Does anyone else dream in sweet breads? No? Just me?
I have a very committed, long-term relationship with simple carbs. We’re a sort of power couple, if you know what I mean. I make them, they are delicious, I eat them. It’s great. The thing about them, or I suppose really the thing about people’s perceptions of them, is that they’re made out to be this strict, tedious thing.
People are often comfortable with experimentation when it comes to the stove top. Throwing carrots in a spaghetti sauce, or corn in alfredo, folks have no problem with creativity. But it seems that when we get to baking, it’s all about following the recipe. No coloring outside the lines. We’re terrified that somehow, that timer will *ding* and there will be a blackened, monstrous brick sitting in the oven.
Now… before I get ahead of myself, you can create a blackened, monstrous brick. But it won’t be the fault of creativity alone. Bread has a formula, just like anything else. It has particular rules and guidelines, but there’s plenty of room for new ideas and unorthodox flavors. Especially when it comes to enriched dough.
For clarity, in this post we are referring to enriched dough and breads in the culinary classic sense, meaning dough with high fat and sugar content. Not dough or bread with added vitamins and minerals.
When we’re talking about enriched breads, there are three things you can play with: shape, flavor, and texture. And we’ll go over each of these in depth.
Shape, when talking about sandwich breads, typically means the shape of the pan you’re baking in. When we’re talking about sourdoughs and artisan breads, it’s the shape of the proofing basket you form your boule in. But in sweet breads (or enriched breads), it’s gets more complicated than that–and more exciting. Enriched breads are usually a smooth, soft, not-too-wet dough that lends itself very well to fancy shaping techniques. With enriched dough, we can use the standard cinnamon roll, pinwheel concept, or branch out into utterly unique designs. In the videos below, I show a few different base techniques that can be simplified or complicated to fit your inventive needs.
The main idea is creating layers in one way or another, then slicing or maneuvering those layers to create stripes. And then you make those stripes go however you see fit! Of course, shaping doesn’t always turn out how you would like. Things can puff up too large, or not large enough. Seams can become un-pinched, and edges can burn. But the good part is that none of those things will affect how the end result tastes! Just remember to keep a close eye while baking any shapes your not familiar with, because baking times can change significantly.
Obviously, flavor is where things can go painfully wrong. The good news is, unless you’re pregnant or have immune issues that make you unable, you can taste the dough as you go. I know that seems odd to most people, but there’s really not a lot of danger in it (even with raw eggs), unless you happen to be a part of the aforementioned groups.
The main factors in flavor are salt, sugar, fat, and additives. Now, fat mainly plays into the texture, but it also has an effect on the flavor. Fats can increase the strength of most flavors, so it’s important to add your fats before adjusting your sugar and salt. Especially salt. In my recipes, I usually don’t distinguish between salted butter and unsalted. Usually because it either won’t make much of a difference, or because I tell you to “salt to taste” at the end. But it is something to keep in mind, especially when you’re making a bread that is not supposed to be savory.
Additives can be anything from vanilla to liquors to spices, teas, and herbs. This is absolutely where that striking innovation can shine. Experiment with new combinations, mixing typically savory elements into the sweet and visa versa. Always start in small amounts and work your way up. But if you happen to add a little too much, or if a flavor combo just doesn’t fit, the ingredients for bread are usually fairly inexpensive. So there’s no need for sorrow! Just toss it and try again. Or better yet, use it as an opportunity to try a new shaping technique and hone your skills. Hell, you might even like it once it’s baked!
Here’s where things can become confusing, but I’ll try to keep it simple. We’re all familiar with gluten, right? It’s the protein part of wheat flour (not just whole wheat flour, but any flour made from wheat) that gives dough strength and chewiness. It’s what makes bread spongy instead of crumby. And it changes the texture depending on two things: how much gluten/protein is originally in the flour you use; and how much you develop the gluten.
Gluten exists in strands of protein that can become stronger and better “knit” with working or kneading your dough. They can also break with too much force–which is why we allow dough to “relax” while kneading and shaping. When we’re making artisan breads with big holes like ciabatta, a lot of gluten and a lot of gluten development is paramount. That’s why we use all bread flour (which is high-protein flour = high gluten) when making these breads. The more gluten development in your bread, the more weight it can hold in other heavy ingredients. In breads like ciabatta, this extra weight is water, which then evaporates during the baking process, leaving the loaf quite light. With enriched dough, that extra weight comes in the form of fat.
In the videos below, and in most cinnamon roll (and similar) recipes, we use the “straight dough method” meaning, all of the ingredients are added at once, and then kneaded. But you can play with the texture by making a “preferment” (also known as the sponge method).
All that means is you would add your liquid (milk or water) to about half of the flour, with the sugar and yeast. You would let this mixture bloom or ferment for about 20 minutes (or up to a few hours), then add the rest of the flour, and mix until smooth. Then you take your fat (room temp. butter for this method), and add it a few tablespoons at a time while kneading. This extra kneading allows the gluten to get stronger as you add the butter, which in turn allows you to add much more butter to your dough without it being unmanageable. The end result is a flakier, almost layered texture. This method, or some form of it, is typically what is used to create brioche or “quick croissant” dough.
The end result is a flakier, almost layered texture. This method, or some form of it, is typically what is used to create brioche or “quick croissant” dough.
You can use either method, or anything in between to play with different textures and fat content. Now is not the time to be thinking of calories. Just don’t. Think of flaky bread instead.
Orange and Cardamom Sweet Rolls
1 scant T yeast (or one yeast packet)
1/4 c. sugar
1 c. warm milk or half & half (just warmer than body temperature )
3 c. flour (1/2 bread flour, 1/2 all purpose)
1/4 c. melted butter
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
zest of 1 1/2 – 2 oranges
1/2 t. ground cardamom
For the filling:
1 c. chocolate, melted (this can be cheap chocolate chips in this recipe)
1/3 c. granulated sugar
vanilla (if desired)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add yeast, sugar, and milk. Whisk together lightly just to combine, and let rest for 10 minutes or until the yeast blooms. When the yeast is active and frothy, add the rest of your ingredients, while the mixer (with dough hook attachment) kneads on the lowest speed. Increase the speed once the flour is added and let knead for 10-15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and slightly stretchy.
Form dough into a uniform ball, then place in an oiled bowl to rise. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (the time will depend on the temperature). Once risen, punch down and roll out. Use filling to shape.
For shaping ideas, see videos above.
Rise again for 20-30 minutes, or until just slightly risen (not double). Then bake at 350 F for 15-30 minutes (depending on size and shape of bread. I.e.: individual buns or one loaf) or until internal temperature reads 190 F.