This first recipe creates great sticky buns, but after the primary recipe an alternate dough recipe is provided (brioche), and then the full recipe for Joanne Chang’s (Flour Bakery®) sticky buns, which are reputed to be the very best, but I don’t know because I haven’t tried them. If you have not made sticky buns before, do this first recipe and then consider trying the more complicated recipes later. Experience is a great teacher.
1/4 cup of warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2 tsp. of active dry yeast
1/3 cup of sugar
1 cup of milk
1 extra large or jumbo egg
4 Tbsp. of soft butter, plus more for greasing the proofing bowl
1 1/4 tsp. of salt
4 to 4 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup of firmly packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. of ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. of soft butter
¾ cup of toasted chopped pecans
3/4 cup of firmly packed light brown sugar
4 Tbsp. of butter
3 Tbsp. of Dark corn syrup
6 Tbsp. of honey
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces by weight) of coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup of dark Sun-Maid® raisins
Make the dough. In the pre-warmed bowl (run hot water over the outside of the bowl before using it) of an electric mixer, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add the milk, butter, remaining sugar, egg, salt and 3 cups flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining cup of flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium, kneading the dough until it is smooth and slightly sticky (add a little more flour if too wet, or a little milk if too dry), about 3 to 5 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large, buttered bowl. Turn the dough over in the bowl to coat it all over with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour (or 2 hours if not in an entirely warm place). After the dough has risen, punch it down. Turn it out onto a lightly floured cutting board and let it sit 20 minutes covered.
Toast the ¾ cup of pecans pieces on a cookie tray in a 300ºF oven for five to ten minutes, checking every few minutes and stirring the nuts to have them toast evenly. Do not let them burn. Remove them from the oven when finished.
Make the filling. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt the butter separately. You will use a pastry brush later to spread the melted butter on the rolled out dough.
Roll the dough out into a 12" x 18" rectangle. Brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar mixture, then sprinkle it with the toasted chopped pecans. Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a cylinder. Place it seam side down on a flat surface and cut it crosswise into 15 slices.
Make the topping. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, honey and corn syrup over low heat; stir until the sugar and butter are melted. Pour the mixture into a buttered 9"x13"x2" glass baking dish. Sprinkle the 1 ½ cups of raw coarsely chopped pecans evenly on the topping. Then sprinkle the raisins evenly on the topping.
Place the dough slices, flat side down, on top of the prepared topping. Crowd them so they touch. Cover them with plastic wrap, leaving room for the buns to rise. Let the dough rise for 60 minutes or store overnight in a refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Bake the buns until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately and carefully invert it onto a serving tray or platter or plate. Scrape any leftover topping from the baking dish and apply it to the buns. Let the buns cool slightly and serve them warm with butter.
Some bakers use a topping that contains cream and a small amount of salt, as well as honey, brown sugar and butter. The mixture is cooked first on medium heat without the cream as if you are making caramel, except it isn’t necessary to heat to a soft ball stage. Instead, heat on medium until all ingredients are dissolved, then add the cream a little at a time while whisking. Let it cool to room temperature. It is then ready to be poured into the baking dish, after which the pecans and raisins are added.
The idea is that the cream increases the volume of the topping and creates a very sticky, sticky bun. This method was developed by Joanne Chang, who owns the Flour Bakery® in Boston, MA, and her sticky buns are reputed to be without equal.
The next variation is to use a type of dough called brioche. It is commonly used by commercial bakers, including Joanne Chang, and now we will take a look at the ingredients and procedure for making/using a basic sweet brioche dough.
Basic Brioche Sweet Dough:
1/3 cup of warm water.
3 extra large eggs.
2 egg yolks.
¾ cup of butter, softened.
3 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour.
¼ cup of white sugar.
½ teaspoon of active dry yeast.
You can make the brioche dough in a manner similar to regular dough procedure shown in the first sticky bun recipe, but beat it in an electric mixer long enough to totally incorporate the butter, which is added last in small pieces, until it becomes easy to work.
Moving on …
Now for the big variation. I found Joanne Chang’s recipe for sticky buns on the Internet after watching her make them on TV, and it is printed below. I can’t wait to try it! Do note that missing parts of the process are the reality regarding what is shown on TV, and the recipe doesn’t tell you all the little tricks you need to know … So I added my corrections in Italics.
Flour's Famous Sticky Buns - ?
First, make the goo. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that's ok). Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. If necessary, strain the mixture to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let it cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
Divide the dough (if you make the amount per the recipe below) in half. Use half for this recipe and reserve the other half for later use.
On a floured work surface, roll out the brioche into a rectangle about 12 by 16 inches and 1/4-inch thick. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh© and should be fairly easy to roll. Position the rectangle so a short side is facing you.
In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and half of the toasted pecans. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Starting from the short side farthest from you and working your way towards yourself roll up the rectangle like a jellyroll. Try to roll it tightly, so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4- inch from each end of the roll to make it even.
Use a bench scraper or a chef's knife to cut the roll into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2-inches wide. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, thaw them, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, then proceed as directed.)
Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. Arrange the buns, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. Cover the buns with plastic wrap (It is smart to smear butter or oil on the plastic wrap surface that will touch the dough, so the dough won’t stick to the plastic wrap.) and put the baking dish into a warm spot to proof until the dough is puffy, pillowy and soft and the buns are touching-almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.
In this procedure Joanne doesn’t completely cover the goo with the buns, like the earlier recipe. I watched her make them on TV. She packs hers in the order 2, then one, then 2, then one, then 2 as observed from the long side of the baking dish.
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350ºF. Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.
The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, and then warmed in a 325ºF oven for 10 to 12 minutes before serving. But what about freezing, vacuum sealing, storing frozen until wanted, and then thawing in a microwave oven, followed by the regular oven warming just described?
Now for Joanne’s brioche dough recipe …
Brioche Dough for Sticky Buns: (makes a double batch)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook*, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all the ingredients are combined.
* I prefer to use the regular mixer beater early in the mixing process as it is far superior to the dough hook for early mixing. I use the dough hook later, after the butter has been added and thoroughly incorporated. Thus, I use a dough hook only when it is right to use it, as in the kneading process.
Stop the mixer, as needed, to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat it on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.
Joanne never does tell us when to use the sixth egg, so I recommend adding it now, prior to the butter, with enough mixing to incorporate it into the dough.
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all the butter to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.
Once the butter is completely incorporated, (NOW is the time to use the dough hook) turn up the speed to medium and beat until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny, another 15 minutes. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually it will turn smooth and silky. Turn the speed to medium-high and beat it for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it; it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in 1 piece.
Put the dough into a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap (Ahem! Butter the wrap first on the side that will touch the dough, or butter the top of the dough and the rest of its surface so it also won’t stick to the bowl) directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof (that is, grow and develop flavor) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. If you want, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week and use it later.
FOR THE RECORD:
I often find that recipes provided via the Internet screw up or miss key ingredients, recommend sub-optimal procedures and in general yield a product that somehow doesn’t quite measure up to the real thing. A case in point was the Hotel DuPont® Macaroon recipe, which produced a runny dough that can’t possibly be used to create simple macaroon cookies that look like or taste like the ones served at the hotel. Thus, the creative cook must modify the provided recipes to create the desired top quality product. If you are worth your salt you will drive towards perfection.
For the dough handling in the above sticky bun recipe, Joanne never uses a proofing oven until just before baking. I can understand letting the dough proof in the refrigerator initially to develop flavor, but effective proofing includes rising time, and for that I recommend the later use of the proofing oven, which is maintained at about 100º F, just prior to rolling the dough to form the buns. Thus, the dough from the refrigerator, unless obviously fully risen, should be placed in the proofing oven for 30 to 45 minutes prior to rolling the dough. Let the yeast do its job in optimal conditions.