A weekend baking project should be more than just something to eat - it should be an event. It should be something that brings drama and moments of doubt but culminates in a thrilling reveal and debauched revelry.
Boy, do I have a recipe for you: These baklava-inspired sticky buns are built on a flaky dough saturated with spiced honey, which encircles a thick swirl of warmly spiced walnuts and loaded-to-the-gills with "yes I know this is excessive but dagnabit it's the weekend" amounts of butter.
The curtain rises on you standing in your kitchen, hovering over a counter with the usual suspects. Flour, of course, as well as its buddies, baking powder and salt. There's rich whole milk (life's too short for skim), a solitary egg and two - that's right, two - sticks of oh-so-sweet cream butter. (But hold on to your hats; there's more butter to come! The weekends are for letting loose, and we're going all in, baby!)
There is no yeast, for this is not a puffy, doughy sticky bun. Our goal is flakes that split open like cavernous ravines, ready to be soaked in a flood of honey butter. (That part comes later, but mentally prepare yourself for it now. We're on an indulgent adventure.)
The dough comes together much like a good pie or biscuit blend does, with a few key differences. One, you're going to be cutting your butter into fat pats rather than breaking it up into pea-size pieces. Two, at first, it won't look like dough. It will look like a wild party of belligerent butter slices covered in beige goop. Like I said, this is a test of faith. A constant chorus of "well, that certainly doesn't look right."
You may allow self-doubt to creep in, but don't let your spirits sag. What's the fun of a weekend baking project if it all feels routine? When all is said and done, that doubt will be vanquished and you will emerge a champion. And boy, oh boy, it will feel so good.
Your blob of butter-bobbed dough will be rolled and folded, then rolled and folded again. This will create looooooong paper-thin strips of flattened butter sandwiched between sheets of dough, which will puff up in the oven to make the flakes we want. You should do this on a large piece of parchment paper, which will help you lift and fold.
Keep a small bowl of extra flour on hand so your hands and rolling pin stay generously dusted to help tame the dough's stubborn stickiness. Whenever dough sticks to a surface, it's because it's a wee bit too wet. Pat a bit of flour on any sticky spots to dry them out, just like a baby's tush.
Most importantly, don't be concerned about the dough looking pretty during the folding process. It won't. We all look like a mess while we're getting ready for a big, exciting event, and eating these sticky buns is nothing short of that.
After two roll 'n' folds, you'll have a relatively legitimate-looking dough with fat strips of butter obscured but visible beneath the surface.
Next, the dough gets slathered with a honey butter you can make in the microwave if you don't feel like dirtying a saucepan. It's so easy to make, you'll want to keep a jar of it in the fridge. Chill the dough to cool the butter - warm butter is the enemy of flakes - and to give yourself a moment of self-care.
Once you've cooled your jets a bit, sprinkle that glistening surface with finely chopped walnuts and cinnamon sugar. If you prefer baklava with pistachios, use pistachios. If you don't care for baklava at all, you can use peanuts or almonds. Any chopped nut will do.
Roll your dough into a log and shape it as best you can. This part always looks so easy on TV, but in real life, it's rarely perfect. And that's okay. Sticky buns are supposed to be messy, aren't they? Just do the best you can, and don't overwork it. Remember: We don't want all that butter to melt, so worry more about that than making a perfect cylinder.
Slice your dough into 12 even-ish slices. Pour the remaining honey butter into your pan and add those slices in pretty little rows. Personally, I like sleeping in until 10 on weekend mornings and rolling out of bed sometime around 11. (I have very comfortable sheets.) This is why if I want hot sticky buns for breakfast, I assemble them the day before and bake them in the morning. These (and all) sticky buns are best served warm, but let them cool a bit so you won't burn your tongue and miss the sweet reward of all your hard work.
Even if your sticky buns turn out lumpy or lopsided, they're going to taste amazing, and you are going to feel proud of yourself. Now go ahead and indulge - you're earned it.
Baklava Sticky Buns
Active time: 1 hour Total time: 2 hours
While not crispy like baklava, these honey-cinnamon sticky buns with walnuts have the same flavor profile as that popular Middle Eastern dessert. Making the flaky dough for the buns takes a bit of effort but is so worth it. At first, the dough-making will seem messy and unruly, and you'll wonder if you're doing something wrong. You're not! Just keep going, and eventually things will come together. Besides, it's fine if the dough is not perfect; once it's rolled up and baked in honey butter, it will be.
Make Ahead: The buns can be formed, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day before baking; the honey mixture can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.
Storage: Cover and store at room temperature for up to 1 day, or refrigerate up to 4 days. Tightly wrap and freeze the baked buns for up to 3 months. To reheat: Defrost in the refrigerator, if frozen, then warm in a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
FOR THE DOUGH
4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks (8 ounces/227 grams) cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 cup (240 milliliters) plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, or more if needed
1 large egg
FOR THE HONEY BUTTER AND FILLING
1 stick (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (510 grams) mild honey, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 teaspoon rosewater or orange blossom water, or the juice of 1 mandarin orange (optional)
2 cups (8 ounces/227 grams) chopped walnuts, divided
1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and toss in the flour mixture, making sure each piece is well coated and not sticking to another piece of butter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and egg until well combined. Add to the bowl with the flour mixture and, using a wooden spoon, gently mix, doing your best not to completely break down the butter, until a soft dough forms. The dough will be rough, but if it is too crumbly to hold together, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Place a large piece of parchment paper - at least 20 inches long - on the counter and transfer the dough in the center. Dust your hands liberally with flour and pat down the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle, about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. Using the parchment paper to help you lift the sides (it will be messy!), fold the dough into thirds like a letter, then fold the top and bottom until they meet in the center. Flip this folded dough over so the seam is on the bottom, smooshing in any straggly bits, and sprinkling flour over any naked chunks of butter or otherwise sticky spots.
Wrap the dough in the parchment paper and place in the freezer to slightly chill, no longer than 5 minutes.
Lightly flour the work surface. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into an approximately 1/4-inch-thick rectangle, about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide, repeating the folding process. Re-wrap the dough in the parchment and refrigerate while you make the honey butter and walnut filling.
Make the honey butter and filling: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with about 1/2 cup (170 grams) of honey, stirring until smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt, then the remaining honey and, finally, the rosewater and orange blossom water or mandarin orange juice, if using.
Set about a third of the walnuts to the side. Chop the rest into small, gravel-size pieces and transfer to a small bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon and toss to combine.
Lightly flour your work space. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle, about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. (You should be able to see streaks of butter through the dough.)
With the longer side nearest you, generously brush the dough with the honey butter and sprinkle evenly with the walnut-sugar mixture, leaving about a 1-inch border on the top. Starting from the bottom, roll up the dough tightly, pinching the seam. If the dough will not seal, moisten your fingertips and pinch the seam again. You may need to use a bench scraper or a thin spatula to loosen the dough from the counter if it begins to stick.
Wrap the roll fully in the parchment, twist the ends, and gently roll back and forth on the counter to even out the shape. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
When ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan, line the bottom with parchment paper - it's okay if a little goes up the sides - and very lightly grease the parchment as well. Pour the remaining honey butter on the bottom of the pan, then evenly sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Using a serrated knife, cut into 12 relatively equal-sized pieces, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, and arrange in three rows of four. The buns should not be touching.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees, rotate the pan, and continue baking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden.
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes before carefully inverting onto a large platter, cutting board or sheet pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving (1 bun) Calories: 652; Total Fat: 37 g; Saturated Fat: 16 g; Cholesterol: 79 mg; Sodium: 563 mg; Carbohydrates: 77 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 42 g; Protein: 9 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.
From food writer Allison Robicelli