Economic recovery is apparently all relative – and if you can’t quite get your mind around that one right now, let me offer something simpler. An allegory of sorts.
Or perhaps just a totally unrelated story. I’ll leave it for you to decide.
Say there is a pastry that you really love, from a particular bakery that you occasionally catch yourself daydreaming about, even now when you live many miles away. Perhaps you love that pastry so much that when something similar pops up you find yourself daydreaming about that one, too.
But maybe you are also slightly paranoid about sugar. And maybe your comfort zone is solid on the bread spectrum, but not so solid on the pastry one. And maybe your husband likes his morning buns
sticky with nuts wow, ok, never mind.
Anyway, whatever the case, you’re in luck. These are not morning buns. But they are sort of inspired by them. They are soft and bread-y – and a little buttery. They’re kissed with sugar, and spice, and a few pecans. And if what you want is actually just a nice simple loaf of lightly sweet bread that you can bake on a cookie sheet (Marcelle, this one is for you!) – well, this works well for that too. You can think of it as the bread-slash-bun dough that can be what you want it to be. I like to call it Afternoon Tea Bread. Or, Evening Treat Buns. Or, Sometimes-I-Really-Want-Cake-Or-Morning-Buns-But-Don’t-Want-So-Much-Sugar-And-This-Will-Do-Just-Fine-Thanks.
And hey, compared to a morning bun, these are basically health food. Because, you know, it’s all relative.
(And hey again, speaking of actually not at all relative – is it just me, or do these chocolate waffle brownies sound like some kind of wonderful? “Chocolate, coffee, salt, with lots of crispy edge. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Me neither.)
Afternoon Tea Bread or Evening Treat Buns
(or relatively lame morning buns, if you must)
This is a wonderful, barely-sweet yeast bread, with a hint of vanilla and a slightly cakey crumb. It evolved from this whole wheat butter bread recipe (and is now a higher mammal). It is not a true pastry by any stretch, but it can satisfy my pastry cravings – especially when made into little spice-kissed and sugar-dusted rolls. It also makes a beautiful braided loaf, perfect for sandwiches or cinnamon toast. You could even do a cinnamon swirl through the loaf, if you felt like it; roll the cinnamon into the center like in this recipe (and then bake in a loaf pan), or just roll each of your three dough pieces in cinnamon sugar before braiding them. You can refer to the images above to see how J and I dusted the dough, then cut it into pieces, then rolled them into logs, then sliced them to bake in muffin tins. We used mini muffin tins, and cut our pieces about an inch in length. If you use standard muffin tins you could obviously make bigger buns.
Depending on whether you are making buns or a loaf, you will want either muffin tins (buttered and dusted with sugar) or a baking sheet (lined with parchment or baking paper). You won’t heat the oven until after the dough’s first rise.
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast **
1/2 cup warm water (body temperature is good)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup warm water (body temperature again)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or scrapings from one vanilla bean
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, each tablespoon cut into four pieces
For filling: cinnamon, sugar, and chopped pecans, about a cup total
For topping: 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
(Note: in the pictures, only about half the buns are sprinkled on top with sugar – this was because I had a three year old sprinkling. If I had done it myself, 2 tablespoons would have gotten all the buns, but with a little less sugar per bun than what you see in the photos above).
In the bowl of your stand mixer*, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup water. Mix in the first tablespoon of sugar. Let sit for a minute or two. Meanwhile, in another bowl, sift or fork together the bread flour with almost all of the whole wheat flour (reserve 1/4 cup), the remaining sugar, and the salt. Mix the vanilla into the remaining water.
Once the yeast has dissolved, add the water/vanilla mixture to the mixer bowl, and stir together. Then add the flour mixture, a scoop at a time, stirring until somewhat incorporated. Once all the flour is stirred in, put the bread hook on your mixer and mix everything for 1-2 minutes, until it is well combined.
Then, with the mixer still running, start adding the butter. Don’t worry that you can still see it, it will eventually knead in. Just keep adding it, one piece at a time, putting in a piece every ten seconds or so. Let the dough keep kneading for about six more minutes. If it is not cleaning the sides of the bowl and still looks sticky, add the additional whole wheat flour as needed. You want the dough to be moist, but it should easily clean the sides of the bowl.
Once the dough is smooth and elastic, remove the bowl from the mixer. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled.
When the first rise is done, punch the dough down and knead it again to get any bubbles out. Then, you can either divide your dough into three pieces and braid the loaf, or roll it out, cover with cinnamon-sugar and pecans, roll into logs and slice it (see photos). If rolling/slicing, you should have greased muffin tins ready. If braiding, have a parchment lined baking sheet ready to place the loaf on (you can also dust both loaf and pan with graham flour, if you have some).
Once you have shaped your dough, let it rest for about thirty minutes (it should rise again, though not a full rise).
While the dough is doing its second rise, heat your oven on to 350 F. Bake rolled buns for about twenty minutes, a braided loaf for about thirty-five minutes. (You don’t want to over-bake this! It is meant to be soft and a little cake-y).
Cool completely before storing. Bread keeps, wrapped in plastic, for a few days at room temperature; the buns do too, but they won’t be around for that long ;)
* Once again – I have not made this without the mixer, but I guarantee you can. You just will need to work and knead the dough instead of being lazy and letting the mixer do it.
* * A couple of people have emailed me asking if in bread recipes where I call for 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast, they can use 1 1/4 teaspoons instead (which is what comes in the little packets). Yes! Absolutely. It will just take your dough a little longer to rise – but the alchemy of dough rising is already dependent on ambient temperature, humidity, blah blah etc. I buy yeast in large glass containers and keep it in the fridge, but if you prefer packets, please go right ahead. It won’t impact the final product, just the timing.