Our pecan sticky buns are justifiably famous, since they beat Bobby Flay in a throwdown. We once calculated that we bake off about 220,000 sticky buns a year (that’s over 600 daily) just to keep up with the demand. When something is that popular, is there any reason to tweak it or improve it? Well, in New England we can’t help but get pretty excited about apple season every fall. I myself eat at least an apple a day (I have one in my bag now) and when the idea to switch out the pecans for apples came up, I couldn’t wait to try it. I love how the tart cider and the fresh, spiced apples bring our sticky bun to a whole new level. These are insanely good and I actually love them better than the original.
You will need at least 2 days to make these Apple Cider Sticky Buns. I promise they are worth the time.
1/2 recipe/ 21 ounces/ 600 grams Master Brioche Dough (see below) or 2/3 recipe/ 22 ounces/ 620 grams Whole Wheat Brioche dough (see below)
1 cup/ 240 grams apple cider
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest (a quick shaving or two using a Microplane)
Big pinch of ground cloves
Big pinch of ground ginger
Big pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Big pinch of ground allspice
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/3 cups)
3/4 cup/ 1 1/2 sticks/170 grams unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed/ 330 grams light brown sugar
1/4 cup/ 85 grams honey
1/4 cup/ 60 grams heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup/ 50 grams superfine sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Mix the brioche dough and let it proof for 6 hours or up to overnight in the fridge, as directed.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the cider, orange zest, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice to just under a boil. Let the cider simmer for about 10 minutes, until it reduces to about 1/2 cup. Turn the heat off and add the apples to the reduced cider. Let cool to room temperature. Set a sieve over a bowl and drain the apples; set the apples and cider aside separately.
3. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and add 1 1/4 cups/275 grams of the brown sugar. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and starts to boil, about 3 minutes. It will look a bit like lava. Whisk in the cider, honey, cream, and salt until thoroughly combined. Remove the apple cider goo from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (At this point the goo can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
4. Generously flick flour over the work surface. Remove the brioche dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and place it on the work surface. Roll out the brioche dough into a 12 x 12-inch square. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh and it should be fairly easy to roll out. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup/55 grams brown sugar, the superfine sugar, and the cinnamon. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the brioche dough square. Scatter the apples evenly on top of the cinnamon sugar.
5. Starting from the top of the square and working your way down, roll the brioche dough toward you like a jelly roll until the entire sheet is rolled up. Roll tightly so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4 inch from both ends of the roll to even them out.
6. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the roll crosswise into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. (At this point the unbaked buns can be transferred to a baking sheet or flat plate and frozen, then transferred to a plastic freezer bag and frozen for up to 1 week. When you’re ready to bake the buns, place them on a flat plate, cover with plastic, and let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours; proceed as directed.)
7. Pour the apple cider goo into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Place the buns in the pan cut side down, evenly spaced. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the buns proof at warm room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching.
8. Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the baking pan midway through the baking time, until the buns are golden brown on the tops and sides; I pop up a middle bun partway and give it a poke to make sure the dough is baked through. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 20 to 30 minutes.
9. Invert the buns one at a time onto a serving platter and spoon any extra goo left in the pan on top. Serve warm.
10. Sticky buns are best served right away, or within 4 hours of baking, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day. Warm them in a 300°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes before serving.
Master Brioche Dough
Makes about 2 1/2 pounds/ 1,200 grams dough
1 3/4 cups/ 245 grams all-purpose flour
2 cups/ 300 grams high-gluten bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons/ 7 grams/ 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1/3 cup/ 65 grams sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs (about 200 grams), at room temperature
18 tablespoons/ 2 1/4 sticks/ 255 grams unsalted butter, cut into 10 to 12 pieces, at room temperature
1. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, 1/2 cup/120 grams cold water, and the eggs. Mix on low speed until the ingredients have come together, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Mix on low for another 3 to 4 minutes once the dough has come together. It will be very stiff.
2. Add the butter to the dough piece by piece and continue mixing on low for about 10 minutes. The butter needs to mix completely into the dough, so stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl and break up the dough with your hands if necessary to help the butter mix in.
3. Once the butter is completely incorporated into the dough, mix on medium for another 15 minutes, until the dough becomes sticky and soft and somewhat shiny. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix for about 1 minute— you should hear a slap-slap-slap sound as the dough 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 either all-purpose or bread flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix it on medium for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. When it’s ready you should be able to gather it all together and pick it up all as one piece.
4. Place the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover the top with plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface of the dough to prevent a skin from forming. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. The dough is now ready to use.
Whole Wheat Brioches à Tête
Makes just over 2 pounds/ 950 grams dough, 9 brioches
3 large eggs (about 150 grams), at room temperature, for the dough, plus 1 large egg (about 20 grams) for egg wash
1/2 cup/ 120 grams ice-cold water
2 1/4 teaspoons/ 7 grams/ 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups/ 210 grams all-purpose flour
1/4 cup/ 50 grams sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups/ 225 grams whole wheat flour
13 tablespoons/ 185 grams unsalted butter, cut into 10 to 12 pieces, at room temperature
1. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the 3 eggs for the dough, the water, and the yeast and stir to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on low speed until all the ingredients have come together, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape the bowl if necessary to make sure all the flour is incorporated. Mix on low for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough is smooth and wet and resembles pancake batter. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.
2. Add the whole wheat flour and mix on low until completely incorporated. Add the butter to the dough piece by piece and mix on low until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl and breaking up the dough with your hands if necessary to help the butter mix in.
3. Once the butter is completely incorporated into the dough, mix on low for another 15 minutes, until the dough becomes sticky and soft and somewhat shiny. Turn the mixer up to medium-high for about 1 minute and you should hear a slap-slap-slap sound as the dough 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 all-purpose flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, mix on medium for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. When it’s ready you should be able to gather it all together and pick it up in one piece.
4. Place the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap—the plastic should be directly on top of the dough, touching it, to prevent it from drying out. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
5. The next day, lightly flick all-purpose flour over a baking sheet. Remove the dough from the fridge and portion it evenly into 9 pieces, each roughly 3 1/2 ounces/100 grams. Roll each portion into a taut ball by placing it on a clean, unfloured work surface and cupping it with your entire hand. (If the work surface is floured, the dough will not “catch” on the surface and will instead slide around.) Your fingers and palm should surround the ball as if you are making a cage to trap it. Move your hand in a circular motion, keeping your fingers on the work surface, and firmly push the dough against the table as you move your hand round and round. (You are creating a taut outer surface on the dough as you are moving it in a circle to gather it into a ball. This motion takes some practice. The dough should move around inside your cupped hand, rolling against the inside of your fingers and palm; each time it rolls around it will ideally catch the work surface on the bottom while the top starts to smooth and tighten.) Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet a few inches apart and cover them lightly with plastic wrap. Let proof in a warm place in your kitchen for about 1 hour. The balls should be soft and relaxed at this point.
6. Brush nine brioche molds with butter or spray with pan spray. Now you will make the tête part of the brioche: Place a ball on its side so that the bottom of the ball is facing right and the top of the ball faces left. Using the pinky edge of your hand, karate-chop the ball at approximately one-quarter of the way from the top of ball. Roll the edge of your hand back and forth against the dough ball, dividing it into one-quarter and three-quarters. You want to roll pretty aggressively, almost as if you are trying to sever the head of the ball. When you feel like you are about to lop the head off, stop rolling. This motion also takes practice!
7. Pick up the ball and place it squarely in a brioche mold with the floppy almost-severed tête perched on top. Pinch the tête with all five fingers and squish them straight down into the brioche, all the way to the bottom of the mold. Once the tête is some-what secured, release it. Hold your index finger and middle finger together and press them deep into the dough between the tête and the base; you should press so deep that you feel the bottom of the mold with your fingertips. Remove your fingers and dip them in flour to keep them from sticking, then repeat, pressing deeply into the dough all around the tête. (This will allow the tête to remain separate from the rest of the brioche; you basically can’t press too hard, so go all the way down to the bottom.) The brioche with its tête will look like a little snowman.
8. Repeat with the rest of the balls. Place the brioches, in their molds, on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel. Let proof for 1 to 1 1/2 hours at warm room temperature, until the brioches have almost doubled in size and feel wobbly when you poke them.
9. Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Whisk the egg for the egg wash in a small bowl with a fork. Use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the brioches evenly with the egg wash. Separate the brioches so they are evenly spaced on the baking sheet. Bake the brioches for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through the baking time, until they are golden brown all over.
10. Remove from the oven and let cool in the molds on a wire rack. Remove the brioches from the molds and serve.
11. Brioches à tête are best served the same day they are baked, but you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day and reheat in a 300°F oven for 5 to 6 minutes to refresh.
Apple Cider Sticky Buns is excerpted from Pastry Love © 2019 by Joanne Chang. Photography © 2019 by Kristen Teig. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Each week, The Splendid Table brings you stories that expand your world view, inspire you to try something new, and show how food brings us together. We rely on you to do this. You have the power to keep us cooking, sharing these stories, and helping you in the kitchen.
Donate today for as little as $5.00 a month. Your gift only takes a few minutes and has a lasting impact on The Splendid Table.