Buns. Sweet. Bread. Buns. You really don’t need to know much else other than these are addictive, slightly sweet and the dough pulls off itself in doughy threads.
This is the part where I make an admission. I actually don’t know the recipe for the thing I’m trying to make. I know it requires flour, sugar, salt, yeast and milk. But that’s all I know. So I’ve spent my share of time waiting patiently while yeast proofs and bread rises. And this is what I’ve come up with. Really, the difference is in how much sugar and water and yeast you use. I tried three different recipes. Shockingly, the recipes I liked best had more butter and sugar.
There were good mornings growing up and then, there were great mornings. The great mornings were waking up to the smell of bread baking in the oven. Not regular bread, sweet bread. My ma would pull the cookie sheet out and these tall, airy buns would be lined up one by one, almost like a tray of cinnamon buns. These buns though, didn’t need any extra sugar or icing. They just needed a little soft butter melting into tiny pools. Though my mother had shaped them as round balls, by the time they rose and baked, they’d sidled up to each other, their edges meeting and so you’d have to gently pull the buns apart and that layer of dough would pull away like a ribbon. It was the best part. I cannot tell you how much I loved those buns. This was in the days before we cared about wheat and gluten or yeast or candida or all the things we worry about now. I’m not saying they’re not important. I don’t eat much wheat or gluten myself. But there is nothing that can replicate the feel and pull, texture and taste of these buns. What I like about them most is just how plain they are. Just how simple. Like pretty much everything my mother has ever made. It’s not complicated. It’s just really good.
I’ve tried a few recipes and this is the best I’ve come up with so far. My Ma used to make little buns. I like to roll out the dough a bit and then roll it back in together like you would a cinnamon bun. It provides more of those ribbon-like chewy layers I love so much. And they happen to look nicer. People will think you’re a genius. Meanwhile, you just know how to use a rolling pin.
Here’s your RTI:
Active yeast is the key to this recipe. So be patient! Take the time wait for the water to reach the right temperature. If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast and your bread will not rise. If it’s too cold, the yeast won’t bloom or “froth”. Best thing to do is actually check the temperature (a digital thermometer at $20 is a very good investment). When it hits 110F-115F, the temperature is ideal.
When you warm the milk, keep an eye on it. It can get away from you and boil over. Trust me.
My ma used to wrap the dough up like you might a baby, wrapped up in blankets to keep it warm. For whatever reason, the whole “keeping the dough warm” reminds me of the buns being like little babushkas all wrapped up in scarves. My ma used to place the dough in the furnace room where it could rise beside the rumbling warmth.
Make this recipe when you have time. Yeast takes time to rise and this dough needs to rise twice. So, if you are making them for dinner at 6, start no later than 1pm.
By the time you mix the dough, allow it to rise once, punch it down, allow it to rise again, shape the dough and bake the buns, it’ll be around 5pm. So then you have an hour leeway before dinner, provided you haven’t stuffed yourself with freshly baked buns.
My ma used to have them ready for breakfast in the morning. So you can also make the dough and let it rise the first time before bed, then punch it down and shape it the way you like it, let it rise again overnight and then pop it in the oven when you wake up for hot, fresh sweet sweet morning bread.
Many recipes also call for leaving the yeast to rise overnight in the fridge. I haven’t tried this method just yet, but I will let you know if I do.
If you have the room in your freezer, make a bunch. They freeze really well and take no time to defrost. Or call your friends, like I do, and tell them you have a bread emergency and need some carb-lovers to come over stat!
- Stand Mixer with a dough hook or elbow grease, if you are doing this by hand, like my Ma used to
- A little bowl for the yeast
- A digital thermometer
- A small pot to heat the milk
- A big bowl for the dough to rise in.
- Blankets to wrap the buns! I actually use an electric blanket and put the bowl near a heat source
- Cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and then brushed with melted butter or oil
- A little bowl for the egg wash
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup sugar + 1 tbsp to start the years (You can use 2/3 cup sugar if you want a sweeter dough)
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup butter (you can use 1/2 cup butter if you prefer)
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 pkg dry yeast, it comes in little pouches or in little jars (you can use 2 pkgs if you would like)
- 2 eggs for the dough (you can use 3 if you like)
- 1 tbsp vanilla (optional)
- 4 ½ or more cups flour
- 1 egg for the egg wash
**I’ve found more butter and sugar makes for a denser, tastier bread, less “fluffy” shall we say. I haven’t found much of a difference between using 1 versus 2 packages of yeast. If you use 2 packages, your bread will smell more yeasty but taste just as good**
- Put milk and butter into a small pot and put it on the stove on medium heat. Heat until the butter melts. Remove from the stove. Set aside to cool. That means 110F or cooler.
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast into the warm water (110-115F). Stir in 1 Tbsp sugar. Leave it a full 5 minutes until it foams. If it does not, warm up some more water and try the whole thing again in another bowl with new yeast.
- In your stand mixer, with a handheld whisk or the stander mixing attachment, beat the eggs with the sugar and the vanilla, which is optional. But who doesn’t like vanilla?
- Once your yeast has bloomed and your milk/butter liquid mixture has cooled, add them to your eggs and sugar. Mix.
- Change to your dough hook and add the flour gradually.
- Once the dough comes together, stop the stand mixer and begin to knead it with your hands. Add more flour if you need to, but not too much. You want the dough to be soft and elastic and smooth, like a baby’s bum.
- Coat a big bowl with vegetable oil or melted butter all up the sides and then flip your ball of dough in there until it’s covered. Then cover with plastic wrap actually touching the dough.
- Allow to rise in a warm place for an hour or so. Dough should have grown quite a bit.
- Then take the dough out and punch it down a few times. Make it into a ball again or shape it into the shapes you’d like and place on a cookie sheet (which has been covered in parchment paper with the paper then brushed with melted butter or oil). Put it all back in the warm place for a second rising.
- Once the buns have risen a second time, which usually takes 45 minutes to one hour, turn on your oven to 375F.
- Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl to make the egg wash. Then brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and pop them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes looking for golden tops.
- If you’re paranoid like me, set the timer for 15 minutes and then check the bottom of one of the buns. If the bottom is golden and the top is also golden, you’re good. I find 18 minutes usually does it. I find it’s easy enough to have a great golden top and then a burnt bottom. No one wants a burnt bottom!
I try to limit myself to one at a time. Of course, it depends on the size, or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.