Sunday, 27 July 2014

Quick & Easy Vegan (Yeasted) Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon Rolls. Cinnamon buns. I won't quibble over specifics - if there's bready goodness with a sweet, creamy, gooey, cinnamony filling - I will be there in a flash. With or without the glaze that makes them totally over the top.

Photo from James' attempt!
I grew up with a single, working Mum who didn't have a lot of spare time. But every now and then, I'd wake up to gorgeous scents floating through the house, jump up excitedly, and run to the kitchen to find that she'd made us cinnamon rolls. 

Now, my Mum was a busy, single working mother, so she didn't have time to mess around with yeast and kneading, so the cinnamon rolls she made were unyeasted - basically, a rolled and filled almost-shortcrust pastry. And they were darn delicious. My mum is actually extremely, horribly allergic to dairy and eggs, so I grew up with cinnamon rolls that were unintentionally vegan, which made returning to them as an adult even easier - they didn't even require any tweaking of the recipe. I still make them sometimes.

Me at approximately 4, baking with my Grandma. Look at my crazy eyes - I loved it.
As I've gotten older, I've also found an equally passionate love of cinnamon buns - which, are obviously more bakery style - and are yeasted, with a silky, tender, puffy, slightly chewy tender dough in place of that creamy almost-shortcrust I grew up with, but are otherwise pretty much the same. The yeasted nature gives them an almost un-explainable umami richness.

I have a Kitchenaid stand-mixer, so pretty much the only thing that stops me making either buns or scrolls is a) the unavoidable rolling-out of the dough and the sprinklings of flour that I know are going to get everywhere and b) the time component.

I'm now learning just to relax, put down a Silpat (silicone baking mat), and spread that flour everywhere, knowing that it won't be hard to clean up afterwards. If I just start, I'll overcome the mental hurdle of hatred of mess. Watching the way Nigella Lawson gleefully gets her hands right into every step of the cooking process has also helped me too. It just takes a quick wipe down and a hand-wash for her to revert to looking pristine. Maybe I could too... Now if only I had her lighting team, and luscious, luscious hair...

A screenshot I took from Nigella's 2005 talk show on dieting, as she announced she was giving the entire audience free Krispy Kreme donuts, because "you mustn't deprive yourself". You've gotta love her.

Getting over this hasn't helped fix the time component for yeasted buns. I'm pretty bad at delaying gratification - so making something and waiting four hours to eat them is akin to slow, painful torture for me. And then, this morning, the Universe smiled down on me, and I saw that my friend Kittee had made quick cinnamon buns, based on the recipe that Somer McCowan of Vedged Out had posted on Instagram. They're yeasted, but only require 10 minutes rising time, thanks to a special ingredient she (and I) had on hand after making Bryanna's palm-oil-free vegan butter, called Liquid Lecithin, an emulsifier and humectant which I've discovered has properties that greatly improve yeasted doughs, and require little or no rising time.

I thought I'd take a punt and give them a try, and they worked out gorgeously. You may still get covered in flour, but at least you won't have to wait. I can't find the recipe on her website, so thought I'd share it here. It's quick, little fuss, and very satisfying. Thanks very much to Somer for pulling this together.

Somer McCowan's Quick & Easy Cinammon Buns, re-written (so blame me, not her!):

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350 F and grease a square or circular baking dish (I used a glass Pyrex pie dish and canola spray).

2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the beating paddle, add:
1 cup warm water (not too hot, or you'll kill the yeast)
1 tablespoon instant yeast (I used Lowan brand)
1 tablespoon liquid lecithin (eyeball this, because it's near impossible to get it off either utensils, OR your hands - trust me, it's a very unpleasant feeling to have this all over your hands (James/Bryanna's note: spray the tablespoon with oil before measuring the lecithin and it will slide right off the spoon!))
2.5 cups + 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
3. Knead for 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. My dough was pretty touchable, and not sticky.

4. Flour your work area and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out into an 8 x 14 inch rectangle (my silicon mat has inches marked, which is fantastic).

5. Mix together:
1/4 cup softened butter (I'm not going to get into naming wars. Use whatever you use as butter - whether nuttelex, earth balance, or dairy butter - just don't write to me proselytising and raving about how unhealthy butter/margarine is, because I truly don't care. Add salt as needed, if what you're using is unsalted. Salt makes things delicious).
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6. Spread butter mixture all over the dough, right to the edges (I used a pastry brush)

7. Grasp both edges of the longest length side (bottom of the rectangle), and gently roll it forward, taking care to keep the filling even, until you end up with a cylinder which is spiralled inside. 

8. Cut cylinder into one inch rolls, turn them sideways (spiral visible from above), and place in your greased baking dish. Continue cutting and arranging until complete. I had to squish some of mine up, but that's okay, their will to rise is strong, and they will be fine.

9. Set the dish, packed with yummy buns full of potential in a warm (but not hot) place, to rise for 10 minutes, or until almost doubled (which I admit I forgot to do, I was so eager - and they turned out fine, with no "yeasty" taste).

10. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden.

They're good as they are, or you can make an icing sugar/butter/milk glaze to drizzle over them if you're feeling really Nigellicious and want your hands dripping with sugar and fat.

Unfortunately, I was pretty slap-dash and devoured half of them like a ravenous beast, so I don't have a photo of the outcome, sorry (not sorry). So here's a photo of my darling Devon Rex cat Sylvia, when she was a baby kitten and I had just brought her home. Today, she's a ferocious beast, but she's still gorgeous.

She's not shy. Work it, girl!

I'm also interesting in hearing about your experiences with liquid lecithin - I've read you can use it to make super fast-rising pizza dough as well. Let me know what you think.
And in the words of Nigella Lawson - "I don't believe in deprivation. Enjoy yourself".


Monday, 7 July 2014

5 Housework Helping Hacks for the Helpless

I used to detest housework. Detest detest detest. I used to have help. Two cleaners, over the years. The first, a friend of a friend's mother who arranged my bathroom toiletries in new and terrifying ways, like gorgeously/innovatively arranging my shampoos and body washes around the vanity sink. She was really short though, so if I didn't want her to see or move anything, I just had to hide it on top of a cupboard. Win. I guess she was blind. Then there was another lady I employed after moving house, who snarled "I don't work well with other people, so now I clean. Alone", when I first met her. I'm not gonna pretend that sometimes my spirit animal isn't Paranoid Parrot, so I admit to sneaking up to the driveway and taking a photo of her car and registration plate, in case she decided to kill me. How would that help? Oh, I'm so glad you asked. Let me tell you: You know it and I know it. If I die, the first thing my dear friends/neighbourhood policeman are going to do is go through my camera roll on my iPhone, looking for concrete evidence of my misplaced vanity. And maybe some cute photos of cats. They'll see the photo of her car, remember I'm paranoid and crazy, and my death will be avenged. Anyhow, I digress. I ended up not booking her again after she took 6 hours to clean my one bedroom apartment, and didn't get time to wipe down surfaces. And, because, despite my warnings, I came home to find my cat Sylvia in a mega-drugged up state, rolling around with a bleach soaked rag, in fits of pure heaven/hell. Apparently some cats find bleach THE BEST THING EVER. "Help, My Cat Is Addicted To Bleach" is a common veterinary advice column question.

Anyway, I found myself growing up and reaching the age where I care not only about what other people will think about the tidiness/state of my house, but also, I just wanted things to be clean and organised so I feel comfortable and can sit down without embedding myself with shards of potato chips, or falling over shoes and roses in a stumble in the dark of night.

So, without further ado (what a stupid saying - i'm gonna say "hairdo" from now on, because then I can say "hair-don't" and people will laugh), here are the things that got my lazy, potato chip-scarred butt into gear, and also made me a house-proud house-dude. In order from "tiny, c'mon, just do it, it's a bare minimum", to "this is nice and worth it, you should still do it". Along with photos of my very own models.

The benefits? Well, Let me just say this - I don't have to brush my feet anymore. There's no dirt or crumbs for this reformed slob to walk around the house anymore. I don't have to brush my feet against each other when I go to bed (I know you've done it, don't get all hoity toity on me).

I warn you, the photos I took of myself demonstrating make me look, upon reflection, a little unbalanced.

1) Detergent-dispensing washing up wand. (Around $6).
So. Easy. There's nothing that makes me feel more unclean than dishes sitting in the sink, in various stages of water-filled, clean-ish, and dirty. It makes me shudder. When cooking for one, there may only be a couple of pots, a plate, and a piece of cutlery or two. And that's hardly reason to don gloves and fill up the sink. Bazinga - in comes the detergent-dispensing washing up wand. There's no excuse to not have one of these if your washing up jobs tend to be small in number. They're available pretty heavy duty these days (even coming with scourer heads for tougher jobs), and are nearly as planet friendly as just a sponge - you just replace the head when the old one is getting manky. To wash up a dish or a pot, just turn some hot water on, hold the stick, and rub the sponge head over the surface. Like most things, I find it easier to do it as I go, washing dishes up immediately as I use them. While you're rubbing/sponging, it's automatically releasing your detergent of choice through the sponge head. And your dishes are clean, and you can go dirty them again with endless cups of herbal tea, vodka, and spaghetti. Magic.

You could even do dishes whilst kneeling on the hardwood floor in front of your computer's camera! So amaze!

2) Robot-sweeper. (Mine was $89).
Oh my goodness. I'd wanted a robot vacuum for so long, but really wasn't convinced the hassle was worth the trouble. Creating "walls" and setting "boundaries" and "programming directions" on a $500+ machine wasn't my idea of fun. Also, I can't think of anything worse for regular use than it wandering around the house with the sound of a vacuum running all the time. Too noisy, and annoying. In comes the Robot Sweeper, entering the scene, in affordability and swishing movements, brushes blazing.

Like Rex Hunt with his fish, but I ain't throwin' this baby back!

I fought for this. I was shopping with The Academic, saw the Robot-Sweeper, and fell in love. He really, really, didn't want me to get it. He told me I was wasting my money, that I already had a Dyson vacuum cleaner, etc, etc, and was so vehemently opposed to me purchasing it that it made the prospect of me buying one IRRESISTIBLE. So I did, and I've never looked back. I have genuine emotional feelings towards my robot sweeper.

It's bare bones in terms of features, but so effective. The first time, you attach the brushes, turn it on, and it's off and on. The only settings are for optic sensitivity (if you have stairs or ledges you don't want it fall off). You charge it for 3 hours, and it wanders the house for about 40 minutes to a cycle. If you want it to do just one room at a time, shut the door. It doesn't make the loud noise of a vacuum, but instead has circular brushes that look like spinning whiskers underneath it, which it uses to sweep dust, dirt, hair, and small debris up into its collection receptacle. It doesn't have bags or any of that drama, so, when full or after a completed cycle, you just remove the receptacle, tip it into a bin, and bang the filter to shake the dust up (it's also water rinsable). It does a remarkable job, getting right into corners and under tables and beds that I would never bother with, and navigates the terrain really well - just remove most things from the floor and it'll go about its business. It has a movable part on the front that recognises when it has come in contact with an obstacle. The only difficulty you may have is that it's not carpet-friendly - it can damage the whiskers. (Mine goes over my rug just fine).

So, does it really do a good job? Is it worth it? In the beginning, I didn't imagine it would, provided  I was vacuuming regularly, and it was cheap. But even after doing my entire timber/tile house super thoroughly with the Dyson, the robot sweeper STILL seems to collect a full collection receptacle each cycle. It gets all the dirt and dust and hair you don't even see, just as a matter of course. And because it's quiet, I run it once every day or two. The fact that Sylvia hates the Dyson, and hisses if you even just touch it, the robot-sweeper is a life-saver. She looks at it with bemusement and slight annoyance, but not anger. It does a pretty darn good job of maintenance cleaning, and I'm a hairy-shedding-beast. I wouldn't want to be without it now. 6 months on, The Academic now admits that it's a good purchase - and has one himself.

3) Steam Mop (plugged in to extra-long extension cord). (Mine was $99).
Mopping with a traditional mop is THE WORST. Water and cleaning solution and lugging buckets around the house and squeezing and waiting for things to dry, pouring dirty water into the bathtub and splashing it all over your face and then wanting to cry - it's just not worth it.

In comes the steam mop. I used to tease my Dad about his steam mop collection, not realising how useful they were (I'd actually never... I mean, NEVER, mopped anywhere I'd lived, after 10 years of living away from home, until I got this steam mop). So, after being freaked out and fed up with constantly spot-cleaning areas with paper towels where Sylvia had a) vomited, or b) dragged blood-seeping meat around the house, I had the bright idea to ask Dad about what steam mop to buy. After he went on for about an hour about how good they were, whilst talking in a very slow and deliberate voice, like he was The Lion King passing very important knowledge on to his adult son, I eventually got a brand recommendation out of him.

So off I trundled to purchase it. I got it home and it sat on the lounge room floor in its box for a couple of weeks, until Sylvia had ripped a big enough hole in the box (she'd sit on top, and use a technique comprising fang hooking in concert with paw-clawing, sometimes at the same time) for me to be able to see into. 

It couldn't be easier to use. You just draw-string a fluffy cover over the head, fill the back up with water, plug it in, and you're off. The only important thing is to use a mega long extension cord. I can't think of anything worse than having to plug and unplug per room, reaching the end of my cord. It's important to remember with a steam mop that it takes a bit of time to develop your technique. You want slow, steady motions back and forth. Find a stain or dirt on the floor, and start with that, watching how your different technique attempts affect the stain/dirt, and you'll see what works and what doesn't pretty quickly. And make sure you work from the back of the room to the front, so you don't walk in the already-cleaned wet spots. It only takes a few minutes to dry, though, so it's not a big drama if you forget.

At the end, you just remove the head cover, and throw it in your next laundry load. It's also really satisfying, because by noticing how dirty/clean it is, you can see how dirty/clean your house was.

I wanted to go all "American Gothic" like this one, but it looks too much like something Ariel's Dad would wield undersea

4) A Decent Cordless Stick Vacuum (Mine's a Dyson. It was around $500, with a number of "bonus" attachments - everything required from cleaning the car, to ... god, I don't know. I don't use any of those attachments. They sit in the closet and make me feel inefficient). 
What are the worst things about vacuuming? 1) The weight you're dragging along behind you, and 2) The cord that's never long enough, tangled, in the way, etc, etc, etc. I don't know if bags are a 3rd, because I live in a post-bag-vacuum society.

In comes my wonderful Dyson cordless vacuum to fix all of the problems of the world. You charge it for 3 hours, and it gives you around 15 minutes of cleaning time per charge. It's light as, a perfect height, has a motorised head, and makes cleaning as simple as basically walking around the house with it comfortably in your hand. To save on battery, you have to squeeze a "trigger" to activate the suction, so no moment of battery is wasted. OH MY GOODNESS IT'S SO EASY. For carpets or more heavy duty areas, it has a "max" button, as well, which I really only use on the rug or on cat litter pellets (AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS A CAT WHO FLICKS CAT LITTER ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE?! Gee those things hurt when you stand on them unexpectedly). 

When you're finished, you just press a button and a cover pops open, allowing you to just shake the collection receptacle area into the bin. Woohoo.

As a bonus - imagine if the witches of Hocus Pocus had this? I mean, no extension cords, they could just fly off into the night? I'm pretty sure the children of Salem would have lost that round...

Come here, Zachary Binx! Zachary Binnnnnnnx! Dueeeeell!

5) And finally, getting off your backside and just doing it. Get into a routine if you must. ($Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, and it develops discipline, which is priceless).
I have actually grown to quite like cleaning. It makes my home nicer to be in, it's a little bit of exercise, and it has visible results, which is uber satisfying. I've made it super easy for myself with the aforementioned tips, and I always feel great after relaxing in my newly clean home. BUT STILL, I struggle to get started. That little voice of procrastination in the back of my head tells me it's awful, it's a chore, that I don't want to do it, that it's boring, and it'll take me ages. Despite me knowing that's simply not true, it can still be a bit of a struggle to get started. But the magic is: once I start vacuuming, I almost instantly remember how easy it is, and how much I like cleaning (and the results - a clean house!), and I go for it, not stopping until my floors and dishes are clean. Then I have a shower and relax. 

To overcome this, I made a deal with myself. On the first day of my work weekend, before I do anything else, I clean. And in a particular order, so it gets into my muscle memory and helps the habit form. First I vacuum, then I steam mop, then I send the robot-sweeper on its mission, and finally, I do the dishes (if there are any from the day before). It takes me no more than an hour and a half before the house is spick and span, and I'm free to enjoy myself in or out of a clean house without the nagging feeling of guilt or grossness.

It takes about 5 weeks to form a habit, so stick with it. Set the same time every week aside at the start of your rest period, and just do it. Convince yourself to just get started on one task, preferably vacuuming. Like brushing your teeth, it'll become a habit, and you'll get used to it and do it without thought in no time. 

You'll be enjoying the benefits and relaxing afterwards in no time. Then you can lock yourself in your bathroom with a bottle of red wine and a book (okay, your mobile phone/ipod, which you constantly live in fear of dropping into the bath and electrocuting yourself with - NB. I do not advise this, but I know you probably do it anyway, so don't get litigious with me). ENJOY!