The scientifically perfect recipe for awesome sticky buns

And I thought my love of science was embraced by the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated crew! Was I in for a treat when J Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats turned his column into a full-fledged compendium of kitchen science knowledge and recipes. The Food Lab is a terrific column, but it only wets your appetite for the content the cookbook contains. Of course, I was not surprised to learn that the author cut his nerd teeth at MIT as well as America’s Test Kitchen before this enterprise. This book is like America’s Test Kitchen’s science on steroids. Prepare yourself for a whole-hearted endorsement of what might be my favorite new book of the year.

Even if you are not into learning precisely what microwaves actually are, Kenji’s humor will shine through. And if you are interested in science, well get ready to learn the difference between amylose and amylopectin. Your sauce will be thicker for it.

The thing is, the knowledge you gain from knowing what is happening at a molecular level will allow you to cook from the hip, so to speak. Kenji’s recipes and what he teaches you about them will allow you to devise your own. In short, knowledge is power! And the power to bake better buns is not to be belittled.

Speaking of buns, I made Kenji’s World’s Most Awesome Sticky Buns. There is a good explanation about yeast and giving your dough time in the chapter if you are interested in the science of these buns, but I suggest you just get to making them yourself. There is an optional extra-long rise and I gave them that. Otherwise I would have been eating them at 4 in the afternoon, but that seemed a bit untoward. Nope. I gave em’ the long rise and baked in the wee hours. I’ll detail the options for both. I also opted out of the nuts. (I’m nuts enough.) But feel free to add them. There is also an optional dipping glaze but I am going to leave that out as a teaser to make you get the book. Enough of my babble. If you enjoy science and good eating, this one’s worthy the investment.

The World’s Most Awesome Sticky Buns adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab

For the dough:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. kosher or 1 tsp. table salt (I used table salt)
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 20 oz. (4 cups) flour

For the glaze:

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. buttermilk
  • 4 oz. (about 1 cup) toasted pecans, lightly chopped (I left these out!)
  • pinch kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the dough: Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until homogenous. Add brown sugar, buttermilk, salt, yeast and melted butter and whisk until well blended. Don’t freak out about some clumping, though. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a cohesive ball of dough. Turn that out on a floured surface and knead until you have a smooth, homogenous, silky ball of dough. Put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled.

Make your sauce. Cook the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and it is starting to bubble. Add the buttermilk, nuts (if using) and salt and stir to combine. Pour and spread evenly in a 13×9 glass baking dish. I was scared to do this without greasing the pan but trusted that the butter in the sauce would help with getting the buns out later. And guess what–not a problem! No need to grease the pan on this one.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon for the filling together in a small bowl.

After the dough is risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and dust with flour. Shape into a rectangle with your hands and use a rolling pin to roll it into a 16×12 inch rectangle, short end toward you. Brush with the melted butter for the filling, leaving a 1-inch border at the top, then sprinkle evenly with the sugar/cinnamon mix. Roll it up! Use your hands to even the log out then slice evenly into 12 rolls and place them, cut side down, in the baking dish and cover with plastic wrap.

At this point if you will be free to bake in a couple hours, allow them to rise at room temperature until roughly doubled in size, about two hours. Otherwise put them in the refrigerator for a minimum of 6 and up to 12 hours. Take them out of the fridge while the oven preheats.

When time to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncover and bake about 30 minutes, rotating halfway. They should be golden brown and puffed. Beauties. Take out of oven and allow to rest for five minutes then turn out onto platter. Scrape any glaze that has remained in the baking dish out and lovingly eat-no, wait, jk-lovingly spread on your buns. Your sticky buns, not your actual bum buns.