…They’re cheeky! (TM)” That’s the name and slogan of my imaginary company. In my mind I even have caps and aprons with this printed on them, along with a little line drawing of a rotund bun speckled with sesame seeds. You see, when I threaten to drop out of my PhD program, (which happens at least once a week, if not more. The threats increase with the approach of each deadline and then subside after successfully achieving said deadline. It’s kind of one of my ways of pretending like I’m rebellious, and of asserting my sense of autonomy – and the word on the street is almost every PhD student under the sun does something similar, well except for the part to follow) my plan for what I will do next is to start a bicycle-pulled food stand from which I will sell little stuffed buns as an afternoon snack from 2:30-5pm. And, it’s my idea, so don’t steal it!!
The idea for afternoon buns was inspired by the buns they have at the St. John Hotel. I’ve never had their afternoon buns, but I read their description of them as “warm little buttock-like buns” and I thought it was the most hilarious and ingenious thing ever. Basically everything Fergus Henderson does is genius.
A little stuffed bun is exactly what I want as a snack in the afternoon every day. So, I decided I absolutely had start working on making them.
The concept is in many ways similar to Asian-style stuffed buns, like bao, but with more varied fillings and with a higher filling to bread ratio. It also shares a great deal with calzones, except that putting them into bun form makes them much rounder and more adorable. Calzones simply are not cheeky, in my estimation!
I’ve been working on the recipe for some months now – you know, just in case I really do decide to start my company. The idea is that the filling will be different every day, made from really good quality ingredients, based on what’s in season, what seems inspiring that day, etc. But, there will always be one savory and one sweet option, and if you don’t want either of them, well come back tomorrow.
But, I really think you do want one!
I’ve made them with all sorts of vegetables and cheeses and fruits. Broccoli, gouda and chile flakes. Mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Ham and cheese with mustard. Chocolate and a cherry. Jam and cream cheese. Banana and Nutella…
Doesn’t that just get you daydreaming?!
The really important factors are, first to come up with fun combinations, and second to have a good dough to set them off. The dough is key! Like a good frame around a painting, which adds to the overall picture but doesn’t try to make it all about itself. Well, except not quite, because we’re talking bread here, and a really good bread has every right to do a little show-stealing. In fact, it should make you want to save little pieces of it from the edges so you can eat it all by itself. But, should also complement the filling when you’re eating them together. That’s what I was going for.
I wanted the dough to be the same for both savory and sweet, so after trying a whole bunch of different styles, I opted for an enriched soft buttery dough with a delicate crumb, inspired by brioche but that’s still a bit south of being quite that rich. It’s beautifully pliable and easy to work with when it is cold after its refrigerator rise. I’ll admit, it’s still not quite perfect yet, I’m still working on it. But, it is really darn delicious – and if I get it any more perfect, I’m going to go ahead and copyright it!
I’ve written a recipe for you so you can make half the batch savory and half sweet. The savory ones are stuffed with an enticing salty, briny, fatty combination of olives, dried sausage, and provolone cheese. The sweet are not too sweet, with tender sugar-tossed apple chunks offset by the creaminess of a mild brie and just a suggestion of rosemary. After all, you don’t want your afternoon snack to give you a sugary tooth ache.
I have a tendency to overstuff things, be they buns, calzones, empanadas, or dumplings. I can’t stop myself! But, being just a little bit spare with the filling does help the buns to seal and not leak while baking. It takes several tries to get the quantities right. And, if you don’t, well then they’ll just leak and bubble a little and still taste as marvelous. (And if you use parchment paper for lining the baking sheets, they won’t even create a disaster for clean-up.)
On a side note, I’m going to be taking off for a while! Our wedding celebration is coming up this coming weekend! (eek! eek! eek!) And then we’re going to Italy for 2 weeks for a honeymoon!!!!!! I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about this. I plan on eating more than my stomach can possibly hold, and then walking for ages to enjoy the sights, and then eating more. And, I promise I’ll do my best to remember to take pictures to share with you.
So ciao for now! And, in the meantime, have some delicious afternoon snacks…
Em’s Buns (makes 2 dozen)
- 1 1/2 cup good quality whole milk
- 6 tablespoons un salted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons raw cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (save the white for the egg wash)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 5 cups about, all purpose flour (plus more as needed)
- Heat the milk to just over 100F, then in a large bowl, stir together the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and yeast. Let this stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
- Stir in the 2 eggs, egg yolk, and salt. Then stir in about 4-4 1/2 cups of the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. (This can all be done in the bowl of a standing mixer using a bread hook as well). At this point you should have a shaggy dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (use the last 1/2 cup of flour) and knead, adding more flour in small amounts if needed (ooh, pun!), for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth. If you’re mixing the dough in a mixer, add a bit of the extra flour (about 1/4-1/2 cup), just enough to give you a stiff dough and mix on low with the bread hook for 10 minutes.
- Coat a deep bowl with a little bit of oil, put the dough into the bowl, turn the dough to lightly coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator overnight.
- After about 12 hours, punch down the dough, then fill and bake it as directed below.
Sausage Olive & Cheese filling and Apple & Brie filling
- 5 1/2 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 12 small cubes
- 5-6 ounces good quality hard salami, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped, pitted green olives
- 6 ounces good brie (or another similar triple creme cheese)- rind removed and cut into 12 pieces (this is easier if it is cold)
- 1 cup finely chopped apple (one of the sturdy, good for baking ones like Cortland, Jonagold, or even Gala or Granny Smith)
- a squirt of lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
- 1 egg white for egg wash
- sesame seeds for sprinkling
- pearl sugar for sprinkling
- First off, toss the apple with the sugar, rosemary, and lemon juice and set aside.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator, punch it down, and divide it in half. Put half back in the fridge. Roll the half you have out into a log, then divide this log into 12 equal pieces (I usually divide it in half, then half again, then thirds, but if I were really being detail oriented I would use a scale).
- One at a time, take a piece and roll it into a ball. Stretch this ball into a circle about a quarter inch thick, and pull it even thinner around the edges.
- In the middle of the dough circle, place one piece of provolone, one or two little pieces of salami (1/12th of the salami pieces, in fact), and a small scoop of the chopped olives. Then, take the edges of the circle and gather them up around the filling, pinching and twisting them tightly together to close up the bun. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Repeat this procedure with the remaining 11 pieces that you cut filling them with the provolone, salami, olive mix. Once this dozen are on the baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
- Then, start the second dozen. Take the remaining dough out of the fridge and divide it into 12 pieces.
- Fill these buns in the same manner as the first, except put a piece of brie and a scoop of the apples in each. Put these buns on a second parchment lined baking sheet. When finished, cover with a clean towel and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. When the first dozen buns have finished rising, brush them with the egg white and sprinkle them with a pinch of sesame seeds each. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
- In the meantime, brush the second dozen buns with the egg wash and sprinkle them with a pinch of pearl sugar each. When the first batch is baked, bake the second batch.
- The buns are the very best still slightly warm from the oven, and are definitely best the day they are baked. But, they keep for a couple of days and rewarm nicely. (And of course, they’re especially good sold out of a special food stand trailer attached to a bike parked on a street corner…I imagine.)