In my family, we’re all about trying new things with food — my mother is a (closet) master cook, with a serious knack for throwing a bit of this and a pinch of that together to create a surprisingly delicious dish. She rarely follows recipes, and yet still manages to create masterpieces. I stick with my recipes because I know them, and they rarely let me down, but even still I’m always trying new ones and pushing the boundaries as much and as often as I can.
But also in my family, we’ve got some old stand-by’s, the treats that have stood the test of time that we know we’ll keep making forever and the day after too. These sticky buns are one of them — they take some effort, but they would never EVER betray our greedy taste buds. Given that this past weekend was our last in my childhood home, the place that has spawned many of tray of these gooey, decadent buns, I figured why not one last hurrah?
The recipe I started with so many sticky buns (and pounds of butter and bags of brown sugar) ago comes from a 14-year-old Bon Appetit recipe, published in March of 1996 for Maple Pecan Sticky Buns. On my first attempt, I can promise I followed the recipe to a T, but every time since then I’ve tweeked it to make something more and more my own. The buns have had their honey phases, where I completely edged out all of the maply syrup, they’ve had some oat-heavy attempts and some whole wheat adaptations. They’ve had a few tries with walnuts in place of pecans, and even this past weekend cranberries in place of raisins. The recipe is versatile (within reason) if you know (relatively) what you’re doing to it, but through it all, this recipe has never failed to produce one of the most glorious baked creations I’ve ever tasted. And I have tasted a LOT of pretty incredible stuff… I make it my goal to eat as many baked goodies as possible on a very regular (meaning daily) basis. I usually have some sort of occasion to make these sticky buns because they aren’t light on effort, but sometimes the occasion follows the lines of “I really need some sticky buns.” I mean, that’s a valid excuse in and of itself, right? Right.
The recipe I’m sharing below is mine, the one I’ve tweaked and cherished, and still change a bit every time I make them. If you want the original, please see the link above — the genius who wrote that recipe probably knew a lot more about baking science than I do, but I know what I like, and what works for me, and since this is my blog I’ll share my secrets with you!
1 1/4 cups milk (do not use nonfat -- whole milk is best)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 - 3 1/2 cups (approximately) unbleached all purpose flour
For the syrup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup (packed) brown sugar (I usually use dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
For the filling
3/4 cup pecans and/or walnuts -- I usually add an extra handful, I like lots of nutty crunch
2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries (currants would probably be good too)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For assembly and baking
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
To make dough:
Place water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over and stir to blend. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 8 minutes.
Combine oats, 1/3 cup sugar, butter, lemon peel and salt in large bowl. Heat milk in small saucepan until bubbles from around edge of pan. Pour hot milk over oat mixture and stir until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool mixture to 105°F to 115°F, about 10 minutes.
Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla and dissolved yeast to oat mixture; stir to blend. Mix in 3 cups flour. Using firm spatula or large wooden spoon, beat batter 100 strokes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let batter rest 10 minutes.
Using spatula, mix enough flour into batter, 1/4 cupful at a time, to form soft dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead gently until smooth and slightly sticky dough forms, adding more flour if very sticky, about 8 minutes.
Lightly oil large bowl. Place dough in bowl; turn to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then with towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare syrup and filling.
To make syrup:
Butter two 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dishes. Combine maple syrup and butter in heavy medium skillet. Stir over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat. Mix in brown sugar. Pour half of syrup into each prepared dish; tilt to coat of bottom of dishes evenly. Sprinkle each with half of nuts; cool.
To make filling:
Combine all ingredients in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until pecans are finely chopped. Transfer mixture to bowl.
To assemble and bake:
Carefully turn doubled dough out onto floured surface (do not punch down dough). Roll dough gently to flatten slightly. Using hands, pull and stretch dough to 12 x 18-inch rectangle. Brush dough with all of melted butter. Sprinkle filling evenly over dough, leaving 1/2-inch plain border on 1 long side. Starting at long side opposite uncovered border, roll up dough jelly roll style, forming log. Pinch seam to seal.
Using heavy large knife, score log into 12 equal pieces. Cut log at scores. Arrange 6 pieces, cut side up and evenly spaced, in each prepared baking dish. Lightly press down on buns with palm of hand. Cover pans tightly with plastic wrap. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate overnight.)
Let buns rise in warm draft-free area until light and puffy, about 50 minutes if buns are at room temperature or 1 hour 15 minutes if refrigerated.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake buns uncovered until tops are golden brown and syrup bubbles thickly, reversing dishes halfway through baking, about 25 minutes.
Remove dishes from oven. Immediately place large baking sheet over 1 baking dish. Using oven mitts as aid, grasp dish and baking sheet together and turn over, releasing buns and topping onto sheet. Turn second dish of buns onto another sheet. Cool buns 5 minutes. (Can be made ahead. Cool buns completely. Wrap buns tightly with foil on baking sheet. Freeze up to 2 weeks. Bake frozen buns covered 375°F until heated through, about 15 minutes.) Serve buns hot.
If the excessive commentary above, and the seriously lengthy instructions aren’t proof enough — I absolutely love these sticky buns. The only ones I’ve ever tried that I think I love as much (but not more!) are Joanne Chang’s sticky buns at Flour Bakery and Cafe. Fortunately they are different enough that I can love them both! Hers have a brioche dough and a more caramely sauce, mine are just some amateur-baker’s idea of breakfast heaven, but I’m still pretty darn pleased with the ways these buns turn out each and every time. If you have a few spare hours, and the patience of a saint to wait for these to rise and bake, you better go make them NOW. I promise you, your life will never be the same, and if I’m lying, I’ll make you an entire batch myself.
For a while there, I was falling out of practice with this blog, and I was worried that I’d fall completely out of touch with something I once loved so much. But the long weekend and ample time in the kitchen have renewed my spirit to a point of almost ridiculous obsession. There are few things in life I love more than baking for the people I love, and then sharing my creations with a virtual world of others who understand my passion and appreciate good food. In fact, the only thing that may be better is getting to eat the food itself!
Here’s to a renewed blogging spirit, and a sincere and true hope that I can stick with it for good! My internal, eternal optimist thinks the chances are pretty good 🙂