Many years ago, when M and I had just become a couple, he woke up one morning and declared, “I feel like cinnamon rolls!” Aiming to please, I made my way to the kitchen and concocted an on-the-fly order of lame rolls that went over wonderfully. He’s too kind.
Several years later, he gave me Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child, as a gift. The book is a companion piece to the thirty-nine half-hour television shows featuring Julia and twenty-seven baker-professors which I, unfortunately, have not had the pleasure of viewing.
I came across Nancy Silverton’s recipe for Pecan Sticky Buns and decided to see if I could replace the impromptu version of years ago with Nancy’s buttery, decadent, brioche-based real deal version. She declares that these buns are unlike anything you will find in the store (she’s right), and they are, incidentally, completely unlike my original creation.
It was a two weekend process and well worth the effort.
Pecan Sticky Buns
contributing baker Nancy Silverton, as written by Dorie Greenspan
On the first Saturday, I prepared the Brioche dough.
1/3 cup warm whole milk (100-110 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Put the milk, yeast, egg, and one cup of the flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Mix ingredients with a rubber spatula just until everything is blended. Sprinkle the rest of the flour to cover the sponge. Set the sponge aside to rest uncovered for 30-40 minutes. At the end of this time, the flour coating should look cracked.
Add the following to the mixture, and put a dough hook in place in the heavy-duty mixer.
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
Mix these in for about a minute or two on low, just until the ingredients start to come together. While mixing, sprinkle in ½ cup flour.
When that is fully added to the mix, put the speed up to medium. Mix for about 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough should come together and wrap itself around the dough hook, and slap the sides of the bowl. If by the time you’ve reached 7-10 minutes, you don’t have a cohesive, slapping dough, add up to 3 tablespoons more flour. (I did). Make sure you give it the full 15 minutes because this is what helps to give the brioche its distinctive texture.
Warning: your mixer will become extremely hot. You may need to give it a rest if you plan to make multiple batches right away.
Incorporating the butter – work 1 ½ sticks of room temperature, unsalted butter until it is the same consistency as the dough. This can be achieved by either spreading onto a smooth surface with a dough scraper or by beating it with a rolling pin. The end result you are going for is butter that is smooth, soft and still cool, not oily, warm or greasy. Now it’s time to add the butter.
At medium-low speed, add in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. Your smooth dough will start to fall apart and it’s okay. After you’ve added all the butter, mix for 1 minute on medium high, then reduce the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes, until you hear the dough slapping against the sides of the bowl again. If it looks as if the dough is not coming back together after 2-3 minutes, add up to 1 tablespoon more flour.
First rise: Transfer the dough to a very large buttered bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 2-2 1/2 hours.
Second rise and chilling: Deflate the dough by putting your fingers under it, lifting a section of dough, and then letting it fall back into the bowl. Make your way around the bowl, lifting and releasing. Cover again tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-6 hours minimum or overnight. The dough will continue to rise and may double in size again.
Storing: If you are not going to use the dough after the second rise, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer. The dough can remain frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the freezer.
Sunday: turning the brioche dough into Pecan Sticky Buns
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, divide it in half and return one wrapped half to the refrigerator while you work with the other.
Lightly flour your working surface and roll out the dough to an 11″ x 13″ rectangle that is ¼ inch thick. Working quickly because the heat from your hands could make the dough rise more, dot the surface with 3/4 stick of butter, softened at room temperature.
Fold the dough in thirds, like you would a piece of paper for a business letter. Fold in the right side first, then the left to cover it. Roll the dough out again, taking care not to roll over the edges or crush the folds you just made.
Fold the dough in thirds again, wrap well in plastic and roll once more and refrigerate for 30 minutes to rest. Repeat with the remaining half of original dough from the fridge.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Remove one section of dough from the refrigerator (work one at a time) and roll it out again to 11″ x 13” by ¼ inch thick. Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of the dough with the beaten egg. Leaving the top quarter of the dough bare, sprinkle over half of the cinnamon and sugar mixture and 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. Press the pecans into the filling by rolling over the dough lightly with your rolling pin. Roll the dough up into a log, wrap with plastic wrap, and put in the freezer. Repeat with other half of dough. Freeze for 45 minutes to an hour. The logs can now be double wrapped and kept in the freezer for up to a month. If left to freeze solid, they should be allowed to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before proceeding.
Next Saturday: The Topping
Remove the dough from the freezer and allow to rest for 15 minutes while you prepare the pans. You will need two 9 inch round pans with high sides. For each pan, take 1 stick of softened butter, press it into the bottom and sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cup of light brown sugar.
Cut each log into seven 1 1/2 inch wide slices.
If necessary, reshape each section by gently rolling it in your hands until it is round again. Place 3 pecan halves on top of each piece, and place face down in the pan, placing the buns in a circle and putting the last slice in the center. Each pan should contain about 7 rolls.
Let the pans sit, uncovered, to rise at room temperature for 1/2-2 hours, or until the slices rise and grow into each other.
Preheat oven to 350.
Put the pans of sticky buns on the middle rack and place a foil or parchment lined cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drippings.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Watch carefully – mine were done in about 25 minutes.
As soon as you take them out of the oven, invert them onto a serving dish. If you leave the buns in the pan for a few minutes, the sugar may harden and they will be difficult to unmold.
Serve the buns at room temperature or just slightly warm and never straight from the oven as the caramelized topping is extremely hot. Sticky buns should be served the day they are made.