Pecan sticky buns (or Brioche for Beginners)

Posted on May 21, 2006 by Aun

It all started because of Monkey Bread. For almost 2 years, while attending Columbia University, I lived on 125th Street and Broadway. Around the corner from where I was staying was a small and humble bakery called The Bread Shop. (Sadly, I’ve learned through a quick google search that The Bread Shop has closed down — another victim of the gentrification of Morningside Heights and Harlem that’s raised rents and forced out dozens of great “mom & pop” shops.) It was a real neighborhood hangout, a place where local residents and students would stop in for a fantastic baked yummy or idle away an hour over coffee and cake. The two biggest reasons that I went to The Bread Shop were the delicious and cheap Indian vegetarian lunches they served every Tuesday and Thursday and their Monkey Bread, baked fresh daily. Before The Bread Shop, I had never eaten Monkey Bread before, let alone heard of it. There, it was a deliciously sticky “pull apart” bun, smothered in a white icing and flavored with sugar and cinnamon. It was, over those 2 years, one of my favorite sweet carb-laden treats.

Last week, I told my wife S that I wanted to try making Monkey Bread. Eyebrows raised, she looked at me skeptically and then remarked that the only Monkey Bread she’d heard of was savory. Maybe I had gotten the name wrong, she gently suggested. She even showed me a recipe for an herbed and savory version in the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Determined to find a recipe, I tore through several books in S’s baking and dessert cookbook collection (some 2 dozen volumes). None of the ones I looked in had anything called Monkey Bread listed. I epicurioused it and came up empty. I googled it and this time I found several recipes on cooks.com, but none of them sounded appealing. Most of them called for pre-mixed (canned) biscuit dough.

At S’s suggestion, I decided instead to try making Sticky Buns, which seemed like a good idea until I started reading the recipe she recommended I follow — Pecan Sticky Buns from Baking with Julia by Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan. To make these buns, which sounded divine, I would have to make brioche dough for the very first time. Yikes!

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly knows that I’m not too skilled a baker. When it comes to anything that requires exact measurements, patience and a hot oven, you’ll usually find me hollering for S to take over. Unfortunately, with S’s doctoral thesis deadline just a month away, I was on my own. Making the brioche dough was nerve-wracking work. Brioche dough is a sticky dough. But baking-novice that I am, I didn’t know that. To me, it just looked and felt odd. I was constantly worried it was too wet, too sticky… basically too wrong. Add to this neurosis the process of rolling out the dough, adding butter, rerolling it, chilling it and repeating the process a couple of times and you get one very discombobulated boy. After what must have been the 10th or 11th time bothering S to ask her if I was doing it right or should I add more flour or do something that was not in the book, she chastised me, telling me to stop being such a ninny and just follow the recipe. I should, she said, trust that the famous Ms Child and the fantastic Ms Greenspan weren’t going to lead me astray. Turns out (of course), S was right. (Because the recipe I used covers 3 pages, I’m going to forego transcribing it. You can buy the book or just use another brioche recipe that yields around 2.25 lbs of dough.)

The filling for the buns was a combination of sugar (1/4 cup), cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon), and pecans (1 cup, chopped). The dough is divided into two portions. Each one is rolled out to around 11 inches by 13 inches and a quarter inch thick. An egg wash is applied to the lower 3/4 of the dough and the filling sprinkled over it. It’s then rolled up into a log, starting at the lower end, wrapped in plastic and frozen for 1 hour. While the logs were chilling in the freezer, I prepared my pans; the recipe calls for two 9 inch round cake pans with high sides. Spread 4 ounces of softened butter on the base of each pan. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup of brown sugar over each pan. Once the logs are hard, slice each one into 7 pieces, each approximately 1.5 inches wide. Lay the slices flat side down and press 3 pecan halves into the top of each. Then place them, pecan sides down, into the prepared pans. Place 6 of them in a circle, with the 7th slice in the middle. Let these stand uncovered for 1.5 to 2 hours. The buns will rise and grow to touch each other.

Pop them into an oven preheated to 350ºF/180ºC for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. When done, quickly invert them onto a serving dish, let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

Given that I’d never made these before, I have to say that despite her making considerable fun of me, S was impressed. My neurosis over making the brioche dough had me yelling for her advice throughout the whole process, but pretty much I had managed to make these on my own. A considerable feat for a very undomestic husband. The only problem is that now S expects me to be able to make brioche for her whenever she wants.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Fanny May 22, 2006 at 1:40 am

    Wow, i want a piece of this monkey bread right now. It looks so yummy.
    Congrats for your first brioche dough; can i place an order for the next one you’ll make?

    Fanny

  2. Marilyn May 22, 2006 at 1:57 am

    Looks wonderful-I had a similar experience when trying to make danishes. Basically, I had no idea what I was doing, but the end result was more than adequately edible!

    Re: monkey bread, http://www.recipezaar.com has tons of recipes for monkey bread. Most seem to use refrigerated cans of buttermilk biscuit dough (some crescent dough). Perhaps if you followed one of those recipes, but make your own biscuit dough, you could find what you’re looking for. I might even try. Yum.

  3. Robyn May 22, 2006 at 2:44 am

    I’ve never had monkey bread, but I’ve wanted to try it every since I heard about it! Why isn’t it a staple of all bakeries. Doooh.

    Arrgh those sticky buns are byoootifyul…okay, I need baked goods right now.

  4. mae May 22, 2006 at 6:53 am

    For a first timer, this looks so good that you deserve a medal. Well done for persevering and sticking [sorry for the pun] to it til the end. What a success!

    Looks so yummy! I wish i lived in Singapore then i’ll be as lucky as J to receive such a treat.

  5. deborah May 22, 2006 at 8:40 am

    oh these look so good. no matter what name i would attack these in a heart beat! i love your recount of the making brioche for the first time. i too thought i was doing it all wrong. unfortunately i am one of those people who cannot read a recipe right through when i want start cooking asap or more importantly eat asap.

    i might give these a go soon… they look so delicious!

  6. Chubby Hubby May 22, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    From our kitchen: I’d love your recipe. Please email it to me. Thanks!

    J: My pleasure. Ah, we have that book also. Can’t believe I didn’t look at it the first time around. Thanks.

    Fanny: Hah hah… considering how hard it was to make, you might be waiting a long time for that order.

    Marilyn: Yeah, that might work. I was really turned off by the idea of using premade, frozen dough.

    Robyn: I agree. More bakeries should make Monket Bread.

    Mae: Thanks. I guess I’m just lucky S chose the right recipe for me to test and that she was around whenever I freaked out.

    Deborah: Thanks. They were good too. For my tastes though, I think I’d add even more sugar into the filling — I like things sweet.

  7. Bill Belew May 22, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    The sticky buns look wonderful, well done for a first time beginner! Now of course you have made me desperately hungry for some cinnamony, sugary, icing covered monkey bread.

  8. Stef Noble May 23, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Cook’s Country, the offshoot of Cook’s Illustrated, recently had a from-scratch version of monkey bread as well.

  9. Luisa May 23, 2006 at 2:32 am

    The NY Times published Nancy Reagan’s version of Monkey Bread a few times over the past 25 years – most recently in 2003. I thought it sounded lovely, but never got around to making it. Here’s her recipe…

    Monkey Bread

    6 ounces butter, softenened, plus extra for greasing the pan
    4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring pan and work area
    1 package active dry yeast
    1 cup lukewarm milk (110 degrees)
    3 large eggs
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    4 ounces melted butter

    Butter and flour a 1 quart or larger ring mold or tube pan and set aside. Whisk the yeast with the milk in a large bowl. Whisk in 2 of the eggs and then the sugar, salt and 4 cups of the flour, switching to a spoon when the dough gets stiff. Stir in the softened butter and knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a ball. turn out onto the work area and knead until it forms an elastic ball, sprinkling with and working in up to 1 cup more flour to keep dough from getting sticky. Place dough in a clan bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.

    Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured work area. Roll dough into a log and cut into 28 equal size pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, dip in melted butter and place in the prepared pan, staggering pieces in 2 layers. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.

    Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat the remaining egg and lightly brush over the top of the bread. Bake until top is nicely browned and dough is cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. (Test by turning out the loat onto a rack; the bottom and sides should be nicely browned.) Turn upright on another rack to cool slightly before serving.

  10. Astrid May 23, 2006 at 2:39 am

    Those look delicious! I’ve often thought sticky buns seem too rich. But yours look both crunchy and soft and very tasty, I’d love to try one!

    By the way, have you seen the online video of this recipe (I assume it’s similar, although here Julia is hosting Nancy Silverton) on the PBS website? It’s very detailed (broken down in different parts, first the brioche dough, etc.) The website is here http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/video.html, and you can find the recipe by looking up Nancy Silverton.

    Or I’ll try to post a direct link: http://vvi.onstreammedia.com/cgi-bin/visearch?user=pbs-juliachild&template=template.html&query=brioche&category=0&ingredients=0&chef=0&project=0&viKeyword=brioche

    This web-site offers a large variety of videos, with the transcripts so you can jump to the interest bits.

  11. missy-j May 23, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Those look really yummy. I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible for my Brioche dough. It’s utterly foolproof. And her chocolate sticky buns are glorious!!

  12. Chubby Hubby May 23, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    Bill: Thanks.

    Stef: I’m not a member of Cook’s Illustrated. Any chance you could email me the recipe?

    Luisa: Thanks so much. The recipe looks great.

    Astrid: Hi, the recipe I used is the one by Nancy Silverton. The book is a collection of Julia’s recipes and recipes by guest chefs that appeared on her TV show. I didn’t know that the videos were available online. Thanks so much for pointing me to them.

    Missy-J: Thanks. I’ll take a look at that recipe as well. Chocolate sticky buns sound great.

  13. Vanessa May 24, 2006 at 4:58 am

    i love beginner stories because it makes me that much more tempted to try them myself. they look wonderful!

  14. Hijackqueen May 24, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Probably I’ll substitue the pecan with raisins. Don’t think i can get them here.

  15. lobstersquad May 24, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Beautiful. I´m longing to have some highly sticky confectionery now, but in view of the enormous dinner I ate yesterday, I´ll just drool over the picture.

  16. Gustad May 24, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    looks like oranatang bread :-p looks very sweet.
    hey, i entered a hot dog eating contest last week it’s on my blog if you want to see

  17. prisca May 25, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    provence bakery’s cinnamon buns in holland v sounds like the monkey bread you described. very good when warmed=)

  18. keiko May 28, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    Oh I can’t stop drooling :) I can eat this every day, it looks so yummy – and again, absolutely beautiful pictures!

  19. Danielle May 31, 2006 at 11:43 am

    I made these tonight. Yum!

  20. tabehodai May 31, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    If you are still want a Monkey bread recipe, check this out http://moon-pie.blogspot.com/2006/05/monkey-bread.html

    I’ve never had it before but it looks yummy.

  21. Lori June 1, 2006 at 7:35 am

    I was going to ask you if you wanted my recipe for monkey bread, which is the one Luisa so kindly posted. I’ve done it many times and tried many other recipes, but that one is the best.

    Good job on those sticky buns. I was going to comment that they look eerily similar to the one in the Baking With Julia book. No wonder.

    Btw, here’s my post on monkey bread.

  22. Chubby Hubby June 1, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Vanessa: Thanks so much!

    Hijackqueen: Good idea, although I’m much more of a pecan person.

    Ximena: Thanks.

    Gustad: Saw the hotdog pix. Scary!

    Prisca: Cook, I’ll try them. Thanks so much for the heads-up.

    Keiko: Coming from the queen of blogbaking, I’m very flattered.

    Danielle: Awesome. Glad they worked.

    tabehodai: Thanks. Great link.

    Lori: Thanks. The recipe looks great. I can’t wait to try it.

  23. Anonymous June 1, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    You might want to check your oven as the center looks uncooked while the edges look crispy brown. Every oven has its quirks so nothing is so handy as a thermometer and and adjustable rack.

  24. S June 1, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Anon,

    Yes, no two ovens ever seem to perform in quite the same way. Rest assured that we have a bunch of well-used thermometers. Especially since our oven tends to get too hot in the corners. The unbrowned centre irked me too, but it was completely cooked. What was missing was a little more crispness and a dose of aesthetic pleasure.

    The visible part of the buns were browning perfectly evenly. What you see in the picture is the bit which was sitting on the base of the pan, which is meant to be the actual top as per the recipe’s instructions. We had no way of seeing how underdone or browned it was until we unmolded it from the pan.

    Have you tried this recipe before? Did yours turn out evenly browned?
    I might try placing the pan on a baking stone to even out the heat next time.

  25. Kate June 1, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    Indeed! I’m so glad you came to visit Pie in the Sky and liked my monkey bread recipe. I made a second loaf where I made the dough myself, and it was great…I also ground my own cinnamon, and that really made a big difference. (Actually, the cinnamon sticks – not cassia – were from a trip to ecuador, and i was keeping all my ecuadoring spices in a ziploc bag together, so the cinnamon came out tasting a little like anise…which was a good thing!)Anyway, I’m an avid reader of Chubby Hubby, so I’m glad that we’re friends now =) Enjoy your monkey bread!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


+ 2 = eight

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>