One thing has always been a constant in my life through high school, college, new job in a different city, marriage, motherhood, illness, divorce, and the sale of the family-owned business – my passion for baking. No matter how crazy, hectic, bad, good, or in between, I have found peace in the kitchen with flour, water, yeast, sugar, and butter. Sometimes, it was just flour, water, and yeast. Oftentimes, it was more ingredients, such as fresh or dried fruits, cinnamon, and nuts.
My earliest memory is of making pies, although I’m sure I learned to make cookies first. My neighbor in Warren, Mrs. Levinson, was my teacher. I’ve carried her lessons through today: measure first, but rely on touch, and be patient. You can’t hurry dough. If you try, it doesn’t taste very good. Now you have wasted both money and time on a poor outcome.
In college, I baked bread, pies, and lasagna for co-workers at the student newspaper. When roommates took me home for the Jewish holidays, I learned to bake challah and make kugel. Later, baking cakes for the birthdays of co-workers was one of my ways to give back to a new work family I had in Illinois for five years. I think I enjoyed the joy the cakes brought as much as the recipient. As I traveled in the U.S. and Canada, I used restaurants as inspiration for new dishes. If I didn’t like a dish, I’d try to figure out how to make it better. It’s how I learned the importance of seasoning meats before cooking them, why not to skimp on the quality of goat cheese or feta for a salad (or any ingredient that will be the star of a dish), the importance of real butter in baking. There’s plenty more, but I’ll save those for another time.
I’ve baked my way through breakups, bosses, therapists, and rehab. The boyfriends, bosses, therapists and booze are long gone. My baking pans – dented, blackened, and otherwise loved – are still with me.
I’ve been looking for signs to tell me what to do now that I’m not in the newspaper business anymore. It took conversations with Tammy Lyn Fox (Taste of Zion), Lisa Heidelberg (Dinner is Served by Lisa), Anthony Perino (formerly of Frankie & May), and Heidi Lutz (Juice Jar), to help me to open the door to what my future might be.
Conversations led me to the Erie County Department of Health to sign up for the food safety food management certification. Classes start next week.
By Saturday morning, I had a name: Sweetie Pie, a food truck business to open in 2017. The specialties? Pies, homemade granola parfaits, and cheesecakes served in half-pint mason jars. Also on the menu? Sticky buns, scones, cookies, coffee, and teas. At least that’s the current thought, because next up was to begin an outline of a business plan. A guiding principle will be a focus on local ingredients and a minimal impact on the planet, so compostable cups, napkins, serving ware and, of course, the reusable mason jars.
Three hours later, I needed a creative break. I opened the cupboards and pulled out the baking pans. Then I pulled my favorite recipes out of the folders (both online and paper).
This will be a long, and sweet, journey.
You will need 3 (three) 9-inch square pans or 4 round cake pans for this recipe, which makes about 3 dozen rolls.
Dough: Sprinkle yeast over water and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in beaten eggs.
Heat milk and butter in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove or in a glass bowl in the microwave until butter is melted. Remove from heat.
Combine remaining sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture and incorporate. With mixer running, add proofed yeast. Keep mixer running on medium-high speed, kneading until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.
Grease a medium bowl with some butter (from the wrapper); place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with melted butter; cover with plastic wrap. If you don't have time to make sticky buns, you can refrigerate the dough overnight and then remove from the refrigerator and continue.
Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or 2 to 2 1/2 hours if dough has been refrigerated).
In the meantime, make the filling and topping.
Filling: In an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and kosher salt until light and fluffy. Set filling aside.
Topping: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.
Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, salt, and orange zest, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until glaze is golden brown and glossy, 3-4 minutes. Pour into bottoms of prepared pans. Divide nuts evenly among the pans.
When dough has doubled, punch it down and divide into two. Place on floured work surface. Lightly dust top with flour.
Roll out one dough ball on a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Place dough so one long side faces you. Spread 1/2 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over dough, leaving a 1-inch plain border on the side farthest from you.
Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll dough into a log, tightening as you roll, and patting in ends if they begin to taper. Pinch together the seam where the long side meets the roll to seal. Arrange the log seam side down on the work surface.
Using a large knife, cut the log crosswise into 12 to 15 equal pieces. Lightly flour the knife between slices if the dough is too sticky. Turn the buns cut side up and gently pat the top to flatten slightly. If needed, reshape to form round edges by cupping lightly floured hands around each bun and gently pushing and turning them in a circular motion. Place the buns in prepared pans; space them evenly apart (buns should not touch each other).
Repeat with second ball of dough and filling.
Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel.
Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.
Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185 degrees, about 50 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.