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Joanne Chang’s Incomparable Sticky Buns from "Flour"

Joanne Chang’s Incomparable Sticky Buns from "Flour"
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The book “Throwdown”
has over 100 recipes–
but only 33 of them are Bobby’s 

Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown” has been around for 9 seasons on Food Network TV.  In case you missed any of the over 100 episodes, they’re rerun on the Cooking Channel often enough to clog your DVR. The popularity of the show has as much to do with its affable host, as it has to do with his subject matter. Chef Flay goes head to head with Chefs who are never quite as famous as he is.  Nonetheless, they have captured the hearts of their customers with dishes that are slightly more exalted than run-of-the-mill house specialties.   Bobby doesn’t cook the Chef’s recipe.  He and his two able assistants invent their own version of the signature dish that’s being featured.  One week, he takes on a barbecued ribs expert, the next an authority on chowder.  The local chef always appears gob smacked by Bobby’s sudden appearance on the scene.  But they recover fast and the contest is on, to be judged by local food authorities.  For the record, Bobby does not consistently win.  At the moment, he has had 32 wins, 1 tie and 68 losses.  I am slightly suspect that the local judges surely know which dish is Bobby’s and which is his challenger’s.  I mean they do live in these towns and they are supposed to know all about local food.  If they’re not bent on being run out of town, they may cheat to the hometown side’s advantage.  But that hardly takes away from the fun.

I was watching “Throwdown” when who should appear but one of our heroes, Joanne Chang of “Flour” in Boston.  I was slightly surprised to see that Ms. Chang looked genuinely alarmed when Bobby challenged her to a Throwdown.  After all, the woman’s on her 4th bakery, her third cookbook and still manages to run a restaurant. It may have been that Ms. Chang was tracking Chef Flay’s past wins. He has had considerable success in the baking department. He’s won for cheesecake and cupcakes, for coconut cake, red velvet cake and German Chocolate Cake.  Ms. Chang could have taken heart from the fact that Bobby lost when he challenged a wedding cake baker and he bombed with a Buche de Noel.  However, a little poking around revealed that Ms. Chang appeared in 2007, on the second season when she may not have felt as seasoned as she does now.  However, she had a secret weapon, which we’ll share here today: It is a recipe for the most sumptuous, ooey, gooey, nutty, brioche-based sticky buns that anyone has ever tasted. 

In the department of confessions, I make this one.  I am not blessed with the sweetest of teeth.  I should likely thank god for this. If not, I would likely weigh far more than I already do since Andrew is the most marvelous baker one could ever imagine. If he has any down time at all, it is filled with sweets of all kinds.  I am also aware that having just emerged from the sweetest season of the year, you may have resolved to eat nothing but brown rice and kale until Spring. If you do, you will be missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures: this extraordinarily rich confection dripping with brown sugar-y, cinnamon-y goodness.  One bite into the buttery brioche and you discover crunchy buttered pecans that add to the flavor rush. And the final piece of good news is that these sticky buns are so satisfying, you’ll eat only one at a seating and zealously keep the rest for the next day. As with all Joanne Chang recipes this one is wildly detailed.  Do not be put out by its length.  It is the mark of a great teacher to describe every step.  One apology here:  Somehow the photographs of the “Goo”, which was made well in advance of the buns, disappeared so you’ll just have to trust yourself.  It’s not all that difficult to do.  But when we get into the bulk of the recipe, you’ll have pictures galore to follow.  Here is the recipe:

Recipe for Joanne Chang’s Sticky Buns
For the Goo:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks; 170 grams, 6 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (345 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (110 grams) honey
1/3 cup (80 grams) heavy cream
1/3 cup (80 grams) water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling: 
1/4 cup (55 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (100 grams) pecan halves, toasted and chopped

For the Brioche Dough:

2 1/2 cups (350 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
2 1/4 cups (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 1-ounce (28 grams) fresh cake yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (82 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold water
5 eggs
1 3/8 cups (2 3/4 sticks; 310 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces

First, make the goo.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that’s ok). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Strain to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Now make the Brioche Dough:

Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all the ingredients are combined. Stop the mixer, as needed, to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all the butter to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.

Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny, another 15 minutes. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually it will turn smooth and silky. Turn the speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it; it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in 1 piece.

Put the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof (that is, grow and develop flavor) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight At this point you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Divide the dough in half. Use half for this recipe and reserve the other half for another use. (Stay tuned, we’ll give you that recipe in an upcoming post.)

Now you’re ready to put together your sticky buns:

On a floured work surface, roll out the brioche into rectangle about 12 by 16 inches and 1/4-inch thick. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh and should be fairly easy to roll. Position the rectangle so a short side is facing you.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and half of the pecans. 

Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Starting from the short side farthest from you and working your way down, roll up the rectangle like a jellyroll. 

Try to roll tightly, so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4- inch from each end of the roll to make them even.

Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to cut the roll into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2-inches wide. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, thaw them, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, then proceed as directed.)

Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. 

Arrange the buns, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. 

Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot to proof until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching-almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.

The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, and then warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.

13 thoughts on “Joanne Chang’s Incomparable Sticky Buns from "Flour"”

  • As someone who grew up in PA Dutch country one of my first jobs was making sticky bun at the Allentown farmers market we ate sticky buns every morning and to gilt the lily we would put butter on them YUM!! When Andrew drop 1 off the day after New Years Day it was like finding a long lost friend, or like a dog moving his hind leg when you pet him in his favorite spot. These are a must try as the taste is amazing. Thank you Andrew for sharing(sorry Terry move closer) and Thanks Monte.
    Michael Grim

  • Monte, you keep posting these temptations that Gluten free flours will just not do justice to. I've tried the rice flour and Bob Mills GF all purpose flour mix – still not nailing it. Sooo.. I purchase pre-made rolls, and I made the "goo" then I topped it. Then I made the "goo" again, and topped it a second time! Presto chango, it's a Sticky Bun!! Thank you Monte!

  • Dear Ana, So glad you made it work. Can you share with your fellow readers what brand of gluten-free rolls you used? You'd be amazed how many Gluten-free readers we have and they don't get nearly enough recipes they can use here. Thanks Ana!

  • https://udisglutenfree.com/product-category/muffins-cinnamon-rolls/ This Udi's product is the one that my Mother-in-law started sending over to ensure her "baby boy" was not losing too much weight. The thing about GF bread products, is that they are dense. You do not eat as much and you fill up quickly. He did actually lose about 20lbs. after he started GF and now kicks up his potatoes etc. The best pizza dough I have found is the Glutino product. It's not bad, I tried making my own with various flours, and then with Cornmean – which is GF. For the effort I put in, I now go to the frozen section. Just makes it easier, sue me. C: The Pasta, yuk yuk yuk. I now make my lasagna with butternut squash and Zucchini strips as my noodle. The only time I use the pasta is in a bake, like a Rigatoni bake. The traditional with sauce? It clumps very quickly and again, it's dense. Somehow it's just wrong.. Well, there you go. And that is why my Monte, is my shining star!

    • Dear Sam, I do apologize. The problem arose because this recipe uses Joanne Chang’s Brioche Dough recipe which uses 5 eggs in the batter and one to egg wash the loaves. I have altered it so that it is now correct and I really appreciate your taking the time to point out the error. All best, Monte

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