As much as I love carrying around my entire library in my iPad, I still can't give up real books, especially cookbooks. Whenever I have time to kill (or I'm putting off working on some freelance project until last-minute panic sets in), I'll find a bookstore and just wander around looking for cool books, especially those with great photos, and I almost never leave empty handed. Bread books, of course, are a fave, as are those books in the Bargain section at Barnes & Noble. You know the ones I'm talking about. 100,000 TV Dinner Classics, Squid Favorites from Around the World and whatnot… Anyway, last week was a book bonanza; I added 6 of 'em to my collection. One that really intrigued me was The Book of Buns: Over 50 Brilliant Bakes from Around the World by Jane Mason. A treasure trove of little breads, most that were completely new to me, all beautifully photographed. I knew I'd be baking from it right away and that my first attempt would be…sfoof. First, because it's fun to say. Sfoof. Which sounds like it should be a sound effect from a superhero comic–POW! BAM! SFOOF!–but is actually a pretty little bun of Lebanese origin. (Interestingly, if you Google sfoof, almost of the results show it as a cake that looks a lot like cornbread, often made with semolina. But these buns are so much prettier, golden yellow twisty rings of doughy goodness, sprinkled with pistachios). Second, because I finally found a recipe that called for mahlab, which I'd bought on a trip to Penzey's but never figured out how to use. Buy first, ask questions later. Which is how you end up with two big cabinets full of spices and nowhere to put your dishes.
As per usual, the sfoof recipe called for something I didn't have, in this case orange blossom water, delivered a day later by my personal Amazon drone. And anise seed, which I DID have but thought I didn't so now I have two. Or possibly three. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who scopes out the ingredient situation, stares straight at something in the cupboard, misses it entirely and then buys more, only to discover the original stash immediately after opening the new one. Even if you're NOT one of those people, lie to me and tell me you are. I feel so alone here.)
This was an interesting dough to say the least. The recipe tells you it'll be sticky but that's putting it mildly. I kneaded this entirely by hand and I was definitely getting a little worried there for a bit, that it would never come together. The kneading process prior to adding the butter was more of a scrape-and-smoosh with a bench knife, but eventually it did form a very soft, sticky ball. Once I started adding the butter, however, it pretty much turned into a gloppy paste. More scraping-and-smooshing with a little squishing thrown in. It really was a Class A mess. But…Jane tells you that you shouldn't be tempted to add flour and gosh darn it, she's right. After about 25 minutes, I had a beautiful, soft, smooth, shiny dough, just as promised, and I was able to finish kneading it without the bench knife. That knife, though, which isn't mentioned in the original instructions, seems like a must. I can't see how I could have worked the dough without one. And although it's good to get your hands into things, this is one case where it might be a helluva lot easier with a mixer (you might also avoid looking like your hands are jaundiced. Turmeric. Don't say I didn't warn you.)
After Adventures in Kneading, the rest was almost anticlimactic. The dough rose beautifully, the buns were rolled and twisted, set out for a final rise and then we had buns in the oven! (I'm sorry. I had to go there). They were wonderfully fragrant as they baked and looked and tasted just as good as they smelled. Light and fluffy, slightly sweet, a nice golden brown on the outside and an absolutely gorgeous bright yellow inside. I was afraid that the anise and the orange water might be overpowering, but there's really just a hint of both. Mr. Dough gave them a thumbs up and he's notoriously stingy with the accolades. I can definitely see myself sitting down with a cup of coffee and a buttered sfoof to start my morning–pistachios and all. (I'm working really hard to overcome my lifelong nut aversion. Pistachios, we're good. Cashews, ditto. Almonds, eh. Walnuts, not in this lifetime.)
Definitely give these a go and check out Jane's book while you're at it. It was a lovely find.
- 500g/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2.5g/1.25 tsp instant yeast
- 80g/scant 1/2 cup sugar
- 250g/1 cup whole milk, heated almost to boiling then cooled to room temperature
- 12g/1 Tbsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tbsp anise seeds
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp mahlab*
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 100g/6.5 Tbsp butter, room temperature
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp water
- pinch of salt
- pinch of sugar
- chopped pistachios
- In a medium bowl, add flour and make a well in the center. Add the sugar to the well, sprinkle in yeast, then pour in the milk. Close the well over these ingredients with flour from the edges. Cover and let sit for about an hour.
- Once the dough mixture has rested, add salt around the edge of the bowl, then add in the remaining ingredients, up to but not including the butter. Mix it all together into a rough ball, then turn it out onto a pastry board or counter top. This dough will be VERY loose and messy.
- Knead for 10 minutes until the dough becomes smoother and more cohesive. (I had to use a bench knife in the beginning to scrape and fold the dough until it took shape. It was impossible to work with otherwise, but it does eventually come together.)
- Add the butter, about a tablespoon at a time and knead for another 10-15 minutes. Again, this will be a major mess, almost like paste--and I used the bench knife in the beginning--but hang in there and resist the urge to add more flour. The dough definitely will come together. When you have a ball that is smooth, deep yellow and shiny, it's good to go. It will be somewhat sticky but that's okay.
- Place the dough in a bowl, cover and let sit for about 2 hours or until close to double in size.
- Gently place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a tight cylinder shape. Divide the cylinder into 24 pieces. (I counted 3 times and somehow still came up one short. I have math issues.) Roll each piece into a ball, then shape each ball into a rope about 8" long.
- To make the buns, twist two ropes together, then form into a ring and press closed. Please each ring on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat (you'll need two sheets). Cover with a dry towel and let rise for about 1 hour.
- While the buns are resting, combine all of the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and stir together. Brush the glaze over the buns and top with the chopped pistachios.
- Bake the buns in a preheated 425° oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown, switching racks and rotating the sheets to ensure even baking. Remove and cool on a wire rack.