I’m learning quickly about this whole cooking-on-the-road-thing. Learning again about the cooking-for-a-living-not-just-for-myself-thing. I had forgotten just how tired I can be at the end of the day. How raw my hands get from chopping, prepping, lifting, opening, folding, washing over and over again. How un-hungry I am for just about everything, especially something that I cooked. Recovery from these things that ail me can take some time. Sometimes I don’t actually want to set foot in a kitchen for days, and crave only bland and rather unexciting things to eat. This week, however, as I recovered from Sea Otter, I feel awfully lucky because there’s a place, in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, that makes me fall right back in love with the kitchen, in love with pastry, with working my tired hands.
Tartine Bakery lies on the south-western corner of Guererro and 18th Streets, and if you don’t recognize its sign or location, you can look for the queue that wraps its way around the building at any given time of day. When I first witnessed this line, on my first-ever visit to the bakery, I scoffed, and assumed that nothing – certainly no pastry – could be worth waiting for. But, because it’s a San Francisco institution, we waited. And I’ll happily wait in this long line any morning, any day, always. Because waiting in line for me means I get to peek into the kitchen through the windows and watch as the bakers go about their daily production; kneading bread, laminating dough, making all manners of beautiful breads, cakes and pastries. As you proceed in the line, you parade past the pastry case where you can crane your neck to see everything that’s on offer, and just before you enter the bakery, you get to see the happy customers dipping their croissants in coffee, smiling, meeting, enjoying the morning light as it breaks through the doors and floods the bakery with morning amazingness. There is nothing like it in the world.
I admittedly, and surprisingly, haven’t been going through as much withdrawal from the Bay Area as I had anticipated. But morning buns, amazing avocados, friends, bike rides and beach scenes I’ll always miss. Specifically, the morning buns from Tartine were creeping into my mind; a craving I intended to sate when I got to the City by the Bay this week, but one that I didn’t want to have to miss forever. These flaky, buttery, sweet (or savory) treats are quite hard to find outside of the Bay area and I’m not sure why, but asking for them around Boulder didn’t make this longing feel any less far away. To make matters worse, while Tartine has three cookbooks with formulas for some of their favorite offerings, the morning bun isn’t in any of them. The good news; modern technology is amazing and with one quick message to Tartine over Twitter, the power to make morning buns at home was all mine.
So, this recipe: morning buns are born as croissant dough, treated in a bit of a different way and this way makes all the difference. You use the croissant dough as if you would a cinnamon bun dough; roll it flat, then sprinkle ample amounts of delicious filling over the top before rolling it all up, slicing it, and baking it as you would individual buns. While this might seem blasphemous in some way – as if croissant dough should absolutely be used to make croissants – its actually quite excellent because you needn’t worry about the hassle of measuring out each inch of your dough to ensure that you’ve cut the croissants properly, etc. Instead, you get to take a short-cut by rolling up the dough, thus expediting the process of jamming that delicious baked dough in your mouth. Ahem.
I’m not sharing this recipe as one of those things that I make on the regular, as proof that I flex my culinary muscles. On the contrary, I only make up a batch of dough like this every few months because I’m in love with the idea croissants can-and-should-be made from scratch; it reminds me that pastry, cooking, feeding yourself is a daily art if you look closely enough. Croissant dough paints this pastry-as-art concept very clearly because if you mis-handle the dough, or work too quickly, or get impatient, you’ll end up with the least appetizing croissants of your life. If you take your time, appreciate the process, and enjoy using a careful hand, you’ll be rewarded with the most beautiful something that you’ll never forget, even after you eat it. This recipe is my litmus test for mindfulness, care, focus and relaxation in our kitchen.
That said, this recipe isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a good bit of time and dedication. You should start to mix your preferment nearly 36 hours before you intend to bake the morning buns, or at least the morning before if you work quickly and feel confident. The rising and development of the dough takes a day, and then the actually baking requires an early morning (before dawn) wake up call to proof the buns in time for breakfast. That said, its worth each ounce of your patience and – trust me – you can do this thing.
A couple of tips to help you on your way: make your dough in a cool, low-humidity kitchen. Give yourself at least 1 1/2 days to make from start to finish. I like to use instant yeast over active dry yeast. It doesn’t need to be activated, it just needs to stay out of contact with chilled ingredients.
Be brave. Give this one a shot, let me know what you think! I’m coming home from San Francisco in the morning, with a few variations on the brain as well….if you’re getting creative with your buns, what are you concocting? xo – L
- *FOR THE PREFERMENT*
- 3/4 c. nonfat milk
- 1 tbsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- *FOR THE DOUGH*
- 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 3/4 c. whole milk
- 5-6 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/3 c. unbleached organic sugar cane sugar
- 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- *FOR THE ROLL-IN BUTTER*
- 2 3/4 c. (5 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool but pliable
- 2 pounds croissant dough (above)
- 1/2 cup organic light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup organic unbleached sugar
- finely grated zest of two oranges, or other citrus fruits
- 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- a pinch of salt
- 4 oz (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
- extra sugar for coating muffin cups and finishing the buns
- In a small saucepan, heat milk until just warm, about 80-90 degrees. Milk should not simmer. Pour into a medium bowl (preferably glass to see rise) and stir in yeast until dissolved. Add the flour and stir together until evenly combined. Dough will be sticky. Cover and allow to rise for 2-3 hours or overnight in the fridge.
- Measure out your dough ingredients and set them aside. In a stand mixer with the dough hook, add the preferment mixture to the bowl as well as the yeast. Mix together on low speed until evenly combined, about 1 minute, scraping down sides if necessary. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes, slowly adding half the milk until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add remaining milk, 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and butter. Mix until a loose shaggy dough forms, about 3 minutes. Allow dough to rest for 15 minutes. (A good rule of thumb, work the dough as little as possible. Overworking dough will result in a tough, glutenous, dense croissant. This same rule applies to biscuits, scones, and pie dough.) With the mixer speed on low, mix until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough should be neither sticky nor dry. Add remaining cup of flour 1/4 cup at a time until consistency is reached. You may not use all the flour. If your dough is too dry, add 1 tablespoon of milk at a time. For added visibility, transfer dough to a glass bowl and cover. Allow to rise in a cool place for 1 1/2 hours. Your dough should double in size.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Press dough out into a rectangle, 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator for 4 hours.
- Next, you'll lamintate the dough. This is also called "rolling in the butter:"
- About 3 hours into the chill, prepare the butter. Add butter to stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat butter on medium until malleable, about 3 minutes. Wrap butter in plastic wrap and shape into a square, about 1 inch thick. Return to fridge to chill but not harden.
- Once the dough is chilled (maybe 30 minutes or so if you've worked quickly,) remove dough and butter from fridge to begin laminating. (This is also called "rolling in the butter." Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 28" x 12" rectangle. With the longest side of the rectangle facing you, add the butter square the the left side and evenly spread over 2/3 of the rectangle. Fold dough in thirds, first folding the right, non-buttered portion over. Then fold the left, buttered portion over that as you would fold a letter. This is considered a plaque. Press the seams together to seal the butter into the plaque.
- Turn the plaque so that the long edge is facing you again. Roll out into a 28" x 12" rectangle. Fold dough into thirds once again and wrap in plastic wrap. Return dough to fridge to rest for 2 hours.
- Finally, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Again, roll out into a 28" x 12" rectangle. Fold into thirds. The dough should measure 9" x 12", and about 2" thick. Wrap again and chill to let the dough rest. While the dough is resting, combine brown sugar, 1/2 cup white sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mixture will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or in the freezer for a month. I suggest rolling out the morning buns, forming and slicing them before refrigerating them for the night. This way, you can just pull them from the fridge and let them proof and bake in the morning. AT LAST!! YOU HAVE CROISSANT DOUGH! You could roll this up into little croissants, or pain au chocolat, but we really want to make this easier (!!) and quickly delicious. SO...
- Prepare a 12-muffin capacity muffin tin by generously brushing bottom and sides of each cup with melted butter. Put a teaspoon of sugar in each muffin cup and swirl around to evenly coat. Tap out excess sugar.
- Roll out croissant dough into a 1/4-inch thick, 6-inch-by-18-inch rectangle, with the long side in front of you. Brush dough with melted butter, and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the whole rectangle—the sugar layer should be about 1/8-inch thick. You may have some of the mixture left over.
- Time to roll up the dough!
- Starting with the long side of the dough, roll rectangle into a cylinder. Cut cylinder into 1 1/2-inch discs. Fit each disc into the buttered and sugared muffin tins so that the swirl pattern is visible on top. You may have some extra rolled bun dough left over or just choose to bake fewer buns (if you do, cut them all and freeze individually on a pan). Once frozen, place in a resealable plastic bag and store in freezer.
- (To bake buns that are frozen: Prepare pan as above, let buns defrost in the prepared cups (this will depend on how warm your kitchen is, about 45 minutes), then continue with the following step.)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Let rolls rise in a warm but not hot place for approximately 45 minutes - 1 hour. The rising time will vary depending on how cold your dough was to start and how warm a place they are put to rise. They should rise approximately to 1 1/2 times their original size. Place the muffin tin on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or foil to catch any drips while baking.
- Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on your oven. When done, the tops should be well browned and the sugar melted. Remove pan from oven and immediately turn buns out onto a clean baking sheet or work surface. Place pan in sink and cover with hot water (it will be easier to clean later). Let the buns set for 5 to 10 minutes, then toss in a bowl with some sugar to coat. These buns are best eaten the day they are made. If eating the next day, heat them up first in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes before serving.
- Keep covered at room temperature once cooled for up to a day. Store up to one week in an airtight container in fridge. Reheat before serving in a 375 degree oven for 8 minutes.