Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Tale of the Never-Ending Sticky Bun

So something great has happened.

I am now the proud owner of a 12” cast iron skillet!!

Joy of joys. I’m sure this sounds silly, but I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite a while. You can use cast iron skillets on the stovetop, in the oven, even on a campfire or grill (endless possibilities abound!) It makes me feel extremely old-school--I’m pretty sure people were even using cast iron thousands of years ago (let’s hearken back to the Iron Age, shall we?) So really, I’m just continuing a classical cookery tradition, you see.

To celebrate New Awesome Skillet, I bought The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook which is chocker-bock full of breakfasty things I love like frittatas, scones and such. And, while they’re relatively still hot and fresh in my memory and stomach—Pecan Sticky Buns.

From new year, new food

I also need to preface this story by mentioning how I have horrid luck using yeast in breads. I never think it rises right, if at all, and dang if those yeasty little buggers aren’t extremely picky and finicky and they only like things at just so temperatures, humidity, etc. Ugh. I really have no patience for something that is so not easy to work with. I really don’t. So, to say that I am attempting my first Pecan Sticky Buns is one thing, but when I’m attempting them AND having to use yeast AND what happens later in my story seems to be the usual when it comes to me and stupid yeast-things, then it's quite a surprise and shock to me that these buns even worked out at all. Hot damn!

However…I frequently force myself to do things that make me nervous, and folks: yeast has been a constant source of nerves for me. When I want to bake, I make things that do not require yeast, like banana bread or cookies. I avoid yeast. It’s stupid, I hate it, and, above all, it concerns chemistry (me + high school chem = not good memories), and it’s a mysterious part of the food process that I just don’t understand and since I don’t understand it, I don’t like cooking with it. You know? But it was the beginning of October and I was having a Fall Day with my friend Lina and we decided to make some Pecan Sticky Buns while having brunch at Open City and dang it all—it was time to conquer my yeasty fears and make some Sticky Buns already.

From new year, new food

Gigantor mugs of coffee and animal crackers at Open City

The first problem came about when my recipe from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook called for corn syrup. I’m refuse to cook with corn syrup since it’s so bad for you, which set off a lengthy search for the second best option for a pecan glaze, which I found on Epicurious: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns. Even more Fall-ier and delish sounding---SCORE.

When Lina and I came home with the groceries, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough butter for the kajillion tablespoons of butter I’d need. Heavens. So we went back out to get more, then took a break because we were already annoyed at the whole thing and it hadn’t even started yet. When I finally started with the dough, I followed the directions to a T, and this is where the yeast really started to annoy me: the dough was supposed to rise and double in size in 45 minutes—which it did not. Not even a little bit, not even at all. Which set us off on another search—this time as we called everyone we knew who would know anything about baking and decided to solve the problem by warming the yeast up a bit—I put the stupid dough in the oven, which was a bad idea as it almost got melty. But THEN we just kept the oven on, put the bowl of dough on top of the oven with a wet towel over it, and an extra hour and a half later we were back on track.

That was when I read the rest of the recipe and saw the dough was supposed to be punched down and allowed to rise for ANOTHER FOUR HOURS. So. Not only is yeast a little pain in the arse, but it apparently likes to take it’s own gal-dang time to do whatever it does to dough. Also keep in mind it was like, 8 p.m. by this point. So then my friend Kelly came over and we watched Juno and then Kelly left and Lina and I decided that by 10:45p.m., the dough was as ready as it would ever be and that we should just roll it out and hope for the best.

From new year, new food

The problem, however, is that the original recipe had ridiculous proportions and this was the stickiest, stretchiest dough I’d ever worked with. My hands were covered in the stuff! Lina said it reminded her of Slimer from Ghost Busters and I said it reminded me of the Blob from that weird old scary movie. We had to add at least ¾ to another cup of flour just to be able to work it. Little by little, the dough came together, and I hoped the yeast gods wouldn’t be angry by this complete disregard for the recipe since baking is a SCIENCE and I was an ENGLISH major, and those 2 fields typically clash as I take things more as suggestions or metaphors, open to interpretation and what-not, and science and baking say No nonono do exactly what I tell you or you will FAIL.

From new year, new food

Attack of the killer monster yeasty dough!

Ahem. So, we rolled out the dough, filled it with butter, cinnamon, and sugar then rolled it up into a cinnamony-sugary log, and sliced it up. I’d already melted butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in my New Awesome Skillet, sprinkled in pecans, then just added the buns to the pan and let them rise for another 35 minutes or so.

From new year, new food

From new year, new food

Finally, by 11:34pm, we were ready to bake the damn things. Somehow, when they came out at midnight, the yeast gods had taken mercy upon me and Lina, and gave us an AWESOME pecan sticky bun! Seriously. I mean… we’d been trying to make them a success since 4pm and it was now midnight and all those hours were focused on these stupid Pecan Sticky Buns where the dough didn’t even rise for the longest time, and surprise of all surprises, it somehow worked. Honestly, they were the best Sticky Buns I’d ever had—probably because I’d never had them from scratch before, but damn if they weren’t all warm and gooey and delicious and Fall-y what with the pecans and maple glaze and such.

From new year, new food

From new year, new food

So, I guess the moral of the story is: If you want your silly dough to rise, put it on a stovetop while the oven is warm, and you’ll save yourself a ton of hassle and your buns will be hot and awesome. *Snerk.* Oh. And, I guess, always read through a recipe before you start it. That too.

Since this story was just as never-ending as the actual making of the never-ending sticky bun... a little Lucinda Williams for your listening pleasure. Because, honestly, she's just kind of rugged and comforting.. a perfect compliment to Fall and these here buns.


Jenna Kozel said...

Can I be invited over the next time you foray into the world of sticky buns?

test said...

should have made a transatlantic phone would have worked like a charm!