I always jot down recipe ideas as they pop into my head, and the concept of a milk & honey loaf has been kicking around in my notebooks for almost two years now. Two years! I had a very specific idea of what it would taste like, how it would look, what kind of texture etc. Basically, aiming for extremely soft, sort of cloud-like and slightly sweeter than the average white bread. I kept playing around with different versions but was never happy with it.. until I suddenly realized what I had been doing wrong all this time.
In my mind, the milk & honey bread had always been a tall, beautiful, domed loaf of bread. But making the bread that soft and sweet meant that the top got reaaallly dark during baking (extra sugar content makes bread brown faster) and the bread had a tendency to squish when being sliced. Fail.
I can't believe that it took me this long to realize that buns were the answer all along. Tall, beautiful bread babies all golden on the outside and soft white clouds on the inside. It seems so obvious now.
The dough is made with whole milk for extra richness, and honey for sweetness, hence being called milk & honey buns. There's also butter and eggs thrown in for good measure (and flour, salt, yeast ..the usual crowd).
I never had to add the entire fourth cup during kneading: there was usually anywhere from 1 - 2 TBSP of flour leftover. You want the dough to be very soft, and tacky (which means it sticks to your hand or the bowl, but then peels away without coming apart) but not sticky or batter-like.
Then it's bun-time-fun-time and the dough is divided into 14 equally sized pieces. I cut the dough in half, then divide each half into seven pieces. Sometimes I'll weigh each piece to get them exactly the same size/satisfy my desire for consistency, but I've also just eyeballed them before with excellent results.
I'm excited that I finally get to check these off of my to-bake list and move onto some other recipe that's been sitting there for far too long. I think I hear maple-cornmeal cookies calling my name...
Milk & Honey Buns
makes 14 buns
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg yolk
1 TBSP instant yeast
4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 tsp table salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup flour for kneading
1. In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together the honey, warm water, milk, eggs, and egg yolk. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for minute to soften before whisking it in.
2. Add the 4 1/2 cups of flour and the salt and stir until a sticky dough forms. Divide the butter into pieces, and press into the batter. Sprinkle a TBSP of the remaining 1/4 cup of flour and knead with a dough hook until the batter comes together to form a dough. If the dough is still sticking, knead in flour from the 1/4 cup a single TBSP at a time. Let each addition of flour knead in completely for at least a minute or two before checking if you need to add more. I usually have a tablespoon or two left in my 1/4 cup.
3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough inside it and flip it over a few times to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm spot for 1 hr. A good place is inside your oven with the oven light on (and the oven itself turned off). The dough won't double, but it will grow by about 1/2.
4. Grease two 9inch inch round pans. Divide the dough into 14 equally sized pieces and form the buns by pulling into a boule shape and pinching it at the bottom. Place 7 buns in each pan with six in a circle and one in the middle. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until the buns are just starting to touch (approximately 35 -40 min)
5. Bake at 350 for 20-27 minutes until the tops are golden brown and the seams where the buns touch have puffed up. Turn the buns out onto a wire cooling rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag to keep fresh.