Hello there! Did you all miss me? I hope you’ll forgive the shocking amount of blog silence of late – things have been insanely busy both at work and at home, and I’ve had little time for either food OR writing.
However, last weekend I finally got to work on a project that I’ve been waiting for ages to do, ever since I learned that a certain cookbook was coming out, and that it contained a certain recipe. You see, near my place of employment is a marvelous bakery – Flour. It’s actually the second location in what is now a mighty empire of three, and it’s a fabulous addition to the Fort Point food choices. For the most part I visit them not for their baked goods, but for the delicious, creative sandwiches, soups, and other lunch choices they offer. (If you’re in town, rush down to any of their locations and order the BLT. You will not regret it.)
However, owner Joanne Chang is rightly known for her pastry skills. Her homemade oreo cookies and pop tarts are the subjects of many glowing reviews, and her sticky buns are legendary – she trounced Bobby Flay in a throw-down with ’em. Flour is a bakery at its heart, after all, and it has one treat in particular that I can’t resist, that captivates my imagination. It’s not nearly as decadent as the sticky buns, nor as kitschy-cute as a homemade oreo. But lord, is it tasty. My weakness? The sugar brioche bun.
For those of you not up on your French bread varieties, brioche is basically bread turned up to 11. It’s chock-full of eggs and butter, resulting in an exceptionally rich and tender crumb. Brioche is what you’d get if white bread and a croissant had a baby, and I love it.
The sugar buns take this concept to the next level, because as Mr. Menace sagely pointed out, they are essentially high-class, French monkey bread. Baked in muffin cups, they’re easy to pull apart, rich and buttery and just dusted in sugar. Soft, tender, and wonderful, this is the breakfast I choose when I’ve had a really good run and have no need to be virtuous. (When I wish to be virtuous, I get Flour’s phenomenal oatmeal – steel-cut oats with seasonal fruit and nuts. The fact that it is not available year-round is a tragedy, but perhaps I am the only person on the planet who would happily eat a bowl of oatmeal mid-summer.)
So, a while back, I learned that Chang was coming out with a cookbook. And thanks to the magic of Twitter, I learned from the great lady herself that the sugar brioche bun recipe would be in said book! It was only a matter of time before the secret was mine!
As it turned out, a bit more time than I thought, because when I finally had the book in my hot little hands, the recipe called for bread flour, the one flour my pantry was currently lacking. And since bread flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose (gluten is the protein you get from kneading bread – more gluten means more stretchy, bonded-together bread) there was no way I could substitute. Le sigh.
Eventually I gathered all of my ingredients together, along with just enough time to make my buns (another secret of brioche is that it’s proofed – risen – in the fridge. This slows down the yeast production and lets you create more flavor without letting the yeast run amok and burn itself out. This means it takes a long time to get brioche dough completely ready to bake.) I’m not going to share the whole recipe here, because you should really go buy Ms. Chang’s book. It’s got fantastic photos, and the directions are explicit and easy to follow. I will say that the brioche needed quite a bit of kneading, to the point that my poor beleaguered Kitchen-Aid was thumping like mad for about 20 minutes straight. I cannot imagine doing this recipe by hand, even though I know it’s existed since the 15th century and pre-dates stand mixers.
What I will do is show you, in photos, what happened when I moved from the brioche dough into the actual sugar buns!
Next I shaped it into a 10×5 rectangle. The dough is super-pliable and easy to shape. Yes, I used a ruler to measure my dough-tangle, because I am precise like that. No, my rectangle is not perfect, because I am sloppy like that.
Then I brushed the tops with melted butter and rolled them in a sugar and spice mix. I ran the sugar through the food processor first – part of the charm of Flour’s version is that they use extra-fine sugar, allowing for a better coating.
In the end, my buns were maybe not quite as light and airy as Flour’s – I suspect my yeast is getting old and needs to be retired. Still, they tasted rich and wonderful – well worth all the eggs, butter, and labor!
The real question is what I will do with the other half of the brioche dough – the recipe makes enough for two! The famous sticky buns, or the brioche au chocolat? Decisions, decisions!
Reminder – the next food adventure is next week! On November 13th we will be visting The Haven for Scottish fare. Please let me know if you’d like to attend – I need to make reservations this weekend!