When my husband had a bit of, uh, bonus awesome free time on his hands this summer, he got into the curious habit of running while not being chased*, which led to him taking part in his first 5K a few weeks ago. To celebrate, we had people over for a little New York brunch (that is, bagels and lox, no, not homemade, not when they’re this good) back at our apartment, and, still trying to dig out from under our overzealous apple-picking, I made apple cinnamon buns. I didn’t think they were a big deal; I mean, they were good, just your standard cinnamon bun with two apples, diced small, scattered over the filling but it turns out, you cannot causally mention homemade apple cinnamon buns on the internet without causing a RECIPE PLEASE ruckus. I should know this.
I really had full intentions of sharing the recipe (though technically, I just did) but you see, the only thing more worrisome than having more apples than one can fit in their apartment is The Day The Apples Run Out, and that happened before I had a chance. And as they did, October became November and I started getting Thanksgiving on the brain, which basically leads to me bringing absurd, barely haul-able hauls of various winter squash, cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, and baskets of fresh cranberries home with exactly zero recipe agenda for them. [This morning’s repeat haul is currently glaring at me from the dining table as if to say, Shouldn’t you be getting to work on us and not talking to your friends inside your laptop again? Such nags!]
Until recently, I was convinced that combination of cranberries and orange had been played out almost to death, as the breakfast world has been under attack for at least a decade by stale muffins and scones made with unpleasant dried cranberries (i.e., cranberries plus sugar and oil and a good helping sulfites, yum) and a metallic kinda-orangeish vibe that were best avoided. But when I started dreaming about a seasonal variation on cinnamon buns that I would be ridiculously excited to put out at any November/December holiday brunch/lunch/party/or maybe just because it’s the weekend and you like your housemates very much, I realized I desperately wanted to rescue these flavors from mediocrity. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to work exclusively with fresh or frozen cranberries, and skip the orange juice (which gets too easily lost in baked goods) in favor of its zest.
However, this was the kind of recipe I knew would take a few rounds to get right; fresh cranberries can be tricky (they’re very tart and sour) and I wasn’t convinced that even a whole orange’s worth of zest was going to match the intensity of the cranberries. Plus, when I went to bake them, the bottom of the pan had been puddled with juice run-off from the cranberries, a sure sign of imminent disaster. I promised a few friends I’d bring over the “wrecked” ones, so I could get started on a more successful batch soon. But when they came out of the oven and I had at one, I found myself hugging it closer to my body and darting my eyes around the room, as if I were worried someone would take them from me, (especially ridiculous as I was alone), my mind racing with possibilities: Wait, do I have to share these? Would anyone know? Why did I promise to these to friends?!
Please, just stop what you were doing and make these now. Put them in the fridge, bake them off for breakfast tomorrow, I can assure you: only good things will come of this. In the oven, the seemingly dormant orange zest threading through the dough explodes with flavor, that puddle of cranberry juice run-off jams into a gooey brown sugar cranberry caramel and winds around and through the buttery, tender yeast-raised spirals. And the glaze, the sweet orange snow cap on this single serving of November bliss, provides just the right balance to the tartness of “red sprinkles,” which is what my son called the cranberry filling, within. See? I shared after all! I’m a good person, maybe. But I really miss them now.
* I am, as I’ve probably stated before, decidedly not a runner, although I try again every year or so for a couple months, just to reconfirm how pitiful I am. I can swim (any swimmers out there?) further than I can run, so I have that going for me, you know, in case in the Hollywood-style apocalyptic version of my life, the country is sunk out to sea rather than being overtaken by stampeding zombies. Hm, I’ve probably digressed again.
One year ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Two years ago: Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuits
Three years ago: Upside-Down Cranberry Cake
Four years ago: Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding
Five years ago: Peanut Butter Crispy Bars and Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and Garlic Chips
Six years ago: Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Sauteed Apples and Roasted Stuffed Onions
Seven years ago: Not Your Mama’s Coleslaw and Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters
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.
- 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.