Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Morning Traditions: Sticky Buns

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Dear fellow festive feaster,

On Christmas morning, while it was still dark (probably 3 ... 4 ... 5 AM ...) my siblings and I would crawl out of bed and hurry down the stairs to sit in the hallowed glow of the shimmering tree and stare, eyes as big as our head, at the mysterious, shiny presents.  Our stockings, fat and pregnant with candy and oranges and a penny in the toe, were usually lined up in front of the fireplace.  There would also be a small crate or two of Clementine oranges, sometimes special bags of oatmeal or hot cocoa or other treats.  Everything glowed warmly in the sparkling light of the tree; it was beyond magical, more than idyllic, and one of my favorite memories of Christmas.

We couldn't wait to wake Dad and Mom up; waiting until first light seemed the only gracious thing to do, but that was about all we could handle before tearing into their room and shrieking our impatience.  As we grew a little older, we decided amongst ourselves that "the best present we can give Mom and Dad is to let them sleep as long as they want!"  Since we were already up well before the crack of dawn, we took charge of preparing the festive Christmas breakfast, setting the table, and making the traditional caramel cinnamon rolls.

When Dad and Mom came downstairs, well-rested, showered and dressed (an agonizing wait for us young'uns!), we would all gather around the benches at the table and listen while Dad read the Christmas Story from Luke.

Last year, since I was newly married, we had the conflict of who would make the cinnamon rolls for Christmas!  Since I had yet to pass on the sticky baton, I made a huge batch on Christmas Eve and dropped them off at my mom's house before evening service at church.

I have several recipes I swap between, based on time and ingredients on hand; all of them are delicious.  I never tire of making them - the cinnamon-roll pages of all my cookbooks are so sticky and sugared they could pass for a pan of buns themselves!  In the past, I always used a secret homemade recipe for cooked caramel, but I am not sure I could write it down (and I'm not sure if I want to!).  However, these gooey, sticky, soft slurries have become my new favorites - easy, fast, and less effort than the cooked caramels.  I like this dough for Christmas because I can make the dough the day before and bake it in the morning, or make it a few days ahead and let it rest in the fridge until Christmas Eve, and bake it then.

Have a happy, blessed Christmas season ...

Mrs H
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This recipe is from a book near and dear to my heart, Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day

Sticky Buns

Sweet Dough (Makes 24 sticky buns - sometimes I'll instead make 36 smaller buns)
6-1/4 cups (28 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour (I like to use at least 1/2 whole wheat, just measuring a total of 28 oz flour)
2 teaspoons salt, or 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
6 tablespoons sugar
5 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm milk (about 95 deg)
1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter (or extra-virgin olive oil)
Zest of 1/2 lemon, or 1 tablespoon lemon extract, or 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
Melted butter or vegetable oil for brushing dough

Caramel Slurry (for angelically gooey buns, I suggest doubling the recipe.  If you are going to make three pans of slightly smaller buns instead of two pans of regular size buns, definitely double the recipe or you will have stuck buns, not sticky buns!)  
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted or softened
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt, or 3/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange extract (optional)

To make the dough, combine flour, salt, and sugar in mixing bowl.  Whisk the yeast into the milk until dissolved, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients, along with the oil and lemon zest.  If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 1 minute.  The dough should form a soft, coarse ball.
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing by hand, for 4 minutes, adding flour or milk as needed to create a smooth, soft, slightly sticky ball of dough.
Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes more or continue stirring for about 2 minutes more, until the dough is very soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 1 minute, then form it into a ball.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days.

On baking day: Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 3 hours before you plan to bake. Divide the dough in half (or into thirds, if you plan to make slightly smaller rolls) and form each piece into a ball.  Cover each ball with a bowl or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Make the caramel: Combine sugars and butters in a mixing bowl.  If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  If mixing by hand, stir vigorously with a large spoon for 2 minutes (if you mix too long, the caramel will harden.  Not enough, and it will separate!).  The ingredients should be smooth and evenly blended.  Add the corn syrup, salt, and lemon extract and mix with the paddle attachment on medium speed, or continue mixing by hand, for about 2 minutes.  Increase to medium-high speed or stir even more vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes, until the slurry is fluffy.  Generously grease the baking pans you plan to use for the cinnamon rolls (two pans if you divided the dough in half, three pans if you divided it by thirds).  Divide the caramel fluff evenly between the pans and spread it out with a spatula to cover the bottom.

Shape the rolls: On a floured work surface, roll each ball of dough into a 12 by 15-inch rectangle (if you divided by thirds, it won't quite by 15 inches long, but don't worry), rolling from the center to the corners and then rolling out to the sides.  If the dough starts to resist or shrink back, let it rest for 1 minute, then continue rolling.  The dough should be between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.

Make cinnamon sugar by whisking the cinnamon and sugar (and cardamom if using) together.  Brush the surface of the rolled-out dough with melted butter, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar generously over the surface.  (If you wish, you can also sprinkle on raisins or chopped nuts.)

Roll up the dough like a rug, rolling from the bottom to the top, to form a tight log.  (If you made three blobs of dough, then at this stage stretch the log slightly with your hands to be about 12 inches long.)  

Using floss or a very sharp knife, cut the log into 12, 1-inch-thick slices.

Wrap the floss beneath, and then cross the threads and
pull the floss straight to slice the dough neatly.
Place them in the pans on top of the caramel, about 1-1/2 inches apart.  Mist the tops with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough swells noticeably and the buns begin to expand into each other.

Baking: About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
Bake pans for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for another 5 - 15 minutes, until the tops are a rich golden brown and the center of the dough registers 185 - 188 F.

Remove pans and let cool for 5 - 10 minutes to let the caramel begin to thicken.  Invert a large platter or rimmed cookie sheet over the baking pan, then grip tightly with oven mits and flip both baking pan and platter over, so the baking pan dumps the rolls out onto the platter.  Let sit for a few minutes, then lift one end and use a spatula to scrape any remaining caramel out of the pan.  Let the rolls cool, and then enjoy!!



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