Brioche Does Double Duty: Sticky Buns and Brioche au Chocolat

In October I went to Boston on a business trip, and I had a chance to meet up with two of my cousins (and their collective six kids) for dinner. Since my cousins were making dinner, I wanted to bring dessert, and I decided to stop by Joanne Chang's bakery Flour. I own the Flour cookbook and have had great results with almost all of the recipes I have tried so far (e.g., Yellow Birthday Cake, Low-Fat Vegan Chocolate Cake, Banana Bread, Homemade Fig Newtons, Homemade Pop Tarts, Rosemary Shortbread, Raspberry Crumb Bars). But I had never been to the bakery before.

I arrived in Boston on a miserably cold and rainy day, and rode the bus from my hotel at Copley to the Flour location in Central Square. I bought a large selection of baked goods (including sticky buns, chunky lola cookies, oreos, pop tarts, brownies, tcho chocolate chip cookies, and raspberry crumb bars), and hauled my two heavy bakery boxes on the subway out to my cousin's house in Newton. After a delicious homemade dinner, we opened up the bakery boxes and sampled everything. I have to say that I was underwhelmed; everything was fine, but nothing was exceptional, not even the famous Flour sticky bun.

Nonetheless, I was still eager to try Chang's sticky bun recipe for myself, and I finally got the chance during our annual cabin trip to Shenandoah. With our group of eight adults and two kids staying in one house, it was the perfect opportunity to bake something for breakfast that needed to be served warm. Plus, I could make the brioche dough in advance at home and just assemble the sticky buns at the cabin.

The brioche dough is surprisingly easy to make, although it requires spending a lot of quality time your stand mixer. You mix flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cold water, and eggs on low speed with a dough hook until everything is combined, mix for another 3-4 minutes, and then slowly add room temperature butter. After all of the butter is incorporated, you continue to mix on low speed for 10 minutes, and then on medium speed for another 15 minutes. After a final minute of mixing at medium-high speed, you put the dough in a bowl and let it proof in the refrigerator overnight. At that point, you can freeze the dough for later use, or use it immediately.

For the sticky buns, you roll out the dough into a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle, sprinkle over a mixture of brown sugar, sugar, and cinnamon, roll up the dough, cut it into eight slices, and then place the rolls cut side down in a baking pan that contains goo (made from butter, light brown sugar, honey, cream, water, and salt). After proofing the rolls for another 2 hours, you bake them.

After baking, you cool the rolls for 20-30 minutes, invert the buns one at a time, and spoon over extra goo. There are supposed to be pecans rolled up inside the buns and also sprinkled in the goo, but I made the buns without any pecans because our cabin trip organizer has a nut allergy. The sticky bun was really, really delicious. The brioche was tender and fluffy, and the cinnamon filling and goo were fantastic. I think the buns would have been better with some nuts added, but still, they were pretty amazing.

Since the sticky bun recipe only requires half a batch of brioche, I also made Chang's recipe for brioche au chocolat with the remaining dough. To make these pastries, you roll out the brioche dough, spread on pastry cream (made from milk, sugar, cake flour, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla), sprinkle over some chopped chocolate, fold the dough over in half, press the layers together, and cut the dough into 10 strips. You proof the dough for another 2 hours, brush the rolls with egg wash, and then bake.

I'm pretty sure that I did not did not proof these pastries for long enough, because the baked dough was not as nice and puffy as I would have liked. (I suspect I also committed this error with the sticky buns -- even though I let the dough proof for a full 2 hours for both the sticky buns and the brioche au chocolat, I think I should have waited a little longer. My lack of patience get the best of me; it's hard to wait more than 3 hours for warm baked goods for breakfast!) The tops rose away from the pastry cream such that there was an empty gap between the pastry cream and the top layer of dough. The chocolate chunks did not melt at all in the oven. I thought that the brioche au chocolate was good, but not as good as the sticky buns -- but I'd like to try making these again when I'm not in such a rush.

I've never tried making brioche before, and I generally try to avoid the hassle of yeasted breads altogether. But this dough is so easy to make and it handles like a dream (it rolls beautifully without any sticking or fussing), so I absolutely plan on making brioche regularly.

During that Boston trip, I also had dinner with a friend who frequents the original Flour bakery location, and both she and her husband assured me that my disappointing experience at Flour in Central Square was atypical, and they are always impressed with the baked goods at Flour. Having made Chang's sticky buns for myself, I can now attest that eating a sticky bun warm makes all the difference in the world. In light of that, and the fact that I toted around my Flour baked goods purchases in wet conditions for a few hours, I'm happy to give the bakery the benefit of the doubt, and I will definitely stop by there again the next time I'm back in Boston. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy trying more of Chang's recipes in my own kitchen!

Recipes: "Basic Brioche," "Sticky Sticky Buns," "Brioche au Chocolate," and "Pastry Cream" from Flour: Spectacular Recipe from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, by Joanne Chang. The brioche and the sticky bun recipes are available here at the Food Network website (the only difference is that the cookbook version of the brioche recipe calls for only 315 grams of flour, instead of the 350 g specified in the online version).


Anonymous said…
I LOVELOVELOVE Flour in Boston! That is hands-down my favorite bakery/cafe there. (Also my favorite city, incidentally.) I'm sorry to hear that your treats were underwhelming; I will definitely agree that your experience is not the norm. I've been there three different times and loved everything, especially the sticky buns! I haven't had a chance to dive into her book much yet, but I will be trying a recipe this week for the first time-- so excited! It's great to know that the brioche dough is so easy. :)