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sticky buns

so we have a new president! since i live in washington dc, the center of all of last week’s inaugural commotion, you might think i’d take advantage of living up the street from the white house and haul my butt to the mall to witness history. don’t get me wrong – i love democracy and i’m incredibly excited about barack obama, but i was a little busy, um, making sticky buns. i mean, look at these things! i knew you’d understand.

while i can’t offer you photos of the millions who flocked to the capitol on tuesday, i can show you what i was doing while i watched all of the speeches and ceremonies on tv (i’ll be honest, i teared up a few times). and though it wasn’t quite as powerful as actually standing in the cold cheering on our new commander in chief, i could still feel the energy that permeated the city.

one more thing about the inauguration: the weekend before, i went to the hair cuttery for a trim. the woman snipping away casually remarked that earlier that morning, she cut john mccain’s mother’s hair. i was skeptical, not that she cut mrs. mccain’s hair, but that mrs. mccain was still alive at all. embarassingly, i had to check when i got home, and indeed, roberta mccain is still kicking (at 96 years young and with a great looking head of hair).

moving on…these sticky buns are awesome. the dough comes together quickly and easily, they come out of the oven looking beautiful and taste even better. my advice for the recipe below – don’t use all of the caramel glaze. i made the mistake of just pouring it all in (i used a 9-inch cake pan to bake them), and while the apartment smelled great for a few minutes, it quickly turned to the smell of burnt sugar as the glaze bubbled out of the pan and onto the oven floor.

before i knew it, the kitchen had filled with black smoke and the excess glaze had solidified into rock hard blackened tuiles. i had to crawl on my hands and knees to the oven so i could get a baking pan in there  to catch the falling glaze. i couldn’t bring myself to turn off the oven while the sticky buns were only partially done, so i let them finish. the apartment still smells a little burnt, but the sticky buns came out perfect. the things i do for baked goods.

bonus sticky-bun-related headache: in the picture above, you can see a little sugar on the right bottom corner. shortly before this picture, i knocked over a giant tupperware container full of granulated sugar which quickly became a giant tupperware container full of nothing. i spent a few hours vacuuming and sweeping up tiny granules in my living room (note to self: make sure lid is actually on container next time). in the end though, the sticky buns were worth it. i’ve been eating them for breakfast each morning after a few seconds in the microwave.

one last thing – i have to apologize if i’ve been a little neglectful of comments or emails lately. i’ve actually just started going back to school part time (yay!), and i’m still figuring out how to balance work, class and baking. i’m enrolled in a program at the boston university center for digital imaging arts [1] (they have a campus in dc), and in 18 months i’ll have a certificate in graphic design and web design. it’s a really incredible program, and i’m excited to be excited about school again. after years of self-taught trial and error in photoshop and html, i expect that finding out all the things i don’t know will be a totally humbling (and fun!) experience.

sticky buns
from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. [2]

sticky buns
6 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 Tbsp shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon zest, grated
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour
2 tsp yeast
1 1/8-1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk , at room temperature
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 Tbsp sugar plus 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
walnuts or pecans or other nuts (optional)
raisins (optional)

caramel glaze
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb (2 sticks/15 Tbsp) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp lemon, orange or vanilla extract

1. make the buns: cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand). whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. add the flour, yeast, and milk.

2. mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. you may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. cover the bowl with plastic wrap. let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours.

3. mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin, into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log (starting at the long end), creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. with the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

4. make the glaze: in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, salt, and butter, at room temperature. cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add the cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container. i only needed about 1/2-3/4 of the glaze.

5. in your glazed pan, sprinkle on the nuts and raisins. lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spiral side up, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. let rise for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and nearly doubled. preheat the oven to 350 F with a rack on the lowest shelf.

6. bake the sticky buns for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns without the glaze are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. the tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked.

7. cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. wait at least 20 minutes before serving.