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.

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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.

A Big Day for Peter Reinhart

When I was at Notre Dame Law School, I visited the office of Professor Charlie Rice. Among his many travels, Prof. Rice had been to Rome, and he had a picture of himself with the Pope hanging on his wall. When I commented on the photo, Prof. Rice said, “Oh, yes. It was a very big day for His Holiness.”

I would like to think that last Monday, June 21, was similarly a big day for Peter Reinhart. He came to the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, Ohio, to teach three classes from his new book, Artisan Breads Every Day. I was fortunate to be able to attend the first class on Monday evening.

Peter signed books and talked with participants before and after the class and was very engaged throughout the evening. He had three assistants, two ovens baking, and countless hearth breads, sticky buns, babkas, rolls, challahs, and crumb cakes going into and out of the ovens the whole time, yet he never lost focus or seemed the slightest bit distracted.

As I mentioned above, Peter was demonstrating recipes and techniques from his new book. Among these techniques is the use of minimal dough handling (i.e., no long kneading sessions) and retarding, or holding the dough in the refrigerator to develop flavor and allow you to bake on your own schedule.

In the picture above, Peter is demonstrating a stretch-and-fold, which is where, rather than kneading the dough, you stretch it out and fold it over itself several times at timed intervals. This works surprisingly well at mixing the ingredients and developing gluten.

We sampled three different kinds of sticky buns:  Philadelphia sticky buns, honey almond sticky buns, and creamy caramel buns with dried cranberries and pecans. Having grown up in Eastern Pennsylvania, I know a thing or two about sticky buns. All three recipes were fantastic. The Philadelphia buns tasted just like what we used to get in Lancaster County. The caramel buns were delicious, especially with the crunch of pecans and slightly tart sweetness of cranberries. But I think my favorite were the honey almond buns.

 

I don’t recall ever having had babka before this class. Peter’s ingredients were great — how can you go wrong with chocolate and cinnamon? But it was the technique that really impressed me. He pressed out the dough, spread it with the filling, and rolled it up, like you might with cinnamon-swirl bread. Then, using what is known as the kranz shaping method, he cut the loaf lengthwise, turned each half so that the cut side was facing up, and twisted the two pieces together. The effect was beautiful.

He also demonstrated two-, three-, four-, five-, and six-strand challah braids. Here is the two-strand:

As you can probably tell, I had a great time meeting and learning from Peter Reinhart. He is a world-class baker, a natural teacher, and a down-to-earth guy.

And he makes a mean sticky bun.