There are few better ways to combat a workweek morning than with a cup of strong coffee and a homemade sweet bun – plain, or in this case, speckled with brightly hued cranberries and semisweet chocolate. That’s my feeling and I’m sticking to it – though I freely admit that monkey bread and almond orange flower teacake have given sweet buns a run for their money in my home, from time to time.
But today was a day for chocolate-cranberry sweet buns.
What I love most about this recipe – aside from its gorgeous presentation – is its sophisticated paring of tartness and subtle sweetness. It makes me think of my parents, who always enjoy something sweet (but not too sweet) in the mornings, and if I lived closer to them I imagine they would request this bread often. It is heaven fresh out of the oven, cooled until warm – though it’s hard to wait that long to pull one of the fluffy, sweet buns from its wreath of companions.
If I were hosting a Thanksgiving dinner this year I’d serve these sweet buns – perhaps as an accompaniment to post-dinner schmoozing over coffee. Then I’d place cards on the dessert table with random facts about cranberries and other foods, and let conversations go where they may. For instance: how cranberries got their name from early Dutch and German settlers in America who called it the “crane berry”, supposedly because its flowers reminded them of this bird. Or how Native American medicine men used cranberry poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds, while women used its juice to add the color red to their rugs and blankets. Or, maybe I’d mention how, like the English with their limes, American clipper ships carried stores of cranberries in barrels of cold water so that the vitamin C in the fruit would prevent scurvy among the sailors. And then there’s the fact that cranberries contributed to war efforts during World War II – American troops consumed an estimated one million pounds of them because of their health benefits.
That’s it for tonight – I can’t believe it’s already November and that the presidential election takes place tomorrow (today, if you’re reading this on Tuesday)! It will be a challenge to peel my eyes away from the continuous flood of news channel result predictions, but one thing I know for certain: we’ll be staying up late with a pot of tea and a steady supply of chocolate-cranberry sweet buns to keep us company. Don’t forget to take advantage of the free coffee (Starbucks), donuts (Krispy Kreme) and ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s) that’s being offered to voters tomorrow!
Chocolate-Cranberry Sweet Buns
Reprinted with permission from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. This book is a treasury of recipes and stories – after checking it out of the library a gazillion times I finally caved and bought my own copy.
Note: These are called “Cranberry-Chocolate Sweet Buns” in the book, but I couldn’t resist highlighting the chocolate in the title! I added a dash of cinnamon to the recipe as well.
- Ingredients: Makes 2 loaves of 8 soft rolls
- 2 cups milk, heated until lukewarm
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- About 5 cups all-purpose flour (I used about 5 1/2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces, plus a little butter for shaping the buns
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips, chilled
- 1/2 cup frozen cranberries or well-chilled fresh cranberries (I used dried cranberries, plumped for 5 minutes in 1 cup of hot water with a dash of sugar, then drained and cooled)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water, for egg wash
- About 3 tablespoons granulated or pearl sugar
For egg wash/topping:
Place the milk in a medium bowl and stir in the yeast. Let stand for several minutes, then stir in 1 cup of the flour. Add the butter, sugar, cinnamon, egg and salt and stir to incorporate. Add 2 more cups flour and stir, always in the same direction, until smooth. Add the cold chocolate chips and cranberries, together with 1/2 cup more flour, and stir to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead gently, folding the dough over on itself without pushing down too hard (you don’t want to break open the cranberries) and incorporating flour as needed until the dough is only slightly sticky, about 4 minutes. (Note: If the dough isn’t formed enough to turn out, add another 1/2 cup flour first.)
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half, then cut each half into 8 pieces, and lightly cover them. Lightly butter two 9-by-5 inch bread pans or two 8-inch round cake pans.
Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease your palm with a little butter, then roll one piece of dough lightly under your hand to shape it into a rough ball. (Note: If the surface of the ball is wrinkled, lightly butter your other hand then use the edges of both hands to gently pull and stretch the top of the ball, tucking the dough under, then roll it a bit more in both hands.) Place the ball in one of the pans. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, placing 8 balls in a circle, starting from the outside edge and working in, in each cake pan. (Note: I used 8 balls in one pan, and 7 in another.) Cover with cloth or plastic and let rise for 30 minutes.
Just before baking, brush each loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the sugar over them and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (the timing will vary with the shape of the pans; they usually bake more quickly in cake pans), until puffed and golden brown. Immediately remove from the pans; let cool on a rack. These are best after they’ve cooled almost to room temperature. Tear off rolls, or slice like a loaf if you prefer.