Sometimes - do you know those mornings? - all you want is a truly trashy breakfast. No ascetic shreds of wheat in a bowl with thin, blue milk, no virtuous globes of fruit cut up into a stern puddle of white yogurt, no hard-boiled egg eaten, hurriedly, on the way to the train. Some mornings, the ones when you wake up languidly, stretching like a cat, with sun streaming through the blinds and a blissful sense of purposelessness enveloping you, the perfect breakfast is puffy and sweet, threaded with butter and sugar and pockets of melting chocolate, and best eaten on the couch. Absolutely no balance is needed when you're starting the day off with something like that, well, other than a cup of something hot and steaming.
Ben was still asleep on Sunday morning when I snuck into the kitchen. Doing my best not to wake him with my kitchen clangings, I stealthily shook flour into a bowl, heated milk and butter on the stove, and came to a screeching halt when I read, then re-read, Nigella's amounts of instant yeast. Three packets? As in Three Entire Packets? As in 6 and three-quarter teaspoons of instant yeast? I went online in an attempt to figure out if this was a misprint, then found my answer in Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess on my bookshelf: yes, she really does mean three whole packets, which will seem like a positively obscene amount of yeast, but just go with it, it'll be fine, I promise. Because what you'll end up with will be a riotous tangle of fragrant dough baking up into burnished perfection just in time for when your sweetheart shuffles into the kitchen, eyes growing wider by the second when he spies what awaits him on the kitchen counter.
(And remember, folks, instant yeast is also known as bread-machine yeast or rapid-rise yeast. It's not the same as active dry yeast, which needs to be proofed in liquid before being added to the flour. Instant yeast goes directly into the dry ingredients.)
So, yes, the dough - it was easy-peasy. It comes together in a matter of seconds, then all you have to do is knead it to a smooth, elastic state. This takes a few minutes, if you're doing it by hand, but on a lazy Sunday morning, there's no better way to ease your way into wakefulness. And, while I didn't exactly miss baking with yeast during the summer, there's no better way to welcome our cooler temperatures than by slapping around a yielding piece of dough. The dough, buoyed by the ridiculous quantity of yeast, practically exploded out of the bowl - billowing puffily upwards with what looked like almost unrestrained glee.
I punched down the dough, spread it with a paste of sugar and butter, scattered chopped almonds (in place of the splintered pistachios called for in the original recipe) and fat chocolate chips over the dough, then rolled it up into a plump, nay, corpulent sausage of doughy, sweet goodness. Nigella also has you roll one reserved piece of dough into a rectangle to form the bottom of the rolls, but I'm not exactly sure why. If you make these, I'd suggest skipping this step. After another quick rise, the pan went into the oven and the dough practically shot skywards, growing and twisting and glowing in the heat of the oven.
The recipe says to bake the buns at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but after only 20 minutes, that bottom rectangle was scorched into a flat, black plank. So, my suggestion to those of you itching to make these right now is to bake the buns at 400, without that bottom sheet of dough, for 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on them, maybe they'll have to go for a few minutes longer, but something tells me that will be just right.
Oh, you're meant to wait until these puppies have cooled a bit before tearing them apart and eating them, but to that I just say good luck. The scent of them baking will wake up even the deepest sleeper in your house and, before you know it, pleading eyes and beseeching hands will push your careful self aside to reach for the hot pan. In a blink, you'll be on the couch, popping sweet, plump strands of fluffy dough studded with chocolate chips and crispy almonds into your mouth, thinking it was sensible indeed to throw caution to the wind. Who cares about burned mouths when there are more buns to be eaten?
Chocolate-Almond Whirligig Buns
Makes 20-30 buns
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 packets instant yeast (6 3/4 teaspoons)
7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
3/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg, beaten
1. To prepare the dough, combine 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a small saucepan, combine butter and milk and heat to lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly, then whisk them into the milk mixture. Sitr the liquid ingredients into the dry ones.
2. Using a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand, knead dough until smooth and springy, adding more flour if necessary. Form into a ball and place in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 30 minutes.
3. Punch down dough. Line a 13 x 10-inch baking pan with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out one-third of the dough and place in pan (I skipped this step and think you should, too). Roll out remaining dough to a rectangle about 20 to 10 inches.
4. For the filling, mix together the butter and sugar to a paste. Spread the paste over large rectangle of dough. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the dough, then top with chocolate chips. Starting from longest side, carefully roll up dough so it looks like a long sausage. Cut dough into 20 slices, about 3/4 inch thick, and arrange with a cut side up on top of the dough in the pan.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (original recipe says 450). Brush buns with beaten egg and let them sit in a warm place until puffed up and snugly fitting pan, about 15-20 minutes. Bake until buns have risen and are golden-brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from baking pan to cool on a rack. Serve warm.