Baking challenge: honey-walnut rolls

This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week seven (sweet dough week) of series three: 24 yeasted buns.

honey walnut breakfast bun

As the aim of this challenge was to bake twenty-four sweet rolls or buns – a not insubstantial number – I wanted to make something as suitable for breakfast as for an afternoon snack, which, in my book, means relatively light on refined sugar. My breakfasts are usually yoghurt, homemade granola and fruit, or homemade wholegrain sourdough, or very occasionally a spinach smoothie. Cornflakes just leave me hyperactive, then hungry. For this reason, I turned for inspiration to Joanne Chang’s ‘Baking with Less Sugar’. It’s an interesting book; Chang is not driven by worthiness, but instead adopts a scientific approach to low-sugar baking. This means appreciating the scientific and chemical qualities of sugar and what taking it out does to cakes, cookies and breads. In addition to the obvious addition of sweetness, sugar’s hygroscopic quality mean it keeps baked goods moist. I knew about this, but what I didn’t realise was that sugar also has gluten-inhibiting properties, contributing to the tenderness of the final product.

To make these buns, I adapted Chang’s recipe for Honey cashew morning buns. It might seem obvious to say that buns made from a cookbook called ‘Baking with Less Sugar’ are not very sweet, but here we go: they’re not very sweet, and the dough, based on oil rather than butter, is not very rich. The muted sweetness and richness of these means that they really, truly, are at their absolute best on the first day, warm and sticky from the oven. They stale more rapidly than extremely sugary buns and become quite dense. If you are eating them over a few days, a blast in the oven or microwave (and perhaps a sprinkle of water beforehand) will revive them.

Honey walnut buns

This is a good recipe to showcase a bold, flavourful honey; I used a piney, resinous Spanish honey. I replaced Chang’s cashews with toasted walnuts because I like their bitter notes, which complemented the smokiness of the honey. If you want a more buttery, naturally sweeter flavour, pecans would work well. I swapped out some of the cinnamon Chang calls for with cardamom and adapted the honey ‘goo’ (as she calls it) that the buns are soaked in, as the original recipe is extremely thin and boils over in the pan too much. Bake these buns in your largest roasting tin: I had to stack them almost upright, making for an interesting (but not Bake-Off-worthy) pull-apart effect, but having them as flat as possible for proving and baking would be best.

Recipe below the jump, as ever.

Honey-walnut buns
Adapted from ‘Baking with Less Sugar’‘Baking with Less Sugar’ by Joanne Chang (original recipe here, though at the time of writing you can’t access Food52 in Europe because of GDPR).

Note: Chang’s original instructions are for making the dough in a stand mixer, but I did it by hand.

For the dough

  • 480ml cool water
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 700g plain flour, plus more for sprinkling if needed
  • 2.5 tsp flaky salt
  • 100g (120ml) mild olive oil, plus a bit extra for greasing
  1. Lightly oil a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, combine the flour, water, yeast and salt and mix together to combine. Pour in the olive oil and mix together.
  3. On a work surface (lightly floured if necessary), knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is smooth, supple and elastic (I always knead bread dough until it windowpanes, which can take even longer than 15 minutes sometimes). It will still feel slightly sticky. It it feels very stiff and dry, add a few tablespoons of water, one at a time, mixing in each time before adding more. If the dough feels very loose, incorporate a tablespoon or so of additional flour, mixing in each time before adding more as above.
  4. Transfer the dough to an oil bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm, a damp tea towel, or one of these. Let the dough rise in a draught-free place for two to three hours – if it’s cold it may need more – until about doubled in bulk.

For the honey goo

  • 230g unsalted butter
  • 340g honey
  • 240ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp flaky salt
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the honey, cream and salt. Remove the pan from the heat. Let cool for at least half an hour before using (you can make this well in advance if liked, but if you refrigerate it, make sure it comes to room temperature before using)

For the bun filling

  1. Heat the oven to 180C. Spread the walnuts evenly over a large baking tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until a light golden colour. I wouldn’t let them go too dark, because walnuts can easily taste very bitter if deeply toasted, and there’s no refined sugar to counterbalance those notes. Let the walnut pieces cool.
  2. Mix together the soft butter, cooled walnut pieces, and spices until thoroughly combined. Keep at room temperature.

To assemble

  1. Once fully proved, punch down the dough gently to deflate it on your work surface. Roll the dough out to a 60cm square on your work surface – or two 30cm squares if your workspace is not large enough to do this. Make sure your square is evenly thick throughout. It may spring back a bit but keep rolling gently until it roughly holds its shape.
  2. Spread the walnut-butter mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough square.
  3. Starting at the top and working down, roll the dough loosely like a Swiss roll until the entire dough sheet is rolled up. Cut vertically down the middle of the roll so that you have two shorter rolls of equal size.
  4. Using a sharp knife or metal pastry scraper, trim the ends of each dough roll to even out the ends. Cut each roll into 12 equal pieces.
  5. Pour the honey goo into your largest roasting tray or evenly over two roasting trays if your oven can take them. Place the buns into the tray(s), spacing them evenly. Cover the roasting tray(s) (with clingfilm, other plastic wrap or a damp tea towel) and let rise for one or two hours, or longer is necessary, until the dough is puffy and soft and the buns are touching.
  6. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to bake (or however long it takes your oven to heat up), heat the oven to 200C.
  7. Once ready to bake, place a flat baking sheet in the oven to catch any spills (very important – this burns and smokes something fierce. Ask me how I know). Bake the buns for 40-50 minutes, until browned. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tray on a wire rack for about half an hour.
  8. Use a spatula to lift the buns out of the tray (or do what I did and invert the whole tray at once – it’s risky, though) and serve warm.

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