I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the start of a new year and a new way of eating, involving absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. No roast meat, root vegetables, sticky condiments, pastry, alcohol-soaked dried fruit or marzipan. Enough is enough. I feel like my tastebuds have spent the last two weeks immovably swaddled in a beige, bland cocoon of stodge and sickliness. I’ve tried to counteract this by throwing Thai curry paste, chilli and lemongrass at all my Christmas leftovers in every way imaginable, but I’m still longing for the new year and the lifting of that pressure to constantly bring a touch of Christmas sparkle to everything that emerges from the kitchen. If I read one more article claiming to have ‘the recipe to convert even the most ardent sprout-haters’, or find one more chef attempting to sneak clementines into a savoury dish, I might emigrate to a non-Christian country.
Before we can forget this season of excessive consumption, though, we need to dispose of every last trace of the hedonistic feast. I can’t waste food, so I’ll have to endure a few more turkey dishes before I can finally seek solace in the figurative embrace of non-festive fish, meat and poultry. The remains of a cooked salmon made it into a pomelo salad and into Thai-spiced fishcakes; the roast bird became three litres of stock and a delicious coconutty Thai noodle soup; odds and ends of cheese are going into an Ottolenghi cauliflower cake…and then we had half a can of chestnut puree and some cooked chestnuts in the fridge, left over from stuffing and a chocolate Yule log.
I've been inspired to do some comforting breakfast baking since discovering this beautiful Saigon Cinnamon from Amazon. I took the plunge and signed up to Amazon Student, largely for the perks of free next-day delivery with Prime but also because my boyfriend and I have recently discovered the TV show The Americans, which you can stream for free as part of Amazon Student's video and music package. At the moment I'm working with Amazon to promote the Student membership, and it has led to all sorts of new discoveries. Unusual varieties of cinnamon may not be your particular weakness, but I bet compulsive TV-viewing is, or maybe you too are nursing a cookbook addiction like myself, and have read one too many recipes for cinnamon rolls over the festive period. Go on, sign up. Enjoy the knowledge that cookbook and audio-visual excess is just a click away. We all know what happens next...or at least we do if you have a particular fondness for cinnamon and some chestnuts left in the fridge...
One of my favourite things about skiing holidays in France is the fact that you can get everything with a hearty slather of crème de marrons, a ludicrously delicious sweet chestnut jam with a hint of vanilla. It has a fudgy, grainy texture and notes of burnished caramel, and is divine melting out of the folds of a paper-thin crêpe or smothered over a hot, crispy waffle. Inspired by this noble homage to the chestnut, I mixed the leftover chestnut puree with some vanilla paste, melted butter, brown sugar, a pinch of salt and cinnamon, and some chopped whole chestnuts. It became the filling for these buns, which use an enriched dough flavoured with cinnamon. Wrapped around the chestnut filling, the dough bakes to delicious soft, fluffy perfection, demanding to be torn apart and devoured while still warm. It helps that it's drizzled with maple syrup before baking, too, which adds another hit of caramel sweetness to the proceedings.
I spied a pear languishing in the fruit bowl while making these, so studded the chestnut-filled curves of the dough with little slivers of ripe pear just before baking. The end result is a tray full of warm, moist, spiced buns, rippled with that glorious fudge-like chestnut filling and exuding the fragrance of cinnamon and vanilla, peppered with sweet, musky pears. They are wonderful straight from the oven, spread with a little extra butter and served with a cup of tea. I like them, warmed up, for breakfast, but they are also good as a mid-afternoon snack. They have all the flavours of Christmas and alpine comfort food, but without feeling like seasonal overload. So, here’s to one final burst of hedonistic gastronomic indulgence before the asceticism of January kicks in. Happy new year!
Chestnut, vanilla and pear cinnamon buns (makes 12):
For the dough:
- 175ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
- 70g unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 50g light brown sugar
- 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 7g sachet yeast
For the filling:
- 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 65g light brown sugar
- 150g chestnut purée
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 100g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 ripe pear, cored and thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
First, make the dough. Put the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to body temperature, then beat in the eggs.
Put the flour in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Mix in the sugar and cinnamon. Put the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other, then make a well in the middle. Pour in the milk and eggs, then mix together (using your hands or the electric mixer) to form a soft dough. Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is soft and pliable but not sticky. Return the dough to a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size – around 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for the filling, mix together the butter, sugar, chestnut purée, salt, cinnamon and vanilla, to make a thick paste, then stir in the chestnuts. Set aside.
Once the dough has risen, knock the air out and roll it out into a rectangle around 40x35cm. Grease a 25x35cm baking dish (or one of similar size). Spread the chestnut filling over the dough, leaving a border of about 1cm. Roll the dough up tightly, starting with the longer side, into a sausage.
Slice the rolled dough into 12 pieces widthways. Arrange these, cut side up (so they look like flat wheels), in the baking dish, leaving about 2cm space between them to allow for rising. Leave to rise for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until the buns have risen and are touching each other.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Push a couple of pear slices into the folds of each bun, until they are all used up, then drizzle with the maple syrup. Bake for 30 minutes, or until risen and golden. Leave to cool slightly before serving.