Sunday, March 8, 2015

Caramel Buns

When I invited my friend Erika to help me make caramel buns, she was very excited.  It seems she had a dream that I never knew about, which was to become an expert in making sticky buns, so that people would talk about Erika's Fabulous Caramel Rolls.  That was before she found out how much work was involved.

When Erika arrived around 9:00 a.m., the dough was ready to start rolling out after resting in t he refrigerator all night.  She said, "Oh, you've already made the dough!  Won't I ever get a chance to make bread?"  I asked her if she wanted to plan a sleepover, but she changed the subject.

She volunteered to roll out the dough.

"This dough is awfully sticky," she complained.  "How can you 'lightly flour the counter' when it still sticks?" she asked rhetorically.  "Was it hard to make?"  "No," I said.  "Yes," Jim said.  I looked at him.  "Well," he said, "It's true.  You were up all night with that dough."  "Only if you consider 10:30 all night."  "Stop squabbling, you two," said Referee Erika.

Erika was distressed that her rectangle was only vaguely rectangular.  "Don't worry," I assured her, "No one will ever know."  (Unless they look at this picture.  Hee hee.)

Erika was very impressed with my large selection of sugars, none of which was light brown Muscovado.  I had dark Muscovado, light Demerara, golden caster, superfine, and regular light brown and dark brown sugars.  The dark brown was pretty solid, but I softened it up in the microwave and it was fine.  Erika was also impressed that I knew a remedy for softening brown sugar; she said she always just throws hers away.  I'm happy when Erika is impressed, because, although in theory she's learning from me, she usually tells me that I'm not reading the directions clearly or points out some shortcoming.  To be fair, she doesn't have to search that hard for a shortcoming.

I used currants instead of raisins because my selection of dried grapes was limited to golden raisins and currants.  I'm so glad I chose the currants.  They were fabulous once they were plumped in rum, and they're so small that there was a rum-raisin flavor in every bite, whereas raisins would be more dominant in bites they were in.  Erika said the rummy currants reminded her of Haroset.

After we got the dough rectangle filled and rolled up, it was easy to shape in in more or less the correct size.

I appreciated the advice about the dental wax, but everything I could find in my medicine cabinet was mint-flavored.  The serrated bread knife worked fine.

Here is one pan of rolls after they rose in my proofing box.  I obviously didn't have a Ball jar.  (But at least I know what it is, in part because I grew up in Indiana, home of Ball State University, or Ball State, which was a "normal school" purchased by the Ball Brothers after Indiana Normal went out of business.  We thought it was hysterical to say Ball State.  I wonder if they tied up the diplomas and put them in a Ball jar.  If they didn't, they should start doing it right now.)  The only problem with the little ramekins is that they were hard to remove.  Erika suggested using thongs.  "I mean tongs," she said.  Of course, we also thought that was very funny.  Ball State and thongs--that is the unfortunate level of my humor some days.

After we brushed the glaze over the rolls, Erika was finally able to start making the caramel sauce, which she had been wanting to do all day.  At one point, she said, "Why don't I make the caramel sauce ahead of time?"  I yelled, "NO!"  I truly didn't mean to yell, and I quickly said, "I mean I think we should wait until we're ready for it."  She asked Jim how he could stand to live with me.  He said, "Well, I try not to cross her."  I'm right here in the kitchen, people, simply trying to turn out some nice caramel rolls.

When I saw how dark the caramel suddenly turned, I realized I didn't even have time to take its temperature.  I turned it off and yelled, "Cream!"  Erika poured the hot cream in, I stirred, and Jim tried to get a picture of the "furious boil" stage.

And now I'd yelled at Erika a second time.  I never yell at her in real life.  So when she asked to taste the caramel, I didn't tell her to wait until it was on the roll.  I said, "Absolutely."

Erika is placing the four pecan halves on the buns after I'd covered them with a little caramel.  "You know," she said, "decorators hate even numbers.  They always have odd numbers.  I think we should either have 3 or 5 pecan halves on each roll."  I told her 3 wasn't enough and I hadn't toasted enough for 5.  But I didn't yell.

At last!  We all had one and all loved them.  The roll itself was soft and tender, and imbued with the tastes of brown sugar, rum raisins, and chopped nuts:  lots of flavor, lots of texture.  The caramel was first-rate--dark, but not burned, soft and sticky, not gummy or too hard to chew.  I asked for Erika's verdict.  "They're really, really good, but I don't think I'd ever spend this much time making a dozens buns when I could buy some really good ones at a bakery.  And you can buy perfectly good caramel sauce at Whole Foods.  I guess I don't quite get why it's worth it."

That's not a question that has a rational answer.  Why is it worth it to knit a sweater when you can buy a beautiful sweater?  To me, that's answered easily with "it's not," because I don't like knitting.  But I like baking.  I like the smells, the touch, the transformations, and the precision.  I get into a zen-like state that's calming and comforting.  Even when things go wrong, I don't get completely out of that state.  And there are days when I'd rather just go to a bakery and pick up something wonderful. But I'm so glad that I now have a recipe for perfect caramel rolls that I can make at a moment's notice (actually, with a day's notice if you insist on getting picky.)


  1. Oh what a great post Marie! You are having way too much fun baking with Jim and Erica. I envy your ability to get into a zen state. I love baking but it's not zen (often it's stressful - there are a lot of things to remember, photos to take, and dishes to wash!). I messed up my caramel and ended up making toffee instead. Now knitting, that is zen most of the time for me :).

  2. LOL.. Ball State.. best line yet. I did not even think of using my ramekins! I went the rectangular pan route because I only had one ball jar! And I agree with you about the cooking/baking, for me it helps me relax - even when i'm cursing up a storm because things are not going my way.

  3. Lol Marie! I love your humor. Isn't it great to have friends like Erika? I've yelled a time or two when baking with friends and appreciate that they keep coming around anyway. I too find my zen in baking. It's a total stress reliever!

  4. LOL! Marie, you made me laugh so hard! You are so funny! That's why I don't like baking with others except myself.. I also tend to yell at others when they don't do according to instructions..LOL! I agree with you, I had a hard time taking off the ramekins off too, in the end, i had to lift the foil and ramekin out onto the rack to remove it.

  5. I agree that you sound like you are having a lot of fun baking with Erika! Yelling happens a bit in my kitchen, too. Less now than when I started baking, but that's mostly because now I don't worry so much about being perfect. I do chastise Mark when he uses the liquid measuring cup to measure dry ingredients. I mean, that's crazy behavior. I love the creative and alchemical process of baking; I still marvel at what can be done with simple things like flour, butter, eggs, and sugar.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I did ate the raisin and had the same thought that it does reminded me Haroset:-) ...and as far for the baking-that my yoga!

  8. Hi Marie: I completely agree with you about it being "worth it" to bake from scratch. Why is it worth it to play music when you can buy a CD or to draw when you just go to a museum? And most of the time--I can't find anything as good as homemade even at a bakery anyway, although I do live in a small city. Love your blog post!

  9. You're really quite funny - lawyer by day, comic baker by night. I love your theory on using currants instead of raisins. I'm making a note of it.

    Patricia @ ButterYum

  10. ב''ה

    Rum charoset. Sounds good and chametz. :)

    I'm glad your zen-state includes yelling.

    Me? I bake for the virtual friends. :)

    1. My non-zen-state includes louder and more frequent yelling.

  11. Marie..What a delightful blog....I felt as if I was reading an excellent, interpersonal and jovial screen play...very well done.

    Your Carmel Buns look wonderful and your critique on the reason why we bake is nothing less than inspiring, Thank you for that.

    Tony Bridges;