron, I look her up first as a rule), and of course the Boston Globe.
Note:  This recipe as-is makes a monstrous batch, enough to fill my 5-quart dutch oven.   Happily, it can very, very easily be halved or even quartered.  What I'd recommend in that case is keeping the sauce proportions the same while adjusting the amount of beans, onions, bacon, and cooking liquid.

  • 2 lbs. (4 cups) dried navy beans
    • can sub: other white beans, but definitely don't stray into kidney bean, pinto bean, or black bean territory.  You want a small, white bean for this.
  • Water for soaking, enough to cover the beans + another 3-4 inches
    • note:  be sure to reserve some of the liquid after soaking!
  • 3 onions, cut into thick rings or semi-circles
  • 1 pound thick-cut bacon, the thicker the better
    • can sub: salt pork, if desired, or if avoiding pork then possibly a smoked turkey wing or a very small amount of liquid smoke (or leave it out altogether).
  • For the sauce:
    • 1 bottle (12 oz.) Sam Adams Boston Lager
    • 2 cups vegetable stock
    • 0.5 cup molasses
    • 2 TBS real maple syrup
    • 3 TBS dijon mustard
    • 0.5 cup ketchup
    • 2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 tsp mustard powder
    • 0.5 cup brown sugar
    • 0.25 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
    • 1 TBS garlic paste 
      • can sub: 4-5 whole/minced cloves of garlic or 1 tsp dried garlic powder
  1. Soak beans overnight in enough water to cover them plus 3-4 inches of water on top.
  2. In the morning drain the beans and reserve the soaking liquid in a separate bowl.
  3. Layer bacon, onions, and beans in a dutch oven or slow cooker, making 2-3 total layers.
  4. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients and pour over the beans/bacon/onion mixture.
  5. If the beans aren't completely covered by the sauce, add enough of the reserved soaking liquid (from step 2) so that the beans are completely covered.
  6. If using a dutch oven:  place the lid on the pot and put it the oven at 325 degrees (F).  Bake 4-6 hours, checking every hour for doneness and to make sure that the beans are completely covered with liquid.  In the last hour of baking, remove the cover, stir, and turn the heat down to 300 so that the sauce can thicken up.
  7. If using a slow cooker:  set heat to high and cook for 4-6 hours or until done.  Leave the lid on until the final hour, then remove lid, stir, and leave lid off so that some of the liquid can evaporate off to thicken up the sauce.
  8. Beans are done when they are easily chewed but not mushy.  Cooking time will depend on the age/dryness of the beans.
Goes well with:  brown bread, coleslaw, and Sam Adams Boston Lager


The thing about Bawstin, you guys, is that people theah sound a little different.  So you'll hafta fahgive my spellin' heah, is my point.  If ya havin' trouble, ask a local oah consult a guide.

Fihst things fihst: ya gawtta soak ya beans ovahnight.  That way the'ah easiah ta cook -- you ain't gawt awl day fah this nawnsense, ya know?  Plus it helps relieve somma the gases in the beans.  Bettah out than in, in this case.

Er... that's exhausting to read, isn't it?  I know it's exhausting to write.  Let's move on.  I'm not from Boston itself anyway so I'm not fooling anyone anyhow.

It's important when you drain the beans to save the liquid they were soaking in.  Set it aside because you'll be using this a little later on.

When you're ready to get started with the cooking phase, you've got two options: dutch oven or slow cooker.  These amount to exactly the same thing, since either way you're using a large dish heated to around 300 degrees for several hours.  Totally up to you.  More liquid will cook off in the oven, making for a thicker sauce, but it does heat up the house and -- if you're like me -- a slow cooker is something I'm willing have running while I'm out of the house whereas I don't like to leave the oven on unless I'm around.  It's really up to you and your needs.  I used a dutch oven here, but the exact same process applies for the slow cooker.  What we're going to do is make layers: bacon, onions, beans, repeat.


Onions, followed by beans (a complete layer, not just a handful as shown in the picture):

And repeat:

And, if space and supplies allow, repeat again:

You're free to use whatever you've got handy, but if I can make a suggestion I'd recommend thick-cut bacon.  Some recipes even call for salt pork.

The onions also should be fairly thick.  They'll caramelize in the sauce so it's nice to be able to get a taste of them.  Too small and they won't stand out.  Either whole or half-rings should do it.

Once your layers are all set, whisk up all the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl.

You can leave out the beer if you don't like it.  I used it to replace the vinegar in A Family Feast's recipe, since Samuel Adams Boston Lager is almost as symbolic of Boston as the Gahden or tea pahties.  It's so near and dear to locals' hearts that it's not unusual to hear sentences such as, "hey, Sean, bang a uey heah, I gawta runda tha packie for Sam."

Once everything's whisked together it doesn't look all that wonderful.  And it's strangely reflective.

I assure you it's very tasty, though.

Pour the sauce over the beans.

It's unlikely that the sauce will be enough to cover your beans completely.  Here's where the bean-soaking liquid you reserved earlier comes into play.  Use that to top off the pot so that the beans are completely covered with liquid:

And then you're ready to cook.  If you're using a dutch oven, cover it and pop it in your oven at 325F.  If you're using a slow-cooker, switch it on to high.

Depending on how old/dry/cantankerous your beans are, cooking them could take anywhere from 4-6 hours (or more).  It's not a bad idea to plan on a minimum of six.  Check the pot every hour to make sure there's enough liquid to cover the beans.  Add in reserved bean liquid as needed.

This is at the 2-hour mark.  You can see where I put a cookie sheet underneath to catch drips since I'd filled my dutch oven pretty full.

You'll know the beans are nearly done when they're al dente -- when you can bite into them easily but they've got a little resistance still.  At that point you've got about an hour left, meaning it's time to take the lid off, stir, and leave the lid off so that the sauce can thicken up.  This applies both to slow cooker and oven methods.  If using the oven, turn the heat down to 300.

After about five hours my beans were ready to stir and put them back in for the final hour at lower heat.

I forgot to get an "after" shot once I'd taken the beans out of the oven.  Apologies.  It looked a lot like the above, but thicker and a little darker.  One thing to remember is that if you want a super thick sauce you'll have to let it sit overnight in the fridge:  it's the cooling process that makes for a really thick sauce (thanks to the oil from the bacon congealing).

(Yeah, I'm grossed out, too.)

Some people thicken their sauce with cornstarch.  It works, but I find then all I can taste is cornstarch.

Anyway, that's it!  Soak, layer, bake, stir, serve.

I find it goes really well with brown bread, coleslaw, and some Sam.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Martini Fit for a Spring

Spring might just be here to stay this time, you guys (she said, jinxing it).

At least I certainly hope so since I've been spending the majority of the last week turning over and fencing my garden.  We're not big drinkers at our house -- Doc doesn't drink at all -- but after putting up 100 feet of fence and wire I had sunshine and relaxation on my mind.

I'm sure all my family are now hanging their heads in shame that I've admitted I mix martinis at home, but there ya have it.  I thought it was high time I shared a drink recipe with you.

At any rate, the combination of weekend tiredness and spring in the air took me down this road.  The title picture says "raspberry mint," but I've also enjoyed this with strawberries and basil.  Feel free to get creative.

Speaking of creative, I thought I'd try swapping up the format by putting the quickie version of the recipe at the top and then going into detail at the bottom.  That way folks in a hurry don't have to scroll through too much to get where they're going.  Let me know if you hate it this way.

Spring Martini

Total time:  5 minutes, not counting time to chill serving glass or make simple syrup.
Credits:  Hendrick's & St. Germain are a fairly popular combination, as seen here and here (just as examples).  The idea of adding fruit came from a delightful mixed drink called a cherub's cup that features Hendrick's, St. Germain, strawberries, and pink champagne.


  • 3 fresh raspberries (can sub: 2 small fresh strawberries)
  • 3 fresh mint leaves (can sub: 3 fresh basil leaves)
  • 2 small sprigs cilantro (optional, can omit)
  • 1 oz. (= 2 TBS) simple syrup
    • note: simple syrup made with palm sugar is especially good in this, though on the sweet side
  • 1 oz (= 2 TBS) St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 oz (= 0.25 cup) Hendrick's gin
  • 1 slice cucumber for garnish
  • you will also need:  ice, pestle or spoon, shaker or sturdy cup, fine-mesh sieve, cold serving glass


  1. Muddle berries and herbs with simple syrup at the bottom of your shaker.
  2. Add St. Germain and Hendrick's.
  3. Add ice and place top securely on shaker.
  4. Shake well over ice (1-2 minutes).
  5. Strain into cold serving glass.
  6. Garnish with cucumber (or an extra raspberry wrapped in mint, if desired).

Note:  For a weaker drink, top with seltzer and serve over ice.

Okay, now we can get into the details for anyone who wants them.

First you'll want to gather up your ingredients.  Don't worry if cilantro's not your thing.  It's pretty polarizing and I understand if you'd prefer to omit it.

You might wonder why I specified Hendrick's.  If you haven't tried it, go for it.  Unlike most gins Hendrick's is best complimented by cucumber rather than lime.  It's herby and flowery compared to other gins.  I think that makes it a good choice for spring drinks.  It also goes superbly with St. Germain, which is an elderflower liqueur.  (Trivia:  liquors are stronger and are typically made from grains and starches, whereas liqueurs are weaker, sweeter, and often made from flowers and fruits.  Neat, huh?)

Don't worry if you don't have to use a fancy bar shaker for this.  In fact, I've lost the top half of my shaker since I use it maybe once every two years.  To be completely honest, when I was playing around with flavors and proportions (in very, very small batches, mind you) I just used a plastic cup that I knew would be able to handle a little abuse.  Delicate glasses aren't recommended for muddling or shaking because they could break.  There's no shame in using plastic cups here, is my point, so don't think you have to get fancy.

Put your berries and herbs into the bottom of your shaker (or plastic cup):

And add in 1 oz. of simple syrup.  If you make mixed drinks frequently enough that you already know what that means, feel free to jump ahead.  For everyone else:  drink recipes are often expressed in ounces (measured with a special hourglass-shaped cup called a "jigger") rather than spoons or cups.  Happily, though, 1 oz. is also equal to 2 tablespoons.  So you're not out of luck if you don't have a jigger.

Simple syrup is just that:  the simplest kind of syrup you can make.  It's 1:1 sugar & water.  You can buy it most places that sell mixing supplies, but it's also very easy to make at home, as seen here or here.  Boil the water, add the sugar, dissolve it, and let it cool.  I used simple syrup that I made with palm sugar just because I like a little extra sweetness.  Use whatever you've got, no need to get fancy-pantsy.  The only reason I mention it in case you were inclined to panic about why I'm using brown simple syrup when normally it's clear.

Okay, so the herbs, berries, and sugar water are in your durable cup.  Next you're going to want to crush all these things together into a kind of mess.  Not a puree, a mess.  This is called muddling (as in, "today I feel all muddled").

Neatness is not the point.  The point is to crush up your herbs & fruits, thereby infusing the sugar water with their flavors.  Takes about a minute or so.  You can use anything you like for this: a pestle (as seen above), the back of a spoon, a potato masher... whatever.  Just squish things around for a while.

See?  Messy.

Order doesn't really matter, but either way you need to add in 1 oz. (or 2 tablespoons, if you prefer to think of it that way) of the St. Germain:

And 2 ounces of gin.  Two ounces is equal to four tablespoons or, because measurements are funky this way, one quarter-cup.

You'll now have a liquidy mess:

Which, if you didn't mind your martinis chewy, you could drink.  Stay tuned, though, we're going to make it much more presentable.

Pro tip:  the trick to a great martini is to get it very, very cold.  This is why our man James Bond knows the best martinis are shaken, not stirred.  Specifically, they are shaken over ice to cool them more rapidly and completely.  Never trust a bartender who just pours liquor into a martini glass and stirs it, my friends.

In order to do that, we first need to add ice to the cup (just a small handful of cubes will do):

And then you need to put a top on it.  If you're using a bar shaker, you can use the top that came with it.  If you've either lost the top or are using a cup, place another, smaller cup on top.  The top cup has to be small enough to fit inside the mixing cup, but large enough to prevent spills.  Ideally you'd use another plastic cup here, though I've done what many bartenders in a hurry do, which is to use a pint glass.  Beware:  this isn't the best idea.  I've broken pint glasses this way by creating too tight a seal or shaking too hard.  Personally I'd rather have a loose seal and a little dribble than a stuck or shattered glass.

Always shake over the sink, guys.  That's just good sense.

A minute or two is enough to flash-chill your drink, and that's really all we're going for here other than mixing up the liquids.  And no need to hold it over your shoulder or hold it sideways like you see in the movies.  Gentle will still get the job done.

Part of serving a really great martini is to use a chilled glass.  5-10 minutes in the freezer does the trick I've found.  I just put the glass in before I gather my ingredients and by the time I've got everything shaken up it's just about set.

This next step is key.  Pour the drink through a fine-mesh strainer to serve.  Otherwise your guests will be picking raspberry seeds out of their teeth.

It really makes a big difference, as you can see:

On the left:  floss city.  On the right: a gorgeous, debris-free drink.

After that you can either drink it straight away or you can garnish it.  One way to garnish is to use a cucumber.  Cut a tiny slit just at the edge of a cucumber slice:

And very gently position it over the edge of the glass.  Either as an alternative or as an addition, you could float a little mint on top:

Or even thread a raspberry and some mint onto a swizzle stick or drink umbrella.  I showed one example here with a toothpick, since that's all I had on hand:

But that's it!  As mentioned in the quickie directions you could alternatively serve this in a highball glass with ice and a generous splash of seltzer for a weaker drink.  Totally up to you!