One of my favorite ingredients to work with is yeast. I know a lot of people have a terrible fear of it but I think it’s just about one of most fun food experiments to undertake in the kitchen. There are so many ways to shape and fill yeast dough and when you pull the pastries out of the oven, it’s really magic to see what has transpired in the baking. The great pleasure you get from working with yeast, the aromas yeasted pastries bring to your kitchen and the great fresh baked taste and texture - it's really super fun.
This is a morning bun that is all about the wonderful flavor of espresso in the filling. Extending our coffee culture to a yeasted bun turned out to be a very delicious experiment. Since I absolutely love coffee flavored pastries and desserts, this was a particular pleasure for me.
The filling for these buns is also rich with cinnamon. There’s brown sugar, a hint of cocoa powder and toasted walnuts. The whole mixture is finely ground in a food processor for a svelte bite. And for a change in visual appeal, instead of baking them in the traditional way, I placed them on their sides and flattened them slightly to create an oblong shape. As they baked, the slides slid out to create a beautiful little fan. I also finished them with a shiny espresso glaze.
One last thing: the aroma of these baking will make you crazy. Let them cool a bit. By the time you brew a good pot of coffee, they'll be ready for your unbridled enjoyment.
- Instant espresso powder is very handy to have on hand. My favorite brand is Medaglia D'Oro because the granules are superfine and if it’s kept free of moisture, it doesn’t clump. I've also used Ferrara. It stores indefinitely and can be used in lots of pastry recipes when you want to strengthen a coffee flavor.
- The most important rule to follow is to dissolve your yeast in liquid that is 110 - 115 degrees F. It should feel very warm, not hot. I usually just let my tap water run to its hottest temperature, measure out what I need and place a thermometer in the measuring cup. I let it cool just a bit and when it reads 110 - 115 degrees, I whisk in the yeast and then a pinch of sugar. (Yeast feeds on sugar but yeast activity may decrease if it comes into direct contact with sugar or salt, so dissolve the yeast in water first, then add the sugar.) I then set it aside to proof for about 10 minutes while I assemble all the other ingredients. By the time I'm set to work on the recipe, the yeast is foamy and ready to go.
- Salt is important in yeast dough because it slows the rising time and allows the full flavor of the dough to develop. It also strengthens the gluten and builds the structure of the bread by keeping the carbon dioxide bubbles from expanding too quickly. Sugar not only adds flavor, it's also a browning agent.
- After the first rise, the dough is "punched down" to release the carbon dioxide and even out the temperature. But rather than punching, gently press the air out with your hands.
- To avoid adding any additional excess flour when shaping the dough, I like to roll it out on a silpat. You’ll only need a very light dusting of flour.
- Lightly toast walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F for about 8 - 10 minutes or until they just start to turn golden and give off a light toasty aroma. Watch them closely so they don’t burn and become bitter.
- The ground nuts really add to the texture and flavor of the filling. If walnuts aren’t your thing, try almonds or hazelnuts.
- I place the baking sheet of buns on top of another baking sheet (“double pan”) before it goes into the oven to prevent the bottoms from getting too brown.
- Everything you wanted to know about working with yeast can be found at Red Star.
- More fun yeast recipes: Chocolate Orange Cardamom Pull-Apart, Lemon Blueberry Rolls, Challah Knots and Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal Rolls.
Espresso Cinnamon Buns
Makes 12 buns
1 pkg (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup (2 oz) warm water (110 -115 degrees F; warm but not hot on your wrist)
slight pinch sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk
3 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 3/4 (13 3/4 oz) - 3 cups (15 oz) flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tablespoons (8 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 3/4 oz) walnuts, toasted
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water + few grains of salt for egg wash
2 tablespoons (1 oz) boiling water
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3 tablespoons (3/4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
For the dough, whisk together 1/4 cup warm water (110 - 115 degrees F) and yeast until thoroughly combined. Add a very slight pinch of sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Place the milk, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan on low heat just until the butter is melted, whisking to combine all the ingredients. Take off the heat, add the vanilla and cool to room temperature.
Combine the proofed yeast with the milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Switch to a fork and stir in 2 3/4 cups of flour. Keep adding 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough is no longer sticky. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic.
Wash and dry the mixing bowl and lightly grease with canola oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it over once to lightly coat the entire surface with oil. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and set in a warm draft-free place to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Prepare two baking sheets with silpats or parchment.
For the filling, place the brown sugar, cinnamon, instant espresso powder, cocoa and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are pretty finely ground. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Melt 1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) butter and set aside. Make the egg wash by combining 1 egg, 1 tablespoon water and a few grains of salt and set aside.
When the dough has completed its first rise, press down on it to release the air. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and dust the dough very lightly with flour. Roll it out to a 12" x 18" rectangle. Place it so the long side is nearest you.
Brush the entire surface with the melted butter. Evenly distribute the filling to within 1" of the top of the long edge. Gently press down on the filling. Starting with the long side nearest you, roll the dough into a tight log and seal the end. Place the seal on the bottom and slice into 12 equal pieces (1 1/2” wide) using a serrated knife. Arrange them on the prepared baking pans, smooth side up. Gently flatten them just a bit so they won’t topple over. They will naturally fan out as they bake. Set the baking sheets in a warm place for 1/2 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the glaze, combine the boiling water and instant espresso powder together. Add the sifted powdered sugar and vanilla. Whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside.
Place the baking sheets on top of another two baking sheets (double pan). Brush the top of the buns with the egg wash (you’ll have a lot left over).
Bake until the buns are a golden brown, about 24 - 25 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack and brush the buns with the glaze. Cool.