Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chocolate Walnut Breakfast Buns

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season, filled with family, friends, and lots of delicious, comforting food. I'm lucky enough to get a nice holiday break at work, so I was off for just over a week. Even though I did my fair share of Netflix binge-watching and had many "I'm gonna nap right now because I can" moments, and experienced more food comas than I'm proud of, I had a very productive week off. Last week was the first week where I had a full kitchen completely to myself, and I made sure to take advantage of it. My pantry and kitchen toolbox still aren't quite as stocked as I'd like them to be, but they're getting there, slowly but surely. It was also the first time I baked in my new apartment for the blog, so that was a new experience on its own. I'm so used to baking in my parents' kitchen and photographing in their living room, so doing it somewhere else took some getting used to. Since I only brought my "essential" props and tools, I'm still missing quite a few items that would make the process a bit more seamless. Figuring out how to work the lighting in my new space is also a challenge, especially because my sheer curtains aren't up yet!

New challenges aside, I'm pretty happy with the recipes I managed to bake last week. Each was rewarding in its own special way, and I'm excited to share them. First up, fluffy Chocolate Walnut Breakfast Buns--you're not on any kind of New Year's detox program right now!

I made some Quick and Easy Cinnamon Rolls a few weeks ago to satisfy a craving I had back when I was super busy getting ready to move to my apartment. They were great and totally hit the spot at the time, but the craving just came back just around Christmas. As good as those cinnamon rolls were, I couldn't shake away my need for pillowy soft yeast buns.  Fortunately, the craving came back at just the right moment. With loads of spare time at my disposal for once, I set out to create the fluffy, gooey cinnamon buns I was my brain was telling me I needed...except that as I was making them, I changed my mind. All I wanted was a chocolate breakfast bun. 

Making the switch at the last minute was easy. I started by making my all-time favorite cinnamon roll dough, from the Pioneer Woman--she really knows her cinnamon rolls, and her recipe has yet to fail me. What I love most about the recipe is that it's so incredibly simple to prepare. It's almost entirely hands off, and as long as you have a thermometer and an active pack of yeast, you're pretty much guaranteed to have perfect outcome. Milk, sugar, and oil are heated together in a large Dutch oven until lukewarm, and a packet of yeast is added. After about a minute, 4 cups of flour are stirred in and the mixture is left along for an hour. After that, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and a touch more flour get stirred in. And that's all there is to the dough--you can either work with it right away or leave it to slowly rise in the fridge overnight, which is what I did with these buns. Since I was looking for a chocolate breakfast bun, I knew I wanted a filling that wasn't very sweet (as much as I love sugar, I cant have anything cloyingly sweet before noon). So, I went with a chocolate filling that I knew would be perfect. I first tried Ottolenghi's chocolate babka back in March when I made it for my sister's birthday, and I loved the filling.  It tasted like chocolate, not sugar, and I wanted a real depth of flavor in my breakfast buns. So I took the Smitten Kitchen adaptation of the filling, went with it, and was incredibly happy with the results. 

These breakfast buns completely satisfied my craving, and if another one strikes in a few weeks, The Pioneer Woman's recipe makes 16 large buns, split among two pans. I baked off one pan of buns, and as it cooled, I par-baked a second pan of 8 chocolate buns for about 10 minutes and then let them cool completely. By baking them for such a short time, the buns get the chance to rise and set completely, making them perfect candidates for the freezer. Yup, that means that right now I have a baking pan with 8 frozen  chocolate walnut breakfast buns that are just ready to be baked and enjoyed. All it'll take is an overnight thaw in the fridge, and 10-15 minutes in the oven right before breakfast. Now, satisfying a craving for hot, fresh breakfast buns is literally ten minutes away. There's not much better than that! 

Chocolate Walnut Breakfast Buns
buns adapted from The Pioneer Woman
filling from Smitten Kitchen


For the Rolls

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 2 teaspoons salt

For the Filling

130 grams dark chocolate, chopped (or chips)
115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar, scant
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, divided


Begin by preparing the dough.  Combine the milk, oil, and sugar and in a large saucepan (I used a large Dutch oven) set over medium heat , and bring the mixture to just below a boil.  Set the mixture aside and cool until warm (105-110 degrees F), about an hour. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk, and let it sit for a minute.  

Add 4 cups of flour directly into the Dutch oven or saucepan, stirring until just combined.  Cover the pot with the lid and set in a warm-ish spot for an hour.  Remove the lid and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and remaining half cup of flour.  Stir thoroughly to combine.  At this point, you can use the dough right away or refrigerate the dough to use for later (I refrigerated the dough overnight).

To prepare the filling, melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat until smooth. Stir in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and cinnamon, if using. The mixture should form a spreadable paste. Set the mixture aside to cool for a few minutes while you begin to form the rolls. 

Remove half of the dough and place it on a clean, lightly floured work surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle that is about 18 inches long by 8 inches wide. Spread half of the chocolate filling over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Sprinkle half of the walnuts on top in an even layer. Roll up the dough on the long edge of the rectangle, rolling tightly towards you. Pinch the dough together to create a seam and finish rolling by placing the dough seam side down.  Trim the edges off, slice the dough into 8 equal pieces, and arrange the pieces in a greased 8-inch round baking pan.  It may be a bit of a messy process, but stick with it, it'll be worth it! Set this first batch of rolls aside, and repeat the process with the remaining dough, placing the rolls in a second greased 8-inch pan.  Allow the finished rolls to rest for 20 minutes.

While the rolls are resting, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.  Bake the rolls for about 20-22 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and allow them to rest in the pan for about ten minutes. Serve warm.  Enjoy!

Makes 16 cinnamon rolls


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