Pecan Stickiest Buns {ModBak}

The next recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Pecan Stickiest Buns. Yes, stickiest. Not sticky. Not stickier. Stickiest. The name alone gives these buns a lot to live up to. And they had some stiff competition. Having recently acquired Artisan Breads Every Day; and having tasted sticky buns baked by Peter Reinhart himself; and having baked Reinhart’s sticky buns, twice; and having grown up in Lancaster County, PA, where sticky buns are standard breakfast fare, well, let’s just say I know sticky buns.

Malgieri’s recipe starts with the sweet dough used in the previous recipe, Bakery Crumb Buns. After mixing the dough and letting it ferment for a few hours, I patted it out, then rolled it into a rectangle. I spread the dough with a filling made of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then sprinkled on chopped pecans.

I rolled the dough into a cylinder and cut it into 15 rolls. Then I put the rolls into a pan that I had spread with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and pecan halves.

I covered the pan with greased plastic wrap and allowed the dough to proof for two hours.

After the dough had proofed, I baked the rolls at 375°F for 25 minutes, until the rolls were golden brown and firm and the sticky mixture was bubbling up between the rolls.

I let the buns cool for about five minutes in the pan, then turned them out onto a baking sheet.

So, how did these sticky buns stack up? I can safely say they were every bit as good as any I ate growing up in New Holland. As I was eating them, I thought they tasted a lot like the PR sticky buns. I recall at least one of Peter’s recipes having orange flavoring, which Nick’s did not. My wife and I agreed that we would have to taste them side by side to determine which one we liked the best.

As it turns out, Nick wasn’t just bragging when he called these “Stickiest Buns”. And he could have called them “most delicious”, too.

Quick Brioche Braid {ModBak}

The first recipe in the third section of The Modern Baker is a bread with which I am quite familiar, having baked three versions from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and one from Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Around My French Table. What differentiates Nick Malgeri‘s brioche recipe from others I’ve made is that it comes together very quickly, is shaped immediately after mixing, and rises only once.

I made this bread twice. The first time I departed from the recipe in two ways. First, I mixed the dough in the stand mixer instead of the food processor.

As you can see, the dough was very wet. After mixing it, I put the dough in bread pans (the second departure from the recipe, which calls for braiding the dough).

Even though it remained slack, the dough baked up nicely, and I was pleased with the look of the resulting brioche.

As far as the taste goes, I would have to say it wasn’t my favorite of the brioches I’ve made. It tasted fine, but wasn’t exceptional. I made Dorie’s brioche at the same time and liked it better.

I made the first batch of brioche before we actually go to this section of the book, and I decided to remake it, this time following the recipe. So, I mixed the dough in the food processor instead of the mixer. I’m still having the issue of liquids leaking out of the food pro when I use it to make dough, but I’m starting to think it’s either something with my Cuisinart or user error, as others don’t seem to have this problem.

After mixing the dough, I shaped the loaf. The dough was much less slack than the first time I made the recipe and was easy to handle. First, I divided the dough into three pieces, rolled each piece into a rope, and then braided the ropes.

I allowed the bread to proof for about two hours, until it doubled in size.

After brushing the loaf with beaten egg, I baked it in a 350° oven for about 40 minutes, until it was well-risen and golden brown.

The bread smelled amazing. And it looked really nice when I sliced it. The big question, of course, was how it would taste.

Although I didn’t have another brioche to compare this one to, this loaf would stack up well against any of the other recipes I have tried. In fact, given how easy this one is to prepare, it may just become my go-to recipe for brioche.

French Bread for Baguettes & Other Loaves {ModBak}

As part of the Breads section in the Modern Baker Challenge, I decided to take on French bread. Unlike some recipes that I decide to do because I have never made that particular kind of bread, I chose French bread specifically because I have made French bread before. Lots and lots of French bread.

I’ve been baking French bread since I was about 10 years old and have in recent years really developed a passion for great baguettes. It started with a French bread class I took at the Western Reserve School of Cooking and has continued with my experience on The Fresh Loaf and baking from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and other artisan bread books and, most recently, Artisan Breads Every Day.

In baking French bread, there are always a few things at odds with each other. First, you want to develop flavor, which takes time. The more time, the better. On the other hand, if you’re like me, you enjoy baking bread but don’t want to be tied down all day making it. That’s why I’ve really taken to some of the new recipes that employ long, slow fermentation in the refrigerator, which develops flavor without much input from the baker. In fact, a lot of the recipes also require very little mixing or kneading, using time to develop gluten, too.

Nick Malgieri’s recipe in The Modern Baker combines new and old methods. There is minimal mixing; time and lots of resting of the dough are used to develop the gluten structure and flavor. Consequently, this recipe takes a long time to make. It is made all in one day and takes about seven hours start to finish. So, on a recent Saturday when I had plenty of time, I decided to try my hand at yet another French bread recipe.

I began by mixing two doughs. The first dough used a true autolyse, as it contained only flour and water, which were minimally mixed and then set aside for an hour to fully hydrate and begin to develop flavor.

The second dough was comprised of flour, salt, water, and yeast. It, too, was mixed just until evenly moistened, then set aside to develop on its own.

After an hour, there was no visible change to the first dough, but the second had smoothed out and begun to rise.

I then combined to two doughs, mixed briefly, let the combined dough rest for 15 minutes, then mixed again for a few minutes. I then set the dough aside to rest for two hours, until it had more than doubled in bulk.

The recipe says to turn the dough out onto the work surface and give it several folds. I left the dough in the bowl and folded it over itself about 20 times with a bench scraper, turning the bowl a quarter turn after each fold. The dough rested for another hour, then I shaped it. I formed two baguettes and a boule. The boule shape is from the next recipe in the book, Pain de Campagne, which I decided to make using the French bread dough.

At this point, the recipe calls for proofing the dough for one to two hours, until it doubles in bulk. I checked my loaves after an hour, and they were more than doubled, so I got them ready to bake by slashing the baguettes and scoring the Pain de Campagne loaf.

Now I had a decision to make. The recipe says to bake the loaves at 425° F for a total of 25-30 minutes. I knew from my baguette-baking experience that the oven temperature was too cool and the loaves wouldn’t achieve the caramelization that I’ve come to expect from my French bread. But I usually try to follow a new recipe as written the first time I bake it, so I set the oven to 425° and hoped for the best.

I pushed the loaves to the 30-minute mark, until I knew the crumb was fully baked and would begin to toughen if I left the bread in the oven much longer. However, the loaves never caramelized like I wanted. They didn’t look bad, as you can see from these photos.

But when compared to the baguettes and Pain de Campagne boule I baked the same day from Artisan Breads Every Day, the lack of caramelization becomes readily apparent.

Modern Baker loaves, left and bottom, compared to ABED loaves

 Although they lacked the crust color and crunch of the Reinhart loaves, the baguettes had beautiful crumb, chewy and full of holes.

My wife liked this bread better than the Reinhart loaves. For me, the crust didn’t quite match up, but the long, slow fermentation and proofing gave the crumb a delicious taste and great texture.

If I bake these loaves again, I will increase the oven temperature to 500° F and probably use steam, too. But otherwise I wouldn’t change the recipe.

Sweet Dough Explosion — Artisan Breads Every Day

I recently found myself with family unexpectedly coming to town. I wasn’t sure who would be here, how long they would stay, or whether we would be eating here or at restaurants. Flush with my recent audience with Peter Reinhart and my success making his sticky buns recipe, I decided that I would mix up a big batch of sweet dough and at least have breakfast covered. When I say big batch, I mean a double batch. Enough to make at least four recipes.

I mixed up the dough, then grabbed my dough bucket and packed it in. The recipe says to make sure there is enough room in the container for the dough to double. No problem, as the dough bucket holds more than six quarts, and the dough barely reached the two-quart mark. I put the dough in the refrigerator for an overnight rest. When I opened the fridge later that evening, I was surprised at how much the dough had grown already. But, again, I wasn’t concerned, as I knew there was plenty of room in the container and the dough does most of its rising at the beginning, when it is still warm.

So imagine my surprise when I found this beast in my refrigerator the next morning:

The top and bottom were both bulged way out, but to its credit, the container held. I donned an oven mit and popped the seal.

With that bit of excitement behind me, I used half the dough to make creamy caramel sticky buns and, at my daughter’s request, cinnamon rolls.

The sticky buns were every bit as good as the first two batches I made from Peter’s recipes. In fact, I liked the creamy caramel buns as well or better than the honey almond ones.

With all the hubbub around here, I didn’t get a picture of the cinnamon rolls after they had been topped with  cream cheese frosting, so you’ll have to trust me when I say they looked and tasted fantastic. I didn’t think I could love another sweet as much as sticky buns, but these rolls were amazing.

A few days later, I made crumb cake with half of the dough that was left.

It was really good, too, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the cinnamon rolls or sticky buns. I had some fresh blueberries, and I was going to put them on the crumb cake, but I forgot. Had I remembered them, I think the crumb cake would have stood up well next to the other sweet dough recipes.

By this time the family had gone, and my sweet tooth was more than satiated. So I froze the rest of the sweet dough to use another day. My father-in-law just brought us several quarts of fresh blueberries from his bushes, so that day may be soon.

Sticky Buns — Artisan Breads Every Day

After meeting Peter Reinhart at the Western Reserve School of Cooking and sampling a host of his baked goods, including two kinds of sticky buns, I couldn’t wait for an excuse to do some baking. The Fourth of July holiday weekend — with family visiting from out of town — gave me just such an excuse.

Although I tested recipes for Peter’s most recent book,  Artisan Breads Every Day, and of course picked up the book as soon as it came out, before the class I still hadn’t baked anything from it. I decided to remedy that by making two kinds of sticky buns for breakfast on Saturday. I made one recipe of sticky buns, and baked half of them with Susan’s (Peter’s wife) formerly secret caramel pecan slurry and the other half with honey almond slurry.

As with many of the recipes in Peter’s new book, the sweet dough came together quickly with very little mixing. It is kept at least overnight or up to a few days in the refrigerator, where it ferments and develops its structure. I also mixed up the slurries, so that on baking day all I had to do was throw it all together.

On Saturday morning I got the dough out of the fridge, cut it into two pieces, and let it rest for about 20 minutes while I prepared the cinnamon-sugar mixture and melted some butter. I rolled each half of the dough out to a 12- x 15-inch rectangle, brushed it with butter, and sprinkled it generously with cinnamon sugar. Then I rolled the dough up from the long side and sliced it into rolls.

I had to soften the slurries in the microwave for a few seconds, as they firmed up to the point of being impossible to spread. Then I slathered the slurries in 9-inch round baking pans and added the buns.

I let the sticky buns rise for about two hours, until they had risen to fill the pans, then prepared the oven for baking.

At first, I forgot to set the pans on a sheet pan to catch any overflow, but I remembered before the slurry boiled over into the oven. The buns took longer to bake than the recipe suggested. In class, Peter stressed the importance of checking to slurry to make sure it has caramelized before taking the rolls out of the oven.

As you can see from the picture, I had pretty good caramelization, with the exception of the very center of the buns made with Susan’s slurry (on the right).

When I pulled the pan out of the oven, it was like I had turned on a bug light for everyone in the house. Within a few minutes, when I was ready to cut them, everyone in my and my sister’s families was standing in my kitchen with anticipation. And once I began serving? Well, no one left the kitchen until both pans of sticky buns were completely gone.

Forgiving my lack of modesty, my sticky buns were every bit as good as the ones we sampled in class. And even though I grew up in Lancaster County, PA, eating traditional sticky buns much like Susan’s recipe, I have to say that I preferred the subtle sweetness of the honey almond buns. But it was such a close call that I think I have to make both of them again just to be sure.

Oh, and there’s one more version in the book I haven’t made yet — creamy caramel. I feel it is my duty to give it a try, too.