Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
I have a lot of cookbooks, but I read them primarily for ideas and inspiration; on the occasions that I do try the recipes, it's for research for this column, where I test various versions of a dish to find out which one I like the best. This recipe, adapted from one in the book Flour by Joanne Chang, was such a success that I didn't bother to try any others. It's so gooey, sticky and rich that I've cut back on the size: the original recipe makes 16 large buns, but I make 28 smaller ones. I like to serve them for an indulgent breakfast with bacon because the meaty saltiness of the latter balances the sweetness of the buns.
If you have a heavy-duty stand mixer, use it for this recipe. You can make the sticky buns with a hand-held mixer fitted with dough hooks, but it takes a lot of effort, because the dough needs to be beaten for a long time. The dough needs to be made at least one day before baking the buns.
This makes four pans of buns but there's no need to bake them all at once. I bake one pan at a time; the others can be wrapped tightly in cling-film and frozen for up to a month. Defrost the buns in the fridge and then leave them at room temperature to proof and rise before baking.
315 grams unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
340 grams bread flour
10 grams instant yeast
80 grams granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp fine-grained sea salt
120ml cold water
5 large eggs, at room temperature
300 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into 10-12 pieces
For the sticky bun mixture:
340 grams unsalted butter
660 grams light muscovado sugar
230 grams honey
½ tsp fine sea salt
For the filling:
110 grams light muscovado sugar
100 grams granulated sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
300 grams nuts (pecans are traditional, but I like macadamias), divided
Put the flours, yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Add the water and eggs and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. Beat on low speed for five minutes. With the mixer on low, add the butter one chunk at a time, letting it incorporate into the dough before adding the next. Once all the butter has been added, scrape the bowl and dough hook, then continue to mix on low speed for 10 minutes. Scrape the bowl and dough hook as needed so the dough is cohesive. Turn the mixer speed to medium and beat until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic and comes away from the sides of the bowl; this takes at least 15 minutes. You won't need to add extra flour. Check that the dough is ready by doing the windowpane test: break off a small piece of dough and roll it into a smooth ball between the palms of your hand, then stretch it into a rectangle. If the dough is sufficiently kneaded, it will stretch so thin you could almost read through it; if it breaks before it stretches thin, continue to knead it. When the dough is ready, cover the bowl and leave it at room temperature until it's risen to almost double the size, then punch it down to deflate it. Press the dough in an even layer into a rectangular plastic container with enough space for it to rise, cover with the lid (or with cling-film) and refrigerate for at least six hours.
Make the sticky bun mixture. Melt the butter then add the sugar and whisk over a medium flame until it dissolves. Turn off the flame then whisk in the remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature, then divide it evenly between four 18cm round pans. Make the filling by thoroughly combining the muscovado and granulated sugars with the cinnamon. Finely chop 100 grams of the nuts and roughly chop the remainder.
Turn out the dough onto a work surface and cut it into four even rectangles. On a very lightly floured work surface, roll out one portion of dough into a rectangle that's 42cm by 30cm. Sprinkle a quarter of the sugar/cinnamon mixture and 25 grams of the finely chopped nuts over the rectangle, leaving a 2cm border along the long end furthest away from you. Roll the dough lengthwise as tightly as possible into spiral. When you come to the far end, pinch the dough to seal the seam. Straighten the spiral to even it out and to stretch it slightly (it should be about 43cm long). Trim a small amount from each end, then cut the spiral into seven even pieces. Repeat with the other pieces of dough, filling and finely chopped nuts.
Sprinkle the roughly chopped nuts evenly over the sticky bun mixture in the four pans. Put seven pieces of dough cut-side up into each pan: six pieces around the perimeter and one in the centre, leaving gaps so the dough has room to rise. Press on each round to flatten it slightly. (You can wrap and freeze the excess pans of unbaked buns at this point.) Cover the pan with cling-film and let the buns rise in a warm place until puffy and light. Remove the cling-film before baking.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Bake the buns for about 30 minutes, or until fragrant, brown and firm to the touch. Cool for about 10 minutes, then invert a large plate over the pan. Firmly holding the plate and pan, flip them both over and give them a shake. Remove the pan - the buns should have fallen out onto the plate; if they stick, remove them with a knife (careful: the filling is hot) and arrange them sticky side-up on the plate. Spoon any of the sticky bun mixture and nuts remaining in the pan over the buns. Serve warm.