(Like my shoes?)
Friends, I know it is January. I know this is the month when food bloggers pull out all their healthy recipes and do end of year recaps. This is when everyone talks about whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, less excess. I know! This is my fifth January as a food blogger. Like many of you, I ate too much in the month of December and will be toning it down a bit in January but really, if you are a regular here, you know that most of my savory posts are, in fact, healthy. I even have a “Super Healthy” category (with 50 recipes!) you can refer to. So if you want to talk about quinoa, head over to the healthy side. I want to talk about these buns. A bun made with brioche dough, filled with fromage blanc, topped with berries, brushed with butter, and then rolled in sugar. That is what I want to talk about.
Whenever I make something that is a big hit, someone always invariably asks me, “Is it easy to make?” Well, I say define “easy”. Easy like you could make it in an Easy Bake Oven? In this case, no. Easy like you can whip it up in an hour? Again, no. Easy like you don’t really have to touch the dough and it just ends up looking like that? Um, no. Baking and working with dough, especially yeasted dough, requires time, patience and a tiny bit of finesse. It is not hard per se but it does require really reading and following the recipe, and a bit of practice. If I had never made any kind of baked good, would I attempt these buns? Probably not. But I think if you have been around a few different kinds of dough a handful of times you are probably safe. Nothing is too tricky here.
This recipe comes from the new Macrina cookbook. Macrina is a bakery in Seattle that is very special to me for many reasons. (Cue the story music!) In early 2000, I happened to see an ad in the paper that Macrina was hiring bakers. I had separated from my ex-husband a year before and our divorce was final a few months prior. I was working a job that had been fun and exciting at one point (selling advertising on a radio station) but after a couple of years, it was draining me. As much as it was not my dream job, the commission I made allowed me to keep the small house that my ex-husband and I had bought. I was desperate to keep that house but also desperate to do something I loved. After seeing the ad, I called and made an appointment to talk to the owner about the job. Leslie Mackie was lovely and extremely passionate about her bakery. I think she sensed something in me because, in spite of my lack of experience beyond home baking, she offered me the job on the spot. I asked about pay and she said they could offer me $8/hour. At that rate, I would have had to work about 175 hours every month just to make my mortgage, not to mention things like utilities and food. As soon as she said it, I knew I would not be able to take the job. I was crestfallen but I’m sure I knew it was impossible even before I walked in the door. I just wanted to believe it could work.
Leslie was kind to me that day and she runs a very fine bakery with multiple locations. I have eaten lunch at the one in Belltown so many times with friends. (I miss that mezze plate!) I have a soft spot in my heart for a place that, from the moment I walk in, makes me want to go home and bake. I walk into a lot of bakeries and I don’t often feel that way. So I have loved baking from her first book. And I was incredibly excited for the second one. I have only made two things from it so far but both were hit it out of the park home runs. Even if you have never heard of Macrina or been to Seattle, I would still say both of her books should be on your shelf.
I made these buns for a brunch where I knew they would be appreciated. Good eaters are the most fun people to feed, are they not? I thought they would be a huge hit with the kids but the adults were the biggest fans. I made the dough the night before and allowed it a slow rise in my garage (there was no room in my refrigerator). If you are going to do the same, I would definitely allow two hours in a warm kitchen for the dough to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
One Year Ago: Carrot Cake, Two Potato Vindaloo
Two Years Ago: Tofu and Shiitake Noodle Soup, Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
Three Years Ago: Petites Pissaladières, Black Bean Chilaquile
Four Years Ago: Poblano and Cheddar Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms
More From More from Macrina
Makes 12 buns
The initial part of this recipe, for the dough, is a great master brioche recipe. The book includes tantalizing things like Cocoa Puffs (like a pain au chocolat but with brioche dough), Kugelhopf, and Apple Cinnamon Pull-Aparts that you can make with this dough. You could also form it into a loaf pan, bake it off, and have an incredible vehicle for your favorite salted butter and jam.
For the Sweet Brioche Dough:
¼ cup lukewarm water (about 80F)
½ cup sugar, divided
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
¾ cup lukewarm whole milk (about 80F)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 ½ cups (1 pound) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Lightly oil a medium bowl with canola oil. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water with 2 teaspoons sugar (taken from the ½ cup sugar). Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water. Mix until the yeast is dissolved, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast.
Add the milk, vanilla, eggs, flour, and salt. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes to bring the dough together, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium speed; pinch off grape-size pieces of butter and drop them one at a time into the dough as it mixes (this should take no more than 2 minutes). Continue mixing for 2 to 3 more minutes. Now gradually add the remaining sugar (½ cup minus the 2 teaspoons) and continue mixing for a final 4 minutes. With floured fingers, pinch a big piece of dough and pull it away from the mass. It should stretch about 3 inches without tearing – it will feel a bit like a rubber band. If it tears, mix for another 1 to 3 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, transfer the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface. For the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, 2 ½ to 3 hours. (If you are making the dough ahead – either for convenience or to develop more complex flavors – simply deflate it after this initial rise, then re-cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, pull it out 2 hours before you want to use it, and allow it to come to room temperature. The dough should be doubled in size and feel slightly warm to the touch. This dough is best used by the second day. If you’d like to freeze brioche dough, it’s best to form it into the desired shape, brush it with egg wash, wrap it well, and freeze for up to a week.)
For the Sugar Buns:
1 recipe Sweet Brioche Dough
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water, for egg wash
6 ounces (¾ cup) fromage blanc
1 large egg
2 tbsp. sugar, plus about ½ cup for topping buns
2 cups fresh berries
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a rubber spatula, pull the brioche dough onto a floured work surface. Using your hands, flatten and shape the dough into a 7-by-12-inch rectangle. (Do your best to keep the dough an even thickness.) Using a bench knife or plastic scraper, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces by first cutting the rectangle in half lengthwise, then cutting each long piece in half vertically, and finally, cutting each half into 3 pieces.
Roll each piece into a 12-inch rope: First roll it into a log. Coil the rope (starting from the center and working out), forming a circle that ends up being about 3 inches in diameter. Tuck the ends under. (DT: I found the dough was really fighting me at first, so I let it rest for 10 minutes. Then it was much easier to work with.) Put 6 buns on each prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart – they will expand when proofing. Brush the buns with the egg wash, cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap, and let them rise until they are 4 inches in diameter, about 1 hour at room temperature.
Meanwhile, whisk together the fromage blanc, egg, and the 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.
About 20 minutes before baking, position 2 racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 375ºF.
Flatten a 1½-inch circle in the center of a bun and spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture into the indentation. Top with a few berries (you may need to quarter large berries such as strawberries). Repeat with the remaining buns. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are deep golden brown. Halfway through baking, rotate the pans to ensure the buns bake evenly. Cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
Put the ½ cup sugar in a pie pan. Lightly brush the melted butter on the top and sides of the buns. Roll each bun in the sugar, coating the buttered area first and then sprinkling a little sugar on the berries.
(DT: While I will tell you to absolutely eat these the day they are made, they are still pretty darn good the next day if you wrap them in foil and leave them out at room temp.)