cranberry-orange breakfast buns

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Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns
Dough adapted (mostly in technique) from Alton Brown

Tart cranberries muddle with just enough brown sugar that they sweeten, but are miles from toothache-level sweetness. Orange zest blooms inside a buttery, tender, rich dough. And there’s just enough orange icing to cap the buns, not drench them in candy. I’d call them grown-up cinnamon buns, but I saw a four year-old inhale one and demand another, and we liked them so much I’m trying to invent excuses to make them again.

This is an overnight recipe; the dough will rise for the first time when you make it, and the second time in the fridge overnight. I thought this would be annoying, but it’s actually perfect. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to make breakfast buns, and the slow rise in the fridge overnight makes for a very well developed flavor. This is definitely my favorite cinnamon-style bun dough to date; feel free to ditch all of your others.

Yield: 12 buns. This recipe could be halved and baked in a 9-inch round or 8×8-inch baking pan.

4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter, melted, plus additional to grease pan
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated (to be used in dough and filling, below)
3 3/4 cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 packet (7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon oil for bowl

1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) butter
1 cup (190 grams) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (115 grams) fresh cranberries
Orange zest leftover from above

3 1/2 tablespoons (55 ml) orange juice
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar

Make the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk and 3/4 of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling). Add 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; stir until evenly moistened. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl (I usually scrape my dough briefly onto the counter, oil the mixing bowl, and scrape the dough back into it) and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.

[Don’t have a stand mixer? Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, then continue stirring and beating it about in a large bowl for several minutes, until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for another 5 minutes. It will stick; don’t sweat it. Just scrape everything up and into the oiled bowl when it’s time to let it rise. Try to resist adding extra flour when it sticks; it will only toughen the dough. That would be sad.]

Prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set it aside. In a food processor, pulse the whole cranberries until they’re ground to a coarse rubble, but not fully pureed. You’ll need to scrape the machine down once or twice. Set them aside.

[Don’t have a food processor? Just hand chop them very well, as if to coarsely mince them.]

Assemble the buns: Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish, a heavier ceramic or glass dish is ideal here. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is 18 inches wide (the side nearest to you) and 12 or so inches long. (It’s okay if it goes longer/thinner.) Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground cranberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.

Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a sharp serrated knife, very, very gently saw the log into 1 1/2-inch sections; you should get 12. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours.

The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden (the internal temperature should read 190 degrees F), approximately 30 minutes.

Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Make the icing by whisking the orange juice and powdered sugar together. Spread a little on each bun, or drizzle it over the whole pan. Serve immediately.

Many notes:

  • Instant yeast is also sold as Bread Machine or Rapid Rise yeast.
  • If you don’t have buttermilk, here are some alternatives. A half-half combination of everyones favorite breakfast nightmare, milk and orange juice, should also do the trick.
  • So many egg yolks! Theoretically, one you replace every two yolks with whole medium or large eggs, however, the dough will not be as rich. Hate using up egg whites? Here are some ideas, plus one more: these days, if I’m breading/frying/crusting something, I whisk an egg white with a teaspoon of water to use as the dip instead of a whole egg. It makes things even crunchier. See also: Zucchini Parmesan Crisps, Granola-Crusted Nuts, Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts.
  • Prefer cream cheese frosting on your buns? Alton recommends a cream cheese icing made with 1/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) softened cream cheese + 3 tablespoons milk + 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.
  • But you promised us Apple-Cinnamon Buns! Okay, fiiine, but I think you’d like these more. Skip the orange zest, skip the cranberries. Mix the brown sugar with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt and spread this over the melted butter. Scatter two apples, peeled and diced very small, over the cinnamon-sugar. Note: When I made them this way, I found 1 cup brown sugar to be too sweet for me. I’d use 3/4 cup next time.
  • Finally, see how tall and lovely these came out? Yours will be even better. I actually had to run out when I made the dough during the 2-hour rise, so I stuck it in the fridge, and couldn’t get back to it for 24 hours, at which point it was probably more than doubled. I then did another 24-hour rise (again, life got in the way) instead of the max 16-hour rise recommended. The results were wonderful, but a tiny bit overproofed. To see the volume you will get when you make these according to the recipe, see the Apple-Cinnamon Bun photo, the third one in this post.

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