Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Every morning at 4am, I had the distinct pleasure of pouring a quart of grade B maple syrup onto a sheet pan studded with walnuts and healthy knobs of butter.  I consider it a point of pride that I didn't take a spoon to the stuff and just call it a very early morning.  I'm a martyr to pastry.

I put my profound longing aside and I'd gingerly place spirals of soft, sweet dough filled with ground nuts and sweetness on top of all that goodness.  I'd bake off the whole, delicious mess until the buns got big and sticky and I started involuntarily drooling.

I'd flip over the pan and release those gorgeous, fluffy buns and I'd get those sticky gems out of my sight and into the pastry case as fast as possible.

Our first batch of syrup.  See how light it is?  

Sap.  See how clear?  It takes 40-45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

I've not yet shared my recipe for these epic maple sticky buns, a staple at my old pastry shop.  But with sugaring season upon us, I find myself surrounded by jars of homemade syrup.  I've been digging deep, asking myself what it is that I want...what I'm really made of.  It turns out, the answer is maple syrup.  Now that the we've entered into the later stages of sugaring, the maple syrup is darker than it was when we first started evaporating sap a few weeks ago.  This is how you get grade B syrup, you boil down late season sap.  The perfect stuff for making sticky buns.



You'll notice I use organic palm sugar.  Palm sugar is very flavorful, with an almost nutty/caramel flavor.  It also sports some lovely minerals and is pretty low on the glycemic index.  It's become more widely available as well.  As a matter of fact, I saw it in the baking aisle at our local big box store.  If you can't find the stuff, you can substitute an equal amount of turbinado sugar or regular old brown sugar.

For the dough

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I use King Arthur Flour's All-Purpose)
1/4 cup plain mashed potato flakes (I use Betty Crocker's "Potato Buds"), finely ground in a food processor or blender
1 envelope instant dry yeast (I use Red Star's Platinum instant yeast)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cups whole milk, room temperature
1/4 cup B-grade maple syrup
1 whole, large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, potato flakes, yeast, salt, and lemon zest.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract.  Add the flour mixture and mix low speed until just combined.  Slowly add the butter, a small piece at a time and continue mixing until a smooth yet slightly stick dough forms, about 10 - 15 minutes.  The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl but a small bit usually remains on the very bottom of the bowl.  The dough should be slightly sticky to the touch.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough over a few times in the bowl so that it's evenly coated.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm area in your kitchen until almost doubled in size, about 1 -1 1/2 hours.

For the filling and assembly

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup organic, granulated palm sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place the walnuts, palm sugar, cinnamon and dash of salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is fine but be careful not to turn it into a paste.

Roll out the dough into a 20" x 12" rectangle, making sure that the work surface has a very fine layer of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface (alternatively, spray the work surface and rolling pin with non-stick cooking spray).

Spread the soft butter over the surface of the dough and sprinkle with the filling, leaving a 1/2 inch naked border, free from filling, on one long end.

Roll the dough into a long log, starting at the long end opposite the naked border, like a jelly roll.

For the syrup

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup B-grade maple syrup
1 cup organic, granulated palm sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

In a 9" x 13" baking pan, pour in the maple syrup.  Sprinkle the palm sugar on top of the maple syrup and then sprinkle with the walnuts.  Dot the top of the maple/sugar/walnut mixture evenly with small knobs of the butter.

On the road to the final proof.

Cut the dough log into 12 even pieces.  Arrange the slices in rows of three over the the syrup mixture.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and allow to proof at room temperature for 40-50 minutes.

Proofed and ready for the oven.

Take off the plastic wrap and cover the pan with aluminum foil.  Place the pan on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes and take off the foil and bake for 5 minutes more or until the buns are lightly golden brown and baked through.  Serve warm.

Individual buns baked in a muffin tin.

Alternatively, place the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar and butter have melted.  Allow to cool slightly.  Divide the syrup among the 12 cavities of a large muffin tin.  Place a dough slice into each of the cavities and proof and bake as above.