Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gooey Overnight Sticky Buns

I'm happy to report the tree is still standing.  It's even straight I think.  Of course, I didn't realize it was leaning before, so maybe I'm not the best judge.

So...I ran 30 minutes today.  For most of you, that's probably not a huge deal.  But for me, it's a mega-huge deal.  I'm not sure I've ever run 30 minutes in my life.  That's not to say I've never exercised more than 30 minutes in my life.  I used to do Zumba for an hour on the reg.  But running and enjoying it always eluded me.  I've been following the Couch to 5k plan loosely, and today I finally did 30 minutes!

In honor of that achievement, I give you these sticky buns.

These...are the ultimate.  Think: Sticky, sweet, and slightly salted caramel sauce with a generous helping of chopped pecans enveloping a soft yeast dough filled with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Get the party started.
For the dough: Sugar, vanilla extract, yeast, all-purpose flour, milk, salt, half-and-half, egg, and butter.
Firstly for the dough, we want to dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Not too hot, not too cool.  I microwaved the water for 20 seconds, which was perfect.
After 5 or 10 minutes, it looks like this!  Foamy and yeasty smelling.  Heaven.
The milk and half-and-half take a nice jacuzzi bath together.  Wait, is that weird?  Let's just say they heat up in a small saucepan.  That's way more normal.  Heat them just short of boiling, where the edges have little bubbles but aren't going full force.
Let the milk cool and add it to the egg, butter, which has been melted, salt and sugar.
Oh and let's toss it some vanilla extract for a hint of flavor.
Now it's time for 2 cups of flour.
Mix it until it's smooth.  It'll be quite sticky because we don't have all the flour in quite yet.  Um, I kind of like taking pictures of the dough sticking to the paddle.  I know the dough looks yellower in the bottom picture, but it's just a change in angle and the way the light hits it.  Crazy, no?
Add the yeast mixture and give it a 3-second stir.
The rest of the flour yields a slightly sticky, totally awesome dough.

Turn it out on a lightly floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes.  It shouldn't give you much trouble.  If it does, you need a little more flour.  It'll become smooth with a little work.
Lightly oil a bowl and roll the dough ball in it so that everything is nice and lubricated.  I used the same bowl I mixed in because I think it's silly to use another bowl.
Cover with a cloth, preferably one featuring a Santa hatted kitten in a stocking.  It makes it taste better, promise.  Let the dough double in size in a warm spot, usually 1 to 1-1/2 hours.  Don't peek!  Dough doesn't need to be checked on.
I think now is a totally good time to work on the sticky topping.  Firstly, chop some pecans.  Or buy them already chopped.  That's way easier.
For the caramel: heavy cream, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and flaky sea salt.  Ignore the brown sugar creepin' in the background.  It just wants in on the fun.  This is the step that requires the most attentiveness.  Caramel needs to be watched like a hawk.  Burnt caramel is bad caramel.  But we're making good caramel, so no worries.
Sugar and water go into a larger saucepan.  Now is not the time for tiny.  We need tall sides for the violent bubbling later.  Don't worry, I got this, bro! (Famous last words).  Set it to medium-high heat.
UPDATE: Don't stir the sugar and water together.  Pour the sugar over the water and turn the heat on.  It'll bubble and come together on its own.  If you stir, it'll crystallize around the edges and be generally unpleasant on your pot.  You won't need to stir anything until the butter and cream are added.  I neglected to mention this earlier.
Aww yeah.  Bubblin' action.  This is just the beginning, folks.
Mmm, we're getting pretty and golden brown.  Guess what?  It still needs to go a little longer.  I've made the mistake and taken it off too early before.  Not this time, my friends.  Not this time.
This is the color we're looking for.  A deeper brown but decidedly not burnt.  Amber.
Now it's time to add the butter.  It'll start to bubble and look pretty explosive.  Don't worry, it's supposed to do that.  Oh, you might want to have long sleeves on for this part.  Just in case.  Oven mitts don't hurt either.  I lived on the edge and went mitt-less.  Oh and if the measurement for the butter looks a little weird in the recipe, that's because it is.  I just used the rest of the stick from the dough.  I didn't technically measure out 2 2/3 tbs.  I just did the math.
Add the heavy cream and whisk until it's completely smooth.  It'll look like this.  If your caramel happens to seize because you took it off the heat too soon, don't panic.  By seize, I mean a giant lump of hard-ish caramel forms in the bottom and looks hopeless.  It's not hopeless.  Put the caramel back on low heat and whisk, whisk, whisk until it's all dissolved.  Because here's the thing.  Caramel at its core is just sugar.  A little gentle heat and it'll smooth out.  Just have faith.
Faith.  Caramel.  Now stir in the vanilla extract and the sea salt.
Pour the caramel into a greased 9x13 baking dish.  I reserved 1/2 c of the caramel just for my own purposes.  Y'know, hot chocolate and the like.  You can use all of it or save some for yourself.  Sprinkle the chopped pecans on top and set aside.
I'm hoping your dough has doubled in size by now.  Punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface.  You're aiming for a roughly 9x15 rectangle.
In a small bowl, mix up brown sugar, sugar, and cinnamon.  Also, brown some butter.  Or just melt it, your choice.  Browning is my preferred option, obvi.
Spread the butter over the dough and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.  I had a separate picture of the dough with just the butter, but it was doin' a funky two-tone on me.  Whomp whomp.  I trust you know how to butter dough.

Starting with the long end farther from you, start rolling the dough towards you.  Try to keep it as tight as possible.  Oh and I totally rolled it up and then unrolled it a little so you could see the "process." I'm silly.
 Using a nice, sharp knife, cut the cinnamon rolls and place them in the baking dish on top of the caramel and pecans.  I think it's a good idea to lightly score the dough before you cut it just to make sure you get pretty even rolls.
Now you can either cover them for about 45 minutes and then bake them, or you can cover them in plastic wrap and let them rise in the fridge overnight.  I chose the latter.
If you go for the latter, take them out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to bake them.  I just like to take the chill off.  Heat your oven to 350º in the meantime.  When it's ready, bake them for about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Oo, pretty.  Run a knife gently around the edges to loosen the sticky buns.
Shortly after you remove the sticky buns from the oven (read: not more than 2-3 minutes), place the serving dish or tray you want over the pan and invert it.  The sticky buns should fall right out.
Glory, hallelujah, save my soul!
Pecans all over the place.  Caramel running down the sides and into the bottom of the tray.  It's magical.
Why, yes, I ate two.  It was my Sunday breakfast, and Sunday breakfasts should be a little decadent, no?  Depending on how you look at it, it's either the end of the week or the beginning.  And your week should end and begin wonderfully.
Ooey gooey.
 Take a big forkful.
You won't need any sugar in your coffee.  Trust.  I think these would be nice for Christmas morning.  Make them Christmas Eve and pop them in the fridge until you need them Christmas morning.  If I'm being honest, I don't really know what people normally do on Christmas Eve because I've always been celebrating my birthday.  But making sticky buns seems plausible.  No matter when you make them, they'll make your family swoon and possibly send them into a short sugar coma.  Merry Christmas!

Sticky Buns (makes 13-15)
Dough adapted from Paula Deen

1 (1/4 oz) package dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
1/4 c half-and-half
1/4 c milk
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c butter, melted
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 - 4 c flour

Sticky Topping:
2 c sugar
1/2 c water
2 2/3 tbs butter (the rest of the stick used in the dough)
2 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tbs vanilla extract
1 1/2 c chopped pecans

1/4 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
1/4 c melted butter, browned if desired

  • In a small bowl or cup, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Let stand 5-10 minutes.  In a small saucepan, heat milk and half-and-half until scalded but not boiling.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  In a large bowl, combine milk mixture, sugar, butter, salt, egg, and vanilla extract.  Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth.  Add yeast mixture and mix 3 seconds.  Add remaining flour until a manageable dough forms.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface 5-10 minutes.  Grease a bowl and place dough in bowl, turning to coat all sides.  Cover and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  
  • For sticky topping, bring sugar and water to a boil in a medium or large saucepan.  Carefully watch as it turns a deep golden brown.  When it reaches a deep amber, add butter and heavy cream.  Whisk the added ingredients in until smooth and remove from heat.  Whisk in sea salt and vanilla.  Pour caramel sauce in a greased 9x13 baking dish.  Sprinkle pecans on top of caramel and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon to make filling.  Punch down dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 9x15 rectangle, long sides facing you.  Brush melted butter over dough and sprinkle filling mixture over buttery dough.  Starting at the long side farther from you, roll dough toward you tightly.  Pinch the seam to seal.  Slice sticky buns with a sharp knife.  Place each sticky bun in the pan, about 1-inch to 1 1/2-inches apart, as space allows.  You may cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise overnight in the refrigerator or cover and allow them to rise on the counter for immediate baking.  Heat oven to 350º when ready to bake.  Bake sticky buns 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Run a knife around the edge to gently loosen sticky buns and invert on a tray or baking sheet.  Serve warm and watch them disappear.