There were three ingredients that intimidated me before I studied Professional Baking in Culinary School: gelatin, fondant, and yeast..

And while I was able to successfully make panna cotta with unflavoured gelatin sheets in Culinary class, and I once or twice decorated a 3 tiered cake with fondant icing, you won’t find them in my pantry today. Yeast on the other hand, is the one intimidator that I’ve work with the most. It’s easier than I anticipated, and if you mess it up, well, it’s only about $2-$5 worth of basic ingredients gone to waste. (been there, done that..)

I used to buy the packets of instant yeast for homemade pizza dough, but it was not the best tasting pizza ever.

(Pro tip – If you want amazing pizza dough, try the Hard Winter Bread Company’s pizza dough found at the Morrow Park Saturday Farmers Market in Peterborough. It’s lit. Keeps in the fridge a few days.) But aside from pizza dough, I rarely used yeast until recently, because really, who has 4 hours to dedicate to baking bread?

Apparently I do.. And you should too! There’s honestly nothing more gratifying than baking your own bread. The amazing smell aside, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to pull that beautiful golden loaf out of the oven, hoist it high in the air and announce “I made this”.
Think Lion King and the Presentation of Simba.. Wow. Powerful stuff.

 

I picked up bread making again, and I suggest you try it. With 5-6 simple ingredients, you can take pride in knowing, “I made this bread and it’s awesome…” Trust me you’ll love it. (Bread Recipes to come, as I’m still tightening them up.)

But speaking of perfect recipes, here’s one I worked on for Gooey, Amazing Cinnamon Buns. If I do say so myself, no finer bun can be found in any store. My kids approve anyway. Here’s how I make ’em:

So this recipe is adaptable to make by hand without a bread maker, but if you have a breadmaker, use it. No guilt. Set it and forget it, okurr?

Dough Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast
2 eggs, beat slightly
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 1/2 cups bread flour (higher gluten, reacts better to yeast than all purpose, more elasticity)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Filling Ingredients:
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp ground cinnamon (you can dial this up a bit if you want em really cinnamon-y by adding a teaspoon more)
1 cup golden brown sugar, packed
optional – 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp good pure vanilla extract
milk or cream (as needed)

Directions:

Heat the milk and white sugar in a saucepan on low heat, stirring until it reaches 45 degrees C.

If I’ve already lost you here because you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, I can only say, please get one. Digital thermometers are under $10, and can save you from serving up a big platter of salmonella at your next soiree. (If you’re going rogue, know that 45 degrees is steamy, not simmering. Enough to activate the yeast, but not cook it… Good luck. The recipe is hinging on this step..)

Pour the warm (45 degree) sugar milk in to the bread machine bowl with the paddle attached. Scrape the pot with a spatula to get all the sugar.

Immediately sprinkle the yeast evenly over the entire surface of the milk. Don’t stir, leave it 10 minutes to activate. Not on the stove, but in a warm spot to grow. (not as gross as it sounds.)

The yeast will froth slightly in the 10 minutes, and now you can pour in the beaten eggs and melted butter. Don’t mix, but layer on top the flour, and lastly, the salt. Sugar feeds yeast and salt kills it, so the ordered steps and layers are purposeful. (Salt and yeast may not touch, or thine buns be cursed for eternity..)

Set the bread maker to “Dough”  (2 lb if you have a weight setting), and let it jive. It will mix, then knead the dough, and proof it once. This will probably take about 90-100 minutes in all.

While your dough is proofing (sitting in a nice climate controlled warm breadmaker, growing about 3x in size), we’ll make the filling. Add the cinnamon, butter and brown sugar to a bowl and cream together. I use my hand mixer. This paste is a gift from God.

When you open that breadmaker lid, baby – pow! The yeasty goodness will knock your socks off.

It smells so good already. The dough is as fat as a prize pig, and as smooth as a baby’s bottom. This right here is why I love the bread maker. (I’ve got chills..)

Dust flour on a really big cutting board, or sanitize and dry your counter tops, cuz we’re working this dough. Roll this baby out in to a large rectangle, the size of a cookie sheet. Don’t roll back and forth, only crazy people do that. Be gentle, and work the centre out to the corners in one direction only, No back and forth nonsense. This isn’t the kneading stage, treat her nice and gentle. It’ll spring back, but work it out. That’s it.. nice and slow. Let it sit a couple minutes to relax. You relax too. Have a hot beverage.

Now we smear on the cinnamon goo. It doesn’t always stick to the dough easily, so don’t plop the whole load in the middle and risk ripping your beautiful dough. Drop little spoonfuls all over the dough and just flatten em out with a small offset spatula until it’s all covered . Leave a 1″ border around all of the edges with no goo though. This will help seal the edges.

They see me rollin’. They hatin’.

Now it’s time to gently roll this puppy. Start on a long edge and fold it in. No pulling of the dough tight, but no gaps either. Gently roll to the opposite long edge and attempt to stick the bare dough edge to the roll. Leaving the bare edge means no squeezing precious goo out and a better seal.  Rest it seam side down and shape and smooth slightly so it’s even thickness.

Slice em up.

Use a big ol’ serrated (toothy not flat) bread knife and saw slowly and gently without squishing down the dough. Do me a favour and cut 1″ off each end and save these two scraps. I have a magic trick I will show you, and you’ll be so freaking amazed.

Cut the log in half, and cut those halves in half to make 4. Each of those gets cut evenly in to three, to make a dozen perfecto buns. Booyeah. Baking Math.

 

 

Grease Lightening

Grease two 8″ circle cake pans generously with soft butter. Now, take one scrap end and lay it out on your floured board. Roll it as long and flat and wide as you can get this, and wrap it around the inside of the cake pan sticking it to the buttered sides. After the buns are baked you can discard this cooked edge piece, and every bun becomes a soft sided, no crust middle bun..! Mind blown! Skip this step if you like the crusty ends, but just know, we disagree on many levels. Use the second scrap for the second pan, or do one of each, and everybody happy! Arrange 5 buns in an outer circle, and plop one in the middle with 6 buns per pan. Shove ’em in there nice and cozy like.

 

Let these sit in the pan 30 minutes to rise again. Sit the buns in a warm place like a sunny window sill. To keep them from drying, I’ll sometimes dampen a tea towel with hot water and wring it out, and cover the buns with the warm damp cloth. If your house is too cold, they may not get the sweet rise they need. And since we can no longer rely on the climate controlled bread maker anymore, I’ll sometimes use my oven to proof instead.  I’ll do this by setting my oven on the lowest temp it will go and turn it off, let it cool off a bit with the door open, and then put them buns in and close the door with it only slightly warm (not hot). The cinnamon goo may melt a little bit, but they should absolutely not bake, just rise. You should be able to keep a hand in there temperature wise. Don’t mess this up, we’ve come too far.

 

 

Before and After 30 Minutes in the warmish oven.

 

 

 

If you proofed in the oven, take the buns out to preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for about 18 minutes until the tops are a golden brown. The centres will still be pretty soft, so be careful to not under bake. Not rare, not medium rare, but medium. Not well done.

While they bake, I make frosting. Never frost a hot cake, but always frost them hot buns.. (oh my!)

Use your trusty hand mixer to beat the cream cheese until smooth. Then add butter and beat until smooth. Then add vanilla. Add sugar one cup at a time. You may not need to add it all. If it binds up, add a small splash o’ milk or cream to loosen. Should be spreadable. Think canned frosting consistency but just a little wetter. Not dry or hard.

When the buns are out of the oven, flip them out on to a large plate or platter, and peel away that outer crust strip. (Taste test!) If any cinnamon goo is left on the pan, scrape it off and spread it on the buns. (Waste not).  Scoop a spoonful of frosting on each hot bun, using about 1/2 to 2/3 of the frosting and save some. Some of this icing will melt down in to the buns and make em moist and gooey, and you can top the buns with the remaining frosting when they’re slightly cooler.

I try to serve these still warm and I don’t worry about refrigerating the extras.

They taste better if you don’t. There’s enough sugar in the icing to preserve the dairy, just leave them in an airtight container or wrapped up on the counter. They won’t last 48 hours, trust. No worries here about any going to waste. Worry more about your waist. Or not. Your call.

You can re-heat ’em up one at a time for a few seconds in the microwave or a whole batch in the oven.

 

They may take a few hours to make, but boy are they worth it. Maybe don’t indulge every single week though. My best guess on calorie count is 1 billion. But I hope you try them. They’d make a great brunch addition, or potluck item. They certainly impress. When you see me around, ask me how to do this recipe sans breadmaker if you want to attempt all by hand, or how to prep them the night before and bake the next morning.  I’ve made all by hand before and it’s totally do-able. You can even make a bit of extra goo and put it in the bottom of the greased pan with some pecan halves and make nutty-buns. I’m a purist though. No raisins, no nuts. But that’s me. Either way, I hope you enjoy!

– Jess