I’ve spent some time thinking about this space — more than one should, really — in an effort to define it. I’ve never been one to color in the lines, rather I’m someone who prefers to skirt the edges of things. Go beyond the margin. So for a time I dissected food blogs, magazines, trying to sort out where I fit. Communities of any sort have always been a challenge for me as I never follow a roadmap and I end up breaking all the china. And I’m also disturbingly shy around new people, so much so I end up in a corner, alone, and everyone mistakes my fear of meeting new people for snobbery.
After a month of studying the lives of food bloggers who claimed to have stumbled upon their fame rather fortuitously, I noticed a pattern that felt chilling, almost medicinal. You’re served up a dish, beautifully photographed and styled, and told a rather whimsical story of an haphazard life made pretty. Don’t mind the ticker tape of ads and sponsorships and free Kitchen Aids on the side. And then you look at your tiny kitchen with all its clutter and the recipe that doesn’t come close to the picture and the job you have to wake to in the morning, and something inside you turns. How is it possible that the place you’ve chosen to visit, the one that’s supposed to inspired you also pains you?
Although I admired the recipes, the pretty pictures and the sweet lives, I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted this space to be. And then I discovered a handful of blogs — those who told really beautiful narratives and married those stories with photographs. Whether they’re dishes just prepared or completely eaten, you felt warmth coming off the screen. You felt something real and raw and beautiful based on the few words they had to say, and the recipe was but a mere cog — an element of the picture that rendered it symmetrical.
The blogs were a kaleidoscope of one’s heart and at the core of it was food. Always food.
Then it dawned on me that I want this space to be a visual memoir of sorts — a food and life odyssey, where I try so so so so hard not to fixate on perfecting the photographs or the font, but laying my heart to bear. It may not give me loads of traffic or I may be breaking every SEO rule in the book, but I feel most comfortable sharing bits of my life through the lens of food.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the ride.
I’ve loved Deb from Smitten Kitchen’s blog for years. I adore her passion for food, her taste for perfection, and her wonderful kitchen tales, but in all candor I struggle with some of her recipes. Some of them purely shine, but some of her baked goods (especially those not in her book, but on her site) don’t always come out like the photo. Clearly, it might be me, my technique or ingredients, but it’s happened specifically with a few of her baked goods that I tend to now only dart in and out of her blog, and find inspiration in her savory bits. So while these chocolate swirl buns are delicious, I’ve made infinitely better ones. However, I’m not going to kick a good chocolate bun out of bed. OBVIOUSLY.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with modifications.
For the Dough
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus a pinch of granulated sugar
1 4oz packet of active dry yeast
1 large egg, brought to room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 tsp table salt
4 tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for bowl and muffin tins
For the Filling
3 tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (225 grams) mix of dark and semi-sweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Prepare dough: Warm water and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 116°F. While the original recipe called for milk, I tried (and wasted) four packets of yeast because I didn’t see this come to a bubble. This could be me, this could be the milk I used, but I bunged it all and opted to use water. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’re looking for it to be warm but not hot to the touch; best to err on the cool side. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Run mixer on low and add egg mixture, mixing until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Switch mixer to dough hook and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes on low speed. At 10 minutes, it should be smooth and slightly sticky, but it’ll firm up a bit after it rises. Butter a large bowl and place dough in it. Cover loosely with a lint-free towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled. While my dough didn’t double in size, it did balloon a little, and ultimately I did yield delicious, albeit less puffier, buns. In the end, my product wasn’t perfect but I’m not sweating a mini bun burning the roof of my mouth, am I? NO.
Meanwhile, prepare filling: If your chocolate is in large bars, roughly chop it. Using a food processor (or mini chop) pulse the chopped chocolate with the salt, sugar, and cinnamon until the chocolate is very finely chopped with some parts almost powdery. Add butter and pulse machine until it’s distributed throughout the chocolate. (If you don’t have a food processor, just chop the chocolate until it’s very finely chopped, then stir in the sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter until it makes a pasty/chunky/delicious mess.) Set mixture aside.
Generously butter (or spray, as I did) a standard 12-muffin tin; set aside.
Form buns: Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently deflate it with floured hands. Let it rest for another 5 minutes. Once rested, roll dough into a large rectangle. The short sides should be a scant 11 to 12 inches. The other side can be as long as you can roll it. The longer you can make it, the more dramatic and swirled your buns will be.
Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface. It’ll be clumpy and uneven and probably look like there’s too much chocolate for the volume of dough; just do your best. Tightly roll the dough back over the filling from one short end to the other, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. (Yes, it always magically grows because the dough is soft.) With a sharp serrated knife, gently saw 1-inch segments off the log and place each in a prepared muffin cup. Loosely cover buns with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
Bake: Dollop a tiny smidgen of softened butter on top of each bun. Bake buns for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take the buns out when it reads 185 to 190 degrees in the middle of each bun.
Set buns on cooling rack. Theoretically, you should cool them completely before unmolding them (with the aid of a knife or thin spatula to make sure nothing has stuck). This, of course, won’t happen, so have at them; just don’t burn your tongue.
Do ahead: These buns can be formed, placed in the muffin cups and refrigerated (loosely covered with plastic, which you might want to oil to keep it from sticking) the night before, to bake in the morning. You can bake them directly from the fridge. They can be baked and frozen until needed, up to 1 month.