Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Honey Buns

It was 1974 and his name was Matt...I was in 5th grade and he was my first crush. He had wavy hair, sparkly blue eyes, big teeth that were too big for his head and a face full of freckles. He looked a lot like this.

You might recall that 5th grade is the year we all studied American History. My groovy teacher was Ms. Hartnett and she wore short polyester skirts, Leggs suntan pantyhose and "open-toed" platform shoes...she was almost as cool as Lori Partridge. Anyway, that year, she came up with the bright idea that her students would put on a presentation for our parents where the boys and girls would pair up as famous "first couples" and depict life in the White House during each respective era. The couples would be drawn least that was the plan.

Matt reached into the hat and pulled President Harding. President who? Whatever.

I reached in and pulled the name Sarah Polk, but it only took the bribe of two week's worth of Lady Baltimore devil's food cake from my bag lunches to trade Lori Merrill for the slip bearing the name Florence Harding.  I can't remember much about the presentation itself, but I do remember that the cotton balls Matt had cleverly stuck to his bald wig to simulate grey hair kept falling off...and I got to hold his hand.

Matt moved away that summer and so did my fleeting crush, but I did eventually find the true freckle-faced boy of my dreams. Yep, that's him in the upper left. That's little Charlie Christensen.

It was eight years after the infamous Parade of Presidents and I met him at our off campus dorms my first day at UC Davis. At the time, he looked a little more like this. Was he badass or what? Did I mention he drove a cobalt blue Scirocco with a big white Starsky and Hutch stripe down the side?

Little did I know he was the reincarnation of my first crush. The freckles had faded (just a little) and his head had grown into his teeth, but that sparkle in his blue eyes and his San Rafael High Bulldogs football half jersey (not to mention the four foot speakers blaring ACDC and a perpetual keg on tap) drew me and my roommates in like a moths to a flame. It was a fun year...

Speaking of his roommates, they were cool too: a handsome blond trust fund baby, a long-haired rocker with a real mustache, an older intellectual "man" (I think he was a junior) and a Chinese/Greek guy who actually owned his own computer which took up half the room he shared with the rocker. They were awesome...outrageous, fun, cute and a little bit could an uncaged Catholic girl like me not take a bite from that forbidden fruit?

Well, twenty-nine years and twenty nine pounds later...Charlie's still  blaring ACDC (much to our neighbors' dismay), those blues eyes still rock my world and he's still just naughty enough to keep this choir girl on her toes. We celebrated 20 years of wedded bliss last month...well, as much as we could given that Charlie was barely conscious from 2 1/2 hours of shoulder surgery the day before...ahhh to grow old together!

But, here's the beauty part...a new generation of Christensen boy is on the scene and he melts me more than I ever knew any boy could.

His 8th birthday was also in January and we celebrated with pizza, pals and this awesome castle cake made with love by Mamma.

But I think the most fun was delivering three dozen piping hot homemade honey buns to Will's classroom on his birthday for the whole class to enjoy. Of course, there was the test batch the week before and the leftovers the days that followed. I believe January is now officially the month of the "honey bun" in the Christensen household.

So, in honor of my two honey buns, I'd like to share the recipe with you. In the words of the illustrious Pillsbury dough boy, "nothin' says lovin' like somthin' from the oven..." and guaranteed...these will say it loud and clear like nothin' else!

I adapted a recipe for cinnamon buns and substituted honey for sugar. It makes for darker buns (you'll see in the photos) but the honey adds a nice flavor and it makes it so I can call them honey buns, which is enough reason for me. The full recipe follows as usual but here are some photos and a few tips...

Here's my secret weapon...really good vanilla. Never use imitation! This stuff is pretty pricey but Santa brings it to me every year in my stocking instead of perfume. I've been known to rub a little on my wrists and dab a little behind my ears so I figure Santa gets off easy if you look at it that way.

Do you ever notice that your recipes seem to call for too much flour? Here's the deal...when you measure your flour, don't forget to scoop it lightly into the cup then level it off, not pack it in like brown sugar. Real live bakers (which I am not) actually measure their ingredients by weight. A packed cup of flour vs. a properly measured one weighs almost an ounce more!

After mixing the wet stuff with half of the flour and letting it sit for a bit (this makes something called the "sponge") it's time to add soft butter and salt.

After adding the rest of the flour, you will have a soft, just a little bit sticky dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead away...

When it's soft and silky, place it in an oiled bowl to rise for an hour or so...Now comes the fun part...punch it baby!

Time to shape your buns, so to speak. Roll the deflated dough into a 12 x 16 rectangle then spread with softened butter. If the dough wants to keep springing back, let it rest again for a few minutes and try again.

Sprinkle evenly with your sweet and cinnamony filling. I used dark brown sugar because that it was I had on hand but I recommend light. I think the dark sugar also contributed to the slight over-brownness of my buns.

Then roll, baby roll. Moisten one long end of the rectangle with water. Start at the other long end and begin to roll, tucking with your fingers as you go. You'll end up with something like this.

Use a long serrated knife and cut into 12 even slices then place evenly in the generously buttered pan, brushing the outer edges with melted butter to prevent them from sticking to each other.

 Cover and let rise until they look something like this. Aren't they cozy?

Bake for about a half hour until they are golden brown and cooked through. The honey makes them a little dark. Substitute sugar for the honey if you like your buns on the lighter side, so to speak.

I thought the pan made a cool design after I turned the warm buns out and just had to share. By the way, make sure you turn the buns out while they are still warm or the sugar will harden and they will become permanently fused to your pan. Not delightful on so many levels...

Drizzle your cooled buns with the sweet glaze all fancy like this or just smear it all over...that works too. I'm a big fan of the glaze and usually rip off pieces of the buns and scoop up the glaze left in the bowl. Whatever works for you!

Cinnamon Honey Buns

Dissolve in a large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes:
  • 1/4 cup quite warm but not hot water
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
Dissolve in a small bowl then add to above:
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/3 cup honey (or sugar)
Add to large bowl, mix well with wooden spoon 100 strokes or so until mixed (I use my standing mixer):
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave undisturbed for about 15 minutes until it is spongy.

Stir in:
  •  1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbs. soft butter
Add 1/2 cup at a time until a stiff but sticky dough forms:
  • 2 plus cups more of flour
Turn out onto a clean floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5-8 minutes). Place in a large oiled bowl, turn once, cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk (about 1 hour).
For the filling mix and set aside:
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
When the dough has risen, punch it down a couple of times, turn it out onto your clean, lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so. Let it rest while you generously butter a 13 x 9 baking pan.
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a 12 x 16 inch rectangle and spread with:
  • 4 Tbs. soft butter
Sprinkle your filling evenly over the butter then roll and shape as described in the photos above. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes until about doubled again and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until golden. Run a knife around the pan to loosen, invert onto a rack then turn upright to cool about 20 minutes before glazing.
For honey glaze, mix:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. whole milk or cream
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. grated orange zest
  • Big squeeze of honey
Makes 12 buns for your honeys