My birthday is in two days. I turn 30! I have always loved having an autumn birthday. It felt like the trees were dressing up just for me. The leaves are turning bright yellow, fiery red, coppery brown everywhere I look these days and to me it has always looked so festive.
Growing up people would sometimes be burning leaves in the gardens, so there would be this faint smokey scent in the air. I still remember the first time I smelled black cardamom, a cousin of the more known green variety, with its smokey menthol fragrance. It was an instant love for me. It smelled like autumn air. Smokey, cool, crisp, herbaceous. I've mostly used it in savoury foods since, but I wanted to make sticky buns that tasted like the essence of fall.
Sticky buns can be a cloyingly sweet treat, so I wanted to balance the sweetness without bringing in a too strong note. I had read about Caribbean burnt sugar syrup, but never made it before. It turned out to be quite easy to do and the flavour of the syrup was perfect for these buns.
You don't actually burn the sugar, but you melt it low and very slow to bring a dark bitter sweetness to the sugar with fruity notes of sour cherries, smoked oak and dark maple syrup and it worked wonderfully with the black cardamom and cinnamon in the buns.
The syrup is more often used in cocktails than pastry, but I will definitely be playing around with the rest of the syrup.
Burnt sugar syrup
200g unrefined cane sugar
200ml hot water
Place sugar in a skillet over low heat and slowly melt without stirring. This step takes time, so be patient. When the sugar is melted, remove from heat and stir in the hot water. Be careful as it spatters quite a bit. Return the skillet to heat, turn up to medium high and cook for another few minutes until color darkens. Pour into a clean, sterile bottle.
Store in refrigerator and warm in water bath before using.
Sticky buns with black cardamom and burnt sugar syrup
8 buns, depending on how big you want them
5g instant yeast
5g fine sea salt
2 medium eggs
2½ Tbsp. whole milk
100g butter, at room temperature, cut int 1cm/½ inch cubes
75g salted butter
120g unrefined cane sugar
80g burnt sugar syrup
2 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. water
50g unrefined cane sugar
50g brown sugar
75g chopped, toasted pecans
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground black cardamom
Combine flour and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl.
Mix milk and eggs and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until it just comes together. Turn the speed up to medium and add 1/3 of the butter. When it is incorporated into the dough add another 1/3. When it is completely mixed in add the remaining butter.
Take the dough out of the bowl, gather into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with cling film and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
Transfer the dough to the fridge and leave overnight.
Next day, begin by preparing the goo. Melt the butter and sugar syrup in a small saucepan, stir in the sugar until dissolved and remove from heat. Whisk in milk and water and allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the dough from fridge and allow it to temper for 10-15 minutes, while you mix together the ingredients for the filling.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the brioche dough until it is about 30x40cm/12x16 inches and 0,5cm/ 1/4inch thick. Sprinkle the filling over the dough, then roll tightly like a jelly roll. Trim of a little at both ends to make the buns uniform.
Pour the goo into a 23x33cm /9x13inch cake tin.
With a serrated knife or sharp chef's knife cut 8 buns and place them in the cake tin on top of the goo. Cover lovely with clingfilm and proof for 2 hours in a warm spot, or until at least doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F and bake the buns in the center of the oven for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool for around half an hour so the buns soak up all the goo before removing them from the tin one at a time. Scoop over any leftover goo in the bottom of the pan and serve warm.
Because of the enriched dough, these beauties are at their best within a few hours of baking. If you can't eat 8 buns in one go, line a plate with clingfilm and place the unbaked, unproofed buns, you wish to freeze on the plate. When they are completely frozen, wrap them individually in clingfilm and return to the freezer. Thaw in the fridge overnight, then proceed with proofing and baking.
It's also possible to bake less buns at a time in a muffin tin. Spoon a tablespoon or two of the goo in the bottom of the muffin holes, place a bun in the hole and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until done.