Psst … Did you get all messy and sticky on Monday?
The truth is, I did and instead of Monday, I was leaps ahead of everyone else. Unless you were also far ahead in this game, well, then, I’d been exaggerating. But the fact is, for me, everything seemed to happen by chance.
If it weren’t for Good Eats, if it weren’t for Alton Brown, I wouldn’t have known that Monday, Feb 21, was National Sticky Bun Day in America.
On the far end of the world where I called home, the sticky bun is a name that resonates in everyone’s head. Its status and level of popularity is almost on par with that of the chocolate chip cookie. (I was referring to the soft and chewy type.) It strikes the victim (whoever that may be) with a nostalgic blow from the yesteryears—including me! Geez, I do miss my American friend’s sticky buns.
|Sticky buns were one of the first breads I learned to bake in America. These are the buns I made under the guidance of Mary, my American friend, in January 2008. As pictured here, they are still being proofed for baking in the oven later on.|
Now on this end of the world where I call home, the sticky buns aren’t something that echoes in everyone’s head. In Malaysia, unless you’re one of those Cinnabon fanatics, the sweet roll is probably unheard of. Its status and level of popularity is lagging way behind that of, say, the pisang goreng, a.k.a. banana fritter or fried banana. (See, I could be wrong. So please correct me if that’s the case.) Try walking on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and ask a few passersby, and you may just have them dumbfounded on the spot.
Pardon me, but why would you verbally abuse a bun by calling it sticky?
As it turns out, the sticky buns are simply cinnamon rolls with an upside-down-caramel-and-pecan topping. They were first created by some German settlers in the Philadelphia area. Because they somewhat resemble the shell of a snail, it was known as “schnecken,” which is German for these slimy, sluggish creatures.
Due to the influences from the States and my absolute need in drawing clear lines within the clutter, distinction has been made between Western-inspired and Asian-style breads. So, I turned to American bread guru, Peter Reinhart, for the recipe.
And for a shortcut to mature and flavorful, and, in the words of Reinhart, world-class, bread. The answer? Overnight fermentation of bread dough, for at least 24 hours.
That’s not short.
In most cases, for European artisan breads, sponges and pre-ferments, such as sourdough starters, are required. And these, when starting out, take days to cultivate and to develop some levels of acidity as well as their own distinctive flavors. Needless to say, the days and months spent later on to preserve the lives in these pre-ferments span years. Before the advent of such convenience in the form of instant yeast, yeast was preserved and passed down from one generation to the next. Thus, accounting for the time factor, the method of overnight fermentation is decidedly short.
|This is how I perform overnight fermentation: tightly encase the dough in a 2.5-gallon heavy-duty Ziploc bag. What's depicted here is the dough at the first hour of proofing in the refrigerator.|
Instead of speeding up the process, you first wake the yeast up and then tuck it into a cozy environment within the tacky dough so that it can go on a feast—just for that brief moment. Now, this is where things get interesting and a little less humane: chuck the dough—the activated yeast and everything else—into the fridge. Don’t fret, you’re not killing the yeast but only retarding its activity. It turns dormant when the temperature falls below four degrees Celsius. “A lot of the flavor transformation in the dough takes place during the dormant stage,” Reinhart expounded on the process. “Because the starch enzymes are still at work even while the yeast goes to sleep.”
|Overnight fermentation: the bread dough, at 12 hours of proofing in the refrigerator. No, it's not done with that just yet.|
If you’re an avid bread baker, a homemade-bread lover, who wants to learn more about the science behind overnight fermentation of bread dough, I highly recommend Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day.” Take my word for it. Reinhart’s books on everything bread and yeasty make great additions to your library of cookbooks.
|Image courtesy of The Kitchn|
With Reinhart’s recipe, I made about two nine-by-nine-inch pans of sticky buns. The creamy caramel slurry recipe he’s provided in the book is stellar. It’s sweet (duh!), creamy (ditto), sticky, and gooey. However, he doesn’t stop there. He offers two more slurry recipes for the schnecken, and one of which is contributed by Mrs. Reinhart. Boy, I’m so going to try them out when that sticky yearning strikes me again!
One more. I guess everything isn’t made flawless. The only complaint I have about his bread recipes is that the bread dries up much faster and thus turns crumbly, too, when compared to bread made via Asian recipes. And nope, I ain’t talking about those that cheat with improver and the like. In terms of moisture retention, the tangzhong method still wins, hands down.
A solution to that problem? Wipe the whole tribe of schneckens out in a day. Share with your family, friends, or whomever you care about. After all, good stuff is meant to be enjoyed together.
Heed my warning, though: Eating sticky buns makes a slight royal mess out of you.
Adapted from “Artisan Breads Every Day,” by Peter Reinhart
Yield: about 24 buns
1 recipe for all-purpose sweet dough (recipe to follow)
42 g ground cinnamon
170 g granulated or caster sugar
* Can try with light brown sugar instead, or a mix of both the sugars. *
Any neutrally flavored oil e.g. vegetable, canola, or sunflower oil, OR slightly cooled melted butter, OR milk – for brushing
* I used milk. *
170 g raisins, soaked in rum or water for about 2 hours till they're plump; then drained well – to taste; optional, though
142 g coarsely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, or a mix of both – to taste; optional, though
- About 3 hours before baking, remove the bread dough from the refrigerator. Divide it in half and form each piece into a ball. Cover each ball with a bowl or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
- On a floured work surface, roll each ball of dough into a 30-by-38-centimeter rectangle, 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 or so, then continue rolling. The dough should be between 0.5 and 1 centimeter thick.
- For cinnamon sugar, whisk together (A) to combine. Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface, leaving a 0.5-centimeter border. Sprinkle (B) over the surface if you like. Roll up the dough like a rug, rolling from the bottom to the top to form of a tight log. Now, make the slurry (recipe to follow).
- Fill the bottom of two 8- or 9-inch round pans or one 12-inch square pan with 0.5 centimeter of the slurry. Store any excess slurry in the fridge, where it’ll keep for at least 2 weeks. (I used up mine, though, which was a good news.) Sprinkle coarsely chopped toasted nuts over the slurry if you like, which is highly advised for flavor, but this is optional.
- Cut the log into 1-inch slices and place them on the slurry with the nicest side down, leaving about 1 inch of space between the buns. Cover loosely with a slightly dampen dishtowel or plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature, until the dough swells noticeably and the buns begin to expand into each other.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The slurry will melt, bubble, and caramelize, and the visible dough will be dark golden brown. Lift one of the buns with a metal spatula or a pair of tongs to check the underside of the dough, which should be light caramel brown, not white. The sugar slurry should turn a rich amber or golden brown, and all of the sugar should have melted to become caramel. (If it’s still grainy and not amber, continue baking; you can put a tent of aluminum foil over the buns to protect them from getting too dark while the slurry finishes caramelizing.)
- Remove the pans from the oven and let the buns cool for 2 to 3 minutes in the pans so the caramel begins to firm up. Place a platter or pan over the top of the baking pan. It should be large enough to cover the baking pan and hold all the buns. Wearing oven mitts or using hot pads, flip the entire assemblage over to release the buns and caramel onto the platter. Be careful, the glaze will still be very hot at this point. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any remaining glaze from the pan and drizzle it over the tops of the buns.
- Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
All-Purpose Sweet Dough
Adapted from “Artisan Breads Every Day,” Peter Reinhart
16 g instant yeast
225 g lukewarm water, at about 43°C
85 g granulated or caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
794 g all-purpose flour
* I much prefer unbleached organic all-purpose flour. In fact, I’ve been trying to incorporate unbleached, organic flours to my bakes. *
14 g salt
3 Tbsp milk powder or dry milk
300 g lukewarm milk, at about 43°C
113 g butter, unsalted or salted – cubed and kept chilled
Extra all-purpose flour – used as necessary, though, you may not need it
- Dissolve together (C) and set aside for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. The mixture should appear somewhat frothy by then.
- Rub together (D) to release the citrusy oil and scent in the lemon zest, then stir into (E) and whisk together to combine.
- Stir the yeast mixture and warm milk into the flour mixture, and mix to combine, till you get a soft, coarse ball of dough.
- Turn the dough onto a work surface, and knead it by hand for about 4 minutes to develop the glutens. Then, thoroughly knead in the cubes of cold butter. Continue kneading till you get a supple, very soft, and tacky ball of dough. Knead on a lightly floured work surface for 1 minute or so, and form it into a ball. Place in an oiled large mixing bowl, and cover very well with cling wrap. Chuck the whole thing into the refrigerator and perform overnight fermentation of the dough for up to 4 days. The dough will rise remarkably during this stage.
Creamy Caramel Slurry
Adapted from “Artisan Breads Every Day,” by Peter Reinhart
113 g granulated or caster sugar
113 g light brown sugar
113 g heavy or whipping cream
14 g unsalted butter – melted or at room temperature
21 g light corn syrup
- Combine together (F) in a mixing bowl. If using a mixer, mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, stir vigorously with large spoon for about 2 minutes. The mixture should be smooth and homogenous.