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Remembrance of Things Past

Posted December 10, 2011 by sonia in Featured

I just made some African Rum Buns last weekend. This is a core recipe from my childhood, the exception to the “Africans don’t eat desserts” rule.

I don’t remember when I got the recent idea to make African Rum Buns. I have not made them in over a decade, maybe close to twenty years. I had an experience that subconsciously turned me away from wanting to make them. Growing up, whenever some Girl Scout “girls around the world” event happened, Mom and I would make these rum buns. And for some reason, I was thinking about Girl Scouts one night while drifting to sleep. Girl Scouts was where I clashed, er, I mean, learned with troop leaders and other girls weekly for eight years. Girl Scouts, along with watching the women around me, helped “domesticate” me.

I remember one clash: we made these rum buns at a troop meeting with our hands instead of with a wooden spoon like at home. The troop leader said it was for “culture”, just like how the Africans do it, was implied. I seethed, thinking about how my parents put education above all else and at the spoons in supply and in use at my relatives’ homes. I said nothing then, because I somehow felt this battle would be a futile arrow directed at the tank of her imperialism. I also felt like it would make my mom’s heart sink, since I know my attempt to set the record straight would sound different when my mom heard it from my troop leader on our yellow phone. I think I didn’t want to learn about what this troop leader said, either. My mom, of course, confirmed that she thought handling the dough would be more fun for us kids, not because we’d never seen a spoon.

Over time, parental discretion would decrease the amount of rum or change the coconut to peanuts for kids’ tastes. As for me, I have always loved the original coconut, rum and nutmeg flavors, which I now realize is a classic scone base ratio. And I’ll always remember my two favorite parts of baking these scones. When I would open the oven to check doneness, this gaseous cloud of rum and nutmeg that would almost knock me over. I would, when I was old enough to know, associate that intoxicating cloud with Sylvia Plath. Rather glibly, I would hope that maybe if she were baking rum buns she would want to stay alive for the second great part: sinking one’s teeth into a hot rum bun, like a scone-macaroon-rum ball amalgam, followed by a sip of milk tea.

This time I made a big bowl of dough that I mixed with my hands. I thought of our culture, our real culture, and all the trade winds that made a scone recipe with tropical ingredients like this happen. I gauged the temperature of the dough–cool. I’m glad I kept cool at the scout meeting, hard as that was for my then thirteen-year-old tongue. And I hope others will enjoy and appreciate a delicious, unique recipe, even though it may not be a Proustian experience like it is for me.

African Rum Buns

2 sticks very cold butter (I would add 1/2 C. more butter for a total of 2.5 sticks) 
1 1/4 pounds flour (use 3.5 cups)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
8 oz. sweetened coconut flakes
2 oz. rum or one tablespoon rum extract
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1.5 tsp. baking powder (I added .5 tsp. to original recipe)
1/4 cup (or less) heavy cream or evaporated milk

Mix flour and all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add butter, cut in uniform chunks (like “pats” of butter, sixteen “pats per stick. Mix until butter and dry ingredients look like sand with little pebbles in them. Grease baking sheets (or use ungreased silicone pads) drop by tablespoons onto cookie sheets. Mix wet ingredients (except cream) then add to dry mixture. Add cream until dough holds together by itself but does not stick to fingers (like play dough consistency). Bake at 425• for 20 minutes. Make sure to switch cookie sheets, top sheet to bottom rack and bottom sheet to top rack, halfway through to ensure even baking. Buns are done when they are the color of manila folders on the bottom and parts of the top and the color of butter in other places.  Cool fifteen minutes.

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