I debated long and hard over what to call these. When I put a picture of them up on instagram the other day, my finger hovered over the keyboard as I found myself weighing up the merits of ‘cinnamon rolls’ versus ‘cinnamon buns’. Were I actually Danish, rather than simply pretending by living in Denmark, being relatively tall, cycling everywhere and knowing how to say ‘I’m dog-hungry, give me a big pastry now’ in Danish, I would simply call them kanelsnegler (cinnamon snails) and be done with it, but I’m not so there was pause for thought. (And even this appears to be hotly contested in Denmark, because alongside the kanelsnegl there also exist the kanelsnurre and even the kanelting, literally ‘cinnamon thing’, which definitely suggests someone somewhere is sick of the entire debate).
They were always going to be buns, though, really. ‘Cinnamon rolls’ sounds a bit too American for me, and fails to capture the sacred essence of this coveted baked good. ‘Bun’ has a squat, Anglo-Saxon sturdiness to it that ‘roll’ can never match. Buns are what I used to make with my mother for school events; they have an unpretentious substantiality that the fancy cupcake, with its airy graces and unnecessary adornments, can never hope to attain. You know where you are with buns; no surprises, just honest, old-fashioned gluttony.
Plus, I got to make lots of ‘bun in the oven’ jokes when these buns were quite literally in the oven.
And to ask people if they liked my buns.
You will like my buns. Just wait until you hear all about them.
I was recently chosen to be a tea rep (that’s one dream job down; I await my appointment as Worldwide Scone Tester any day now) for Bluebird, one of my favourite tea companies. A gigantic box of tea found its way to my office last week, including their ridiculously exciting pancake-themed tea trio: Blueberry Pancakes, Maple Syrup + Bacon Pancakes, and Banana + Peanut Butter Pancakes. The latter, a blend of rooibos, dried banana, caramelised hazelnut and natural flavouring, smelled like a sweet shop in a packet and was immediately my top contender for experimenting with in the kitchen. It has a powerful caramel aroma with the butterscotch sweetness of banana, underpinned by the slightly toffee-scented notes of rooibos, and infuses into a golden cup of sweet warmth. It was the perfect base for these buns, a decadent hymn to sugar and banana baked goods.
I infused the milk for this soft dough with the Banana + Peanut Butter tea, which turned it a beautiful golden colour and gave it an intense caramel flavour (incidentally, this would also make a fabulous bedtime drink if you’re so inclined; the tea itself is decaf). A little maple syrup, melted butter and nutmeg added richness and warmth, and then I swirled the whole lot around a classic cinnamon bun filling: soft butter, liberal amounts of treacly dark brown sugar, ground cinnamon, all slathered over the dough in a molten dark pool. Crumbled toasted walnuts in the filling for texture, and to complement the nutty notes of the tea, but pecans or hazelnuts would also have been fabulous. These bake to towers of spiralling golden perfection, sending mingled aromas of caramel, nuts, cinnamon and sweet banana through your kitchen. They are, quite simply, the best cinnamon buns I have ever made.
To top it all off, though, I made a simple icing infused with more of that tea. THAT tea. Drizzled sparingly over the buns, it adds another sticky-sweet butterscotch note and soaks into the crevices of the dough in a way that makes pulling the folds of fluffy, freshly-baked bun apart an almost spiritual experience.
I hasten to add that although they may sound sickly-sweet, there is hardly any sugar in the dough to offset the stickiness of the filling and icing, and the tea adds a depth of flavour that helps to balance the rest. So don’t be put off. Incidentally, if you can’t get your hands on the Banana + Peanut Butter tea, many other teas will work well here: Earl Grey, plain black tea, plain or flavoured rooibos tea; you are limited only by your imagination. Bluebird also do a fantastic rooibos-based Gingerbread Chai which I think would also be wonderful here.
These are a wonderful way to experiment with using tea in recipes. You can even prep them the night before and bake in the morning for breakfast (complete the recipe up to the stage where you have arranged the buns on the baking tray, then put in the fridge to rise slowly overnight before baking from chilled in the morning). Anyone in your house with a nose will thank you.
Buns. Rolls. Snails. Whatever you want to call them, these are glorious.
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Tea-infused banana and walnut cinnamon buns (makes 10):
For the dough:
- 250ml milk
- 1 tbsp Banana + Peanut Butter tea from Bluebird Tea Co., or other loose-leaf tea of your choice
- 25g fresh yeast, crumbled, or 2 tsp fast-action dried yeast
- 500g strong bread flour
- 3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
- 50g melted butter
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¾ tsp salt
- Butter, for greasing
For the filling:
- 100g toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
- 75g soft butter
- 75g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the icing:
- 75g icing sugar
- 50ml boiling water
- 1 tsp Banana + Peanut Butter tea from Bluebird Tea Co., or other loose-leaf tea of your choice
First, make the dough. Put the milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the tea and stir well to combine. Leave to cool to body temperature, then strain the milk (discard the tea leaves) and combine in a bowl with the yeast and half the flour (I do this in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook). Set aside for 2 hours until the mixture has grown in size and is bubbly and frothy.
Add the mashed banana, melted butter, maple syrup, nutmeg and salt to the mixture, then sift in the rest of the flour and knead for 10 minutes, using a mixer or your hands, until the dough is soft and elastic. It is quite a sticky dough, but persevere (oiling your hands and the worktop may help). Leave to rise in the bowl, covered with a clean tea towel, until doubled in size – around 1-2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Beat together the butter, sugar and cinnamon with a wooden spoon until soft and spreadable. Set aside. Grease a large baking tray with butter.
When the dough has risen, roll it out on a work surface to around 1cm thick – you should have a rectangle around 40 x 30 cm, with the longest side facing you horizontally. Spread the butter and cinnamon mixture all over the dough using a spatula, then scatter over the walnuts. Roll the dough tightly up around the filling, starting from the long side nearest you, as you would a Swiss roll.
With a sharp knife, slice the roll into ten equal pieces widthways. Place these, swirl side up, on the greased baking tray with a gap of 1-2 inches between each one. Leave to rise until almost doubled in size and the rolls are touching one another.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool.
For the icing, infuse the tea in the boiling water and leave to cool. Strain and discard the tea leaves. Put the icing sugar in a small bowl then gradually add the cold tea, a little at a time, whisking constantly until you have an icing that is just thick enough to drizzle over the buns (you may not need all the tea). Use a teaspoon to drizzle it over the cooled buns, then eat immediately.
These also freeze well and reheat perfectly in a warm oven.