Even after a year of poring through my Bread Illustrated cookbook, I’m still coming across brand new recipes that, for whatever reason, haven’t caught my eye before.
Case in point: the recipe for morning buns.
What is a morning bun? Before I made it, I had never heard of this tasty little pastry. The opening vignette makes it sounds like a sort of combination cinnamon bun and croissant, and that’s pretty spot on – except it’s even easier to make than either of those recipes.
Morning buns have one bonus flavour that I definitely associate with mornings: orange. The recipe contains a bit of orange juice in the dough and orange zest in the filling, giving it a delicious hint of oranginess.
I mentioned that this recipe is easy to make – in fact, in can be made in a single morning (hey – maybe that’s why it’s called morning buns!) The folks at America’s Test Kitchen have devised a super simple way of cheating your way around a laminated dough, making it infinitely more practical to make than tasty – but notoriously finicky – croissants. Their trick: a solid large Ziploc bag. Put your dry ingredients in the bag (all-purpose flour, a bit of sugar, some yeast, and salt) and add in slices of chilled butter (I sliced mine then put them in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to ensure they were nice and cold). Then, you shake the bag around to coat the butter with the flour mixture, and roll it out a few times to form nice little butter flakes. It’s almost too easy (no such thing!)
The baggie contents are then transferred to a bowl, where the wet ingredients are added: the orange juice, some sour cream, ice water, and a single egg yolk. You’re supposed to mix “until combined”. I was nervous about overmixing, so I used a delicate hand, even though the dough looked pretty loose.
The next stage involves kneading the dough by hand. I was sure mine wasn’t wet enough, but after a bit of manhandling, I was surprised to see it came together relatively quickly (the recipe said 30 seconds – mine was closer to a minute).
Usually, when you’re making a dough, at this stage you have to chill it before rolling it out. You’d probably have to do that if you were baking the morning buns on a hot day, but I followed the recipe and rolled it out right away into a big 20 x 12 inch rectangle. It was easy to roll out and with a bit of flour dusting, I didn’t have any problems with it being overly sticky, nor did bits of it flake off for being too dry.
The large rectangle gets rolled tightly into a log, then flattened into a 12 x 14 inch rectangle. It’s like a mini lamination, I suppose. The log is loosely wrapped with greased saran wrap, then it goes in the freezer for just 15 minutes.
Those 15 minutes can easily be filled by preparing the muffin tins (which have to be lined with paper and sprayed with cooking spray – a first for me) and throwing together the filling. The filling consists of white and brown sugar, a bit (2 tsp) of cinnamon, some orange zest, and a little vanilla.
When the 15 minutes in the freezer are up, the dough gets rolled out into a big rectangle and the mixture gets sprinkled on. The rectangle gets rolled into a log and reshaped, then the ends are chopped of to ensure each bun has a pretty little spiral.
After chopping the log into 12 pieces, each piece is plopped into a cup on the muffin tin – then, for the first time really in this recipe, it’s time for a long-ish wait for 1 to 1.5 hours. It was on the cool side when I cooked these, so I gave it a full 1.5 hours.
The bake starts with a burst of heat – 5 minutes in a 425 degree oven until the buns just start to rise – then it’s down to 325 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes (mine were in for 45 exactly). It’s an agonizingly long time because it doesn’t take long for the kitchen to start to smell really, really good.
Once out, the buns cool for 5 minutes, then you can discard the now-sticky paper liners and let everything cool on a wire rack. Thankfully, there’s none of the “Let cool for 3 hours” nonsense – the directions say “Serve warm,” so I happily obliged.
The morning buns taste like they’re way more complicated than they really are. I think the texture is similar to what my kouign-amanns would have taste like if I hadn’t botched that recipe. The outside is crisp and flaky, and there’s a kind of caramelly crispness to it from the sugar that has oozed through the pastry. They’re not nearly as cinnamon-y as a cinnamon bun, but the taste of cinnamon is there and it goes exquisitely with the orange.
The middle of the bun is kind of softish – not in an undercooked way, more like the middle of a croissant or other pastry.
I feared that Cedric and I would demolish the dozen more quickly than is socially acceptable, so I wrapped half of the batch up in saran wrap, put them in a freezer bag, and hid them away in the freezer. They thawed out very nicely.
I’m still not totally sure what a morning bun is, in terms of it’s exact definition or history, but this I know: I love them.