It might be the gooey filling that makes us crave sticky buns, but I’m convinced that the true greatness of these pastries depends on the dough—it’s got to be remarkable on its own. I use my favorite brioche dough (page 28), rich, tender and flavorful, and I keep the filling simple—a mix of brown and white sugars with cinnamon and a touch of cocoa. The buns rise and bake in a not-too-sweet caramel sauce; because it’s made with honey and salt, it has a slight, pleasantly bitter edge.
- PLAN AHEAD: It’s foolish to pretend that these buns are anything but a project, because you must make the dough a day ahead (you can make it farther in advance and freeze it until ready to thaw and bake, if you’d like). But because the filling and caramel can be made in advance, they’re a project easily worked into a weekend or another at-home stretch.
- Generously butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan.
- TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Put all the ingredients in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter melts and all the ingredients are blended. Turn up the heat and let the glaze boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Pour the glaze into the pan and jiggle it to get as even a layer as you can. (The glaze can be made up to 1 day ahead. Let it cool, cover the pan and leave at room temperature until needed.)
- TO MAKE THE FILLING: Mix all of the ingredients together and keep at hand. (Covered and stored at room temperature, the filling will keep for up to 1 week, so you can make it whenever it’s convenient.)
- TO MAKE THE BUNS: Lightly flour a work surface. Shape the cold dough into a rectangle and dust the top with flour. Roll into a 12-x-14-inch rectangle, flipping the dough so that you work on both sides, flouring the surfaces as needed. Sprinkle the filling over the dough and use your fingers to spread it evenly.
- Starting with a long side, roll the dough up as snugly as you can, ending with the seam on the bottom. If the ends of the log look ragged and perhaps a little low on filling, cut them away. Using a chef’s knife, slice the log into 8 buns, about 1½ inches wide. Place the buns spiral side up in the pan with the glaze. You’ll have a lot of space between the buns, and that’s just fine.
- Lightly cover the pan with a piece of parchment and put it in a warm place (see page 16). You want the buns to double in volume, feel soft and light and touch one another here and there. Be patient—depending on the warmth of your room, this can take up to 2 hours, or maybe a little more.
- GETTING READY TO BAKE: When the buns are verging on full-puff, center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F.
- Remove the parchment and bake the buns for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and puffed—they’ll have cozied up to one another in the oven, and the glaze will be bubbling. Transfer the pan to a rack.
- You need to unmold the buns now, while the glaze is still molten. And you need to do this very carefully! Turn the buns out onto a platter or, if you don’t have one large enough, a baking sheet lined with a baking mat or even a cutting board.
- The buns are ready to serve when the danger of burning your fingers or tongue has passed. These are good warm, but they’re also delicious at room temperature, so there’s no rush.
- STORING: The buns are at their peak the day they’re made, but you can wrap them and keep them overnight—reheat them in a 350-degree-F oven (or microwave them for about 20 seconds), if you like. You can’t freeze the glazed baked buns, but you can freeze the filled and rolled dough, before or after or it’s been sliced into buns—just be sure to wrap it airtight. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then make the glaze, slice the dough into buns, if necessary, pop the buns into the pan, let them rise (which will take longer) and bake.
- ONE DAY AHEAD: Butter a container with a capacity of at least 3 quarts or a large bowl. Have a tablespoon or so more of softened butter at hand.
- Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a spoon or flexible spatula, stir to blend. Stir in the yeast. Attach the bowl to the mixer stand and fit it with the dough hook. Stir the milk and water together in a bowl and, with the mixer on medium-low, gradually add the liquid to the flour mixture. When it’s all in, scrape the bowl and then mix on medium for 2 to 3 minutes, until you’ve got a bowl of shaggy bits of dough. It won’t look good, but things will improve.
- Working on medium-low, gradually pour in the eggs. When they’re in, increase the speed to medium (or a notch higher) and beat for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl now and then. For a few minutes, the mixture will slosh around and you’ll think it’s a failure—just keep mixing! When the eggs are fully incorporated, the dough still won’t be pretty, but it will spin around on the hook and although it will pool at the bottom of the bowl, it will clean the sides.
- Keep the mixer at medium and start adding the butter a small piece at a time. I usually squish the butter between my fingers as I add it. Add it slowly, so that you don’t have more than 2 pieces visible at the same time. This can take a while, maybe 10 minutes or so. When all the butter is in, increase the mixer speed to a bit higher than medium and beat for about 10 minutes: Stay close to the mixer—it might crawl or jump while it’s beating! Scrape the bowl and hook occasionally, beating until the dough comes together in a soft, smooth, glossy mass; when you reach into the bowl and pull the dough, it will stretch, not break.
- Scrape the dough into the buttered container or bowl and press it down so that it’s smooth; rub a little softened butter over the top of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel, put it in a warm place and let the dough rise until it’s doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour (it might take more or less time, depending on the temperature of the room and the dough—go by volume, not time).
- When the dough has risen, lift up four corners one at a time and let the dough fall back into the container, or fold the dough over on itself; smooth the top. Cover the container and put it in the fridge. After 30 minutes, lift the dough with your fingers—work around the dough so that you get to all of it— and let it fall. Do this every 30 minutes until it is cold, firm and no longer rising significantly, about 2 hours. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, pressing it directly against the dough, then cover the container and leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.) After the dough has had its big chill, it’s ready to be used to make the 2 loaves or for any of the other recipes that call for brioche dough (see headnote).
Excerpted from Baking with Dorie © 2021 by Dorie Greenspan, Photography by Mark Weinberg. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.