My friend Leslie and I took a page out of Julia and Julia and decided it would be fun to work our way through one cookbook together.  We debated for a long time on which one until inspiration struck:  The Bread Baker’s Apprentice!  We both love bread and we both feel we have so far to go in learning bread technique that it seemed like a good choice.

I think it is still a good choice but here is what we found out:  most of the recipes need some sort of overnight proofing.  Not so good, because we didn’t factor that in at all – we had assumed we could do each recipe over the course of one day.  We still haven’t made a recipe that called for an overnight proof, so we’ll see what happens when we hit that road block.

The first recipe we tried out of this book was the Sticky Toffee Buns, mostly because it was one of the few recipes that we could do in the time we had.  This is also where I learned how wrong I was when it came to kneading.  The recipe called for kneading in a stand mixer for 10 minutes at a certain speed (6, I believe).  Looking at the result of doing that was so different from what I had previously made, I know I had been doing something wrong all this time.

And it really showed when it came time to roll out the dough.  Usually, I have the worst problems rolling up cinnamon buns because the dough is too soft.  It stretches too easily and soon I have oblong buns instead of round ones.

But check them out this time around:

So they’re still not quite smooth and disc-shaped, because in the process of cutting them, we probably used too much downward force and they bulged out.  Next time, I would use a knife with an actual blade rather than a dough cutter, I think.  But other than that — don’t they actually LOOK like cinnamon buns?!

We split them up into two groups and put them into 2 square pans.  Then we made the sticky caramel topping.  The book warned us that it might be hard to tell when the buns are done, because the tops may look finished even if the bottom is not.  That definitely happened to us.  We took them out and the sauce was still a little separated (you could see some butter, rather than all sticky caramel goo).  So we popped the other one in for a bit longer and it was much better.

What were our thoughts?  Leslie and Martin both said they didn’t like the presence of lemon in the buns, they would have preferred just vanilla.  I was a bit unsurprised about that, from Martin.  He can eat lemons straight up but he hates lemon flavored things.  Seriously hates it, which is a bit sad because I like a little bit of lemon juice or lemon zest sprinkled into vegetables to brighten the flavors.  Overall, very good but very heavy.

Also, even though we made the “small” size, we thought the buns were still just huge!  We could not imagine how big the “big” buns would be … one is definitely more than enough for one person for a filling dessert!

Sticky Buns
from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart

Days to Make: 1
Active / Resting / Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3-1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 – 40 minutes to bake

The Dough
6-1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
5-1/2 tbsp. butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon extract
3-1/2 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. instant yeast
1-1/8 to 1-1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (or 3 tsp. powdered milk and 1 cup water)
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6-1/2 tbsp. sugar + 1-1/2 tbsp. cinnamon)

Caramel Glaze
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp. lemon, orange or vanilla extract

Cream together the sugar, salt and shortening on medium-high speed in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. If using powdered milk, cream the dry milk with the sugar, but wait to add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast and milk.

Mix on low speed until a dough ball forms.

Switch to the dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Add water or more flour as necessary to achieve this texture.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for approx. 2 hours, until doubled in size.

While waiting for the dough to rise, go ahead and made the caramel glaze. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, salt and butter. Cream together for 2 minutes on high. Add the corn syrup and extract and cream together for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Spread in a 1/4″ thick layer on the bottom of a pan that is at least 1-1/2″ high. Any extra can be stored in an airtight container and can keep for months.

Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer dough to counter. Shape buns into a rough rectangular shape, 2/3″ thick and 14″ x 12″ wide for large buns, 18″ x 9″ for smaller buns. Rolling the dough too thin will cause the buns to be tough rather than soft.

Sprinkle cinnamon sugar all over the surface and roll the dough into a cigar shaped log. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 – 12 even pieces about 1-3/4″ thick for large buns or 12 – 16 even pieces that are about 1-1/4″ thick.

Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spaced about 1/2″ apart. Mist dough with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.

Proof further for 75 – 90 minutes or until the pieces now tough and have doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F and put the rack on the lowest shelf.

Bake the buns for 30 – 40 minutes, until golden brown. The bottom is really the top, so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize. The tops become the bottoms, so they may appear to be dark and done, but the key is if the underside is baked.

Cool the buns in the pan for 5 – 10 minutes, then remove by flipping over onto another pan. Wait 20 minutes and serve.

Servings: 8 – 12 large buns or 12 – 16 small buns