Nothing evokes childhood memories more than the smell of fresh bread, and this bread is no exception. The sweet, homey smell always sends me back to my childhood, where we would race to the kitchen to see who could grab the first bite of buns fresh from the oven. Warm, smeared with butter or home made jam, we declared them the most delicious snack in the universe. Buns were a staple at my house; Mom baked them about once a week, and if we visited my Grandma out on the farm, buns always were thrust into our outstretched hands when we were hungry. These days, I don’t bake bread often. Many people i know have turned to breadmaking machines, but I still love the feel of the dough beneath my fingers and this recipe, passed down from my Mom, is the only one I use.
When the familiar scent filled my kitchen, it was obvious that some things never change-my teenager was soon nearby ripping a bun apart greedily and declaring it a culinary victory. Make these delicious buns at your peril; either your family will beg you to make them every weekend, or you will eat them all yourself-neither of which is probably a good idea. Don’t be scared off by what looks like along and complicated recipe; they really are not that difficult.
Use the recipe just to make buns, or go crazy and use half the dough for extra sinful cinnamon buns. The recipe is also very easily halved.
3 cups of milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 cups (approximately) all purpose flour
2 packets of instant rise yeast
2 eggs, beaten
* In a saucepan over medium low heat, warm the milk, sugar, and salt together, stirring gently until it’s warm but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, melt the butter. When it’s completely melted, pour it into the milk and sugar mixture.
* Stir together 6 cups of the flour and instant yeast in a large bowl. Set aside.
* This is the trickiest part of bread making; too hot, and your yeast will die or it will scramble your eggs. Too cold, and your yeast won’t rise. Technically, your liquids should be between 120 and 130 F to activate the yeast. The thing is, you are going to add some eggs, which will cool it down. My low tech method of checking the temperature is to stick my clean finger in the milk mixture and wiggle it around. If the milk is warm enough (but not so hot) that I can wiggle my finger around comfortably, it’s the right temperature.
* Add the milk mixture, bit by bit, to the eggs and whisk as you go. This heats the eggs up so that they won’t scramble when you add them to the milk.
* Pour the whole milk/egg mixture into the flour and stir. It should be a wet dough. Keep stirring and adding more flour until you have a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter, and adding more flour if you need to, knead your bread for about 5 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic dough. I love kneading. It’s a great workout and way to get rid of your stresses from the day.
* Butter the inside of a large bowl and turn so that you get buttery goodness all over the dough. Cover the bowl with cling film and then set the bowl in your oven and turn the light on. I know it sounds weird, but the heat from just that teeny light will help your dough to rise. Let it rise for about 90 minutes, until it has doubled in size.
* Take your dough out of the oven, turn it onto the counter, and knead it for about two minutes to get the air bubbles out. Divide the dough in half and at this point, you get to decide whether you want to make buns, cinnamon rolls, or a bit of each. Decisions, decisions! Each half portion of the dough will make one pan of a dozen buns or cinnamon buns.
To Make Buns:
One half of the above dough recipe
2 Tbsp water
* Grease a rimmed baking sheet, either the size of an average cookie sheet or 9×13 inch pan. Once you have punched down the dough, shape it into a log and pinch off twelve equal sized portions. Shape the dough into balls, and set twelve balls in each pan about 1 inch apart. Cover the pans with either a clean tea towel or loosely with cling film and set them back in the cold oven with the light on. Let rise for 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
* In a small bowl, beat an egg with 2 Tbsp of water. Remove the buns from the oven, turn the oven on to 350 F, and brush the tops of the buns with the egg mixture.
* Bake for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown-watch them carefully, you don’t want them to over bake. Remove to a wire rack and let cool. If you aren’t going to eat them in the next 48 hours, freeze to keep them fresh.
Makes 1 dozen
To make Cinnamon Buns
One half of the above dough recipe
Gooey Caramel Topping:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and butter until it boils, stirring constantly. Add the corn syrup and pecans. Remove from the heat and pour into a 9×13 inch pan. Set aside.
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
* Flour your counter and rolling pin, then roll out your dough into a long rectangle-about 18×12 inches with the long edge facing you. Brush the dough liberally with melted butter. In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together, then sprinkle over the butter, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Starting with the long edge facing you, tightly roll up the dough, pinching the edges together when you get to the end.
* Cut the dough into 12 pieces and place into the prepared pan. Cover lightly with a tea towel or loosely with cling wrap and put the pan back into the cold oven with the light on for 1 hour, while the buns double in size.
* Take the buns out of the oven, turn it on to 350F, and then bake them for about 22-25 minutes. Watch carefully, because you don’t want to overcook them. I found that they baked quite quickly for me.
* Now, this is the tricky part and you must be very careful, as sugar is screamingly HOT. I get my biggest cookie sheet and line it with waxed paper. Right after taking the cinnamon buns out of the oven, wearing oven mitts on both hands and gripping the sides of the pan tightly, I turn the entire pan of rolls out onto the lined cookie sheet. The buns pop right out and are bathed in all the caramel deliciousness. While it’s still warm, spoon out the stubborn bits of nuts that may have stuck to the pan or slid off the rolls. Let cool.
If you aren’t going to eat them in the next 48 hours, wrap them well and freeze them.
Makes 1 dozen
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