Tis tradition in Mr T’s work that you bring in your own buns on your birthday. I’m really not sure about this as a concept; why would you be treating other people on the one day that is all about you? Anyway, with expectations high and sugar overload on the menu, I set out every year to make him proud, packed off to the office with tins full of treats and a house full of dishes with icing sugar footprints traversing the kitchen. This year’s menu:
Salted caramel brownies – a take on the Nigella recipe below, also inspired by Shemakesandbakes
Snow-flecked white chocolate chip brownies – Nigella Lawson (Feast)
Bill Grainger’s Caramel Squares – recipe here
Hummingbird Bakery Cinnamon Rolls – from Home Sweet Home book, also here
Birthday cake – devil’s food with caramel buttercream – Nigella Lawson (Kitchen)
I didn’t realise how much of a chocolate and caramel theme there was going on until it was too late and I also didn’t care. The salted caramel brownies were the only recipe I hadn’t tried before – a variation on Nigella’s snow-flecked brownies from Feast (I am nothing if not seasonal), I decided to half the huge batch the recipe makes and try something different with them, worst-case scenario being we’d have to eat them ourselves and I could send the good half into his work. Basically I baked a thin layer of brownie mix for around 15-20 minutes, removed from the oven, cooled for 20 minutes and then slathered on most of a tin of dulce de leche. A good sprinkling of Maldon salt took them from regular to sophisticated – I don’t know why salted caramel is such a posh cousin to caramel, but hey. Then I dotted the remaining brownie batter over the top in an effort to cover all the caramel but not drag it into the chocolate brownie mix. Back in the oven for another 20 minutes and this was the result…
Squidgy, filthy looking brownies. If I’m being critical – or myself as I like to call it – the bottom layer was always going to be a bit overdone and less fudgy, but these worked out pretty well overall for a first attempt. The outer edges cut best and the middle ones were a little messy as the caramel squidged out like a brownie salted caramel sandwich, but honestly what’s not to like there. I’m a firm believer in the worst-looking bakes usually tasting the best, so the rejects stayed at home lest they be deemed substandard. I should say that the snow-flecked originals were perfect little fudgy-bellied squares – Nigella has rarely let me down and scarcely ever when chocolate is involved.
The caramel squares are a favourite of Mr T – the addition of coconut to the usual shortbread base and baking the caramel topping on top seems to add a new dimension to an old favourite – the base is buttery but you can almost fool yourself that it’s wholesome when you taste coconut and the double-cooked caramel is smooth and melting under a yielding layer of half-milk half-dark chocolate, and a sprinkling of sea salt. This batch turned out particularly well for no apparent reason and although they look pretty unassuming (the photo isn’t the best), you can eat at least 3 with ease.
I’ve made the Hummingbird Bakery cinnamon rolls before and thought they’d be a nice Friday-morning non-chocolate choice, until I realised I’d need to get up early to make them on the day (husband, you mean more to me than day-old cinnamon rolls – this is quite a profound realisation as there’s not much or many people I’d get out of bed early for). Online research in the art of cinnamon rolling told me I could take the buns right through to before the second proof, put them in the fridge and take them out in the morning for their second rise before they hit the oven, so I decided the experiment was worth the extra hour and a half under the duvet. Up at 6am, I started to panic when the rolls wouldn’t rise as they were so fridge-cold, so I put them in a warm oven to see if that would tempt them. Only issue was that some of the cinnamon butter oozed out as they did so, so we may have lost a little in proving, but they looked good and I got them iced and out the door shortly after 8am, so all in all it worked out.
The chocolate cake was a regular devil’s food with caramel buttercream from a Hummingbird Bakery recipe I found online – I decided to make it unsalted, otherwise it was starting to look like I had some kind of salted caramel obsession – between three tiers and the devil’s food frosting from Nigella Kitchen on top. Decorated with caramel sweets, some off-cuts from the caramel brownies, a caramel drizzle and some pretzels and it looked pretty calorific to say the least! We did the cake before Dublin so the boys could sing and blow out candles and the remainder made it into work after the weekend – mainly to stop me eating the rest! Happy Birthday Mr T!