Sunday, May 2, 2010

recipe: Pecan sticky buns

My love for Martha Stewart is unequivocal and well-known. Her Baking Handbook is fantastic. The techniques are sound, the basics solid. But Martha, you let me down with the sticky buns. Though the dough and filling were great, the tops and sides were rock-hard, and threatened the fillings of several brunch guests.

Not to worry. Since that fiasco, I fixated on sticky buns. And I have developed the perfect recipe.

I'll admit - this recipe is a pain. The tedious part is Martha's Danish dough, but that's also what makes the recipe so fantastic. It's a laminated dough, with striations of yeast-risen dough and butter. It flakes and separates as the dough bakes, and the crispy, flaky outside encircles a soft, doughy, tangy inside.

The dough makes enough for two sticky bun recipes, and each recipe makes a dozen buns. You can freeze the other half of the dough, and - even better - you can prepare the buns completely, and freeze them, triple-wrapped, for a week or so. That makes them perfect for an Easter or Christmas brunch where you'd like to serve something impressive, but have too much going on to prepare the recipe the day of. Just thaw the in the fridge overnight, and let them sit at room temperature 30 minutes prior to baking.

These recipes are adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (the dough) and Scott Peacock's recipe from Better Homes and Gardens (the topping).

Sticky buns

2 packages dry yeast (1/2 ounce total)
1 cup warm milk (100 to 110 degrees)
1 pound 4 ounces all-purpose flour (roughly 4 1/2 cups)
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-2 teaspoons orange zest, optional
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk

1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups chopped pecans

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups very coarsely chopped pecans

Make the dough:
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk, and stir until dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom, orange zest, and 4 tablespoons butter; beat on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 3 or 4 minutes. Pour the yeast and milk in, and mix until dough just comes together. Add the eggs and yolk, and mix until just combined, about 2-3 minutes. Don't overmix.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, including any loose bits from the bowl. Gently knead for about 30 seconds, form into a ball, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate two hours, or overnight.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to and 18" by 10" rectangle, keeping corners as square as possible. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush. Distribute the butter evenly over two-thirds the length of the dough. Fold the unbuttered side on top, like a business letter, then fold over the remaining third.

Once again, roll out dough to an 18" by 10" triangle, making the folded sides the long sides. Fold dough again; this will seal in the butter on all sides.

Refrigerate for one hour. Roll out the dough and fold it two more times, refrigerating for one hour between each turn.

Cut the dough in half; you may freeze one half for later use, or use both halves to make a double batch of sticky buns. Dough may be froze, tightly wrapped and sealed, for a couple of weeks. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight.

Make the buns:
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 18" by 14" rectangle. Spread the sour cream over the entire surface, leaving a 1/2" border at the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon, chopped pecans, and brown sugar over the sour cream. Roll up the dough tightly lengthwise, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place gently on a baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Make the topping:
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter two 6-cup jumbo muffin pans (these are usually sold at Publix, too).

In a medium bowl stir together all topping ingredients except for the pecans. Divide topping evenly among the 12 buttered muffin cups. Scatter pecans over the butter-sugar mixture.

Remove the dough roll from the refrigerator, and unwrap. With a sharp serrated knife, trim off the edges of the roll, then cut the roll into 12 even slices. Place each slice in a muffin cup.

Cover each pan loosely with plastic, and let rise until tops of dough are about 1/2" about the tops of the pan, about 30 minutes.

(At this point, you may wrap the pans very tightly in several layers plastic wrap and ideally a large freezer bag, and freeze for up to a week. Thaw pans the in the fridge overnight, and let them sit at room temperature 30 minutes prior to baking.)

Place pans in the preheated oven, and place a cookie sheet underneath to catch the drips. Bake 40-45 minutes, until buns are deep golden brown.

Immediately turn buns out onto parchment paper, then arrange on a platter. Replace any pecan bits that have fallen off. Serve warm.


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