I have apples on my mind. Of course it’s Fall and apples are solidly “in season”. I have another reason to be focused on apples though. You see, last week, I joined some other Canadian food bloggers and writers on a trip to the Wenatchee area of Washington state, where we toured an organic apple orchard and packing plant. I’ve posted a few pictures on the Seasons & Suppers Facebook page, if you’re interested.
Recipe for buns shaped like apples, filled with a delicious, homemade apple jam filling.
So why am I going to Washington state when apples grow right here in Ontario? Well, as much as I would love to have a wide variety of locally-grown apples available to me year-round, this just isn’t possible. We need to import apples to meet demand, particularly organic apples, and a lot of these apples happen to come from orchards in Washington state.
I won’t throw a lot of facts and figures at you. I’ll just tell you this. When I listened to the patriarch of Stemilt Orchards talk about his orchards and his apples (and his “world famous” compost), it was easy to see his passion for growing the best possible fruit in an environmentally friendly way. I heard the same sort of passion from the Organic Trade Association and the Northwest’s Pear and Cherry fruit growers. So if I can’t always find a locally grown apple, I’m happy to know that the apples that are in my store from further afield are grown with such a commitment to quality. I also appreciate the work they’ve done (and are still doing) to make organic fruit readily available for consumers here, and making it more economical than ever before.
I’d like to thank the Organic Trade Association, Pear Bureau Northwest/USA Pears, the Washington State Apple Commission and the Washington Fruit Commission/NW Cherry Growers for the opportunity to visit and learn about Pacific Northwest fruit and organic fruit.
As part of our trip, we were treated to a great fruit preserving demonstration from Brook Hurst Stephens of the website Learn to Preserve.
In our 3-hour class, one of the recipes we made was an Apple Pie preserve. You can find the recipe for Apple Pie Preserves here on Brook’s site. It’s great for pancakes, waffles, ice cream … or these buns. (But don’t worry. I’ve also included a quick, “make-you-own” apple filling, if you’re not into making preserves).
Now about these buns. First, they are the cutest darned buns. (Admittedly, they look a lot more apple-like in the muffin tins than out of them, so I’m storing them in the tins, to enjoy their cuteness until I eat them). Secondly, the dough is made with a really interesting water-roux technique, that was popularized in China and is reputed to produce soft, fluffy bread that stays fresh longer (I’ve been wanting to try this for a while). Finally, they are deeeeelicious.
The bread is indeed soft and fluffy, as promised. I’ll have to report back on how long they stay fresh. (Update, they stayed nice and fresh into the 3rd day. I froze a few as well, thawed them and they were still nice). These buns are best enjoyed a little warm. About 10 seconds in the microwave will do the trick to re-heat them. If you like, you could also dust them with a little powdered sugar before serving. If you’re the adventurous type, I might suggest that a bit of aged cheddar inside would be a fabulous variation. (I’ll be trying that next, myself!)
- For the Dough:
- 375 g (3 cups) bread flour
- 100 g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
- 35 g milk powder (3 1/2 Tbsp.)
- 75 g (5 Tbsp.) white sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 150 ml (2/3 cup) lukewarm water, adjust as necessary
- 40 g (3 Tbsp.) butter, cubed
- 1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash before baking
- Cinnamon sticks (3-4, depending on length)
- For the water roux:
- 25 g (just under 2 Tbsp.) bread flour
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) water
- For the apple filling:
- 3 cups diced apples (your favourite cooking apple - I used Spartan, but Spy or Idared are other good choices), peeled and diced into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- For the dough: Start by making the water roux. In a small saucepan, add the scant 2 Tbsp. of flour and 1/2 cup of water. Stir to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously until it reaches 65° C (150° F). It should have thickened to a paste at this stage, so that when you stir you can see the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, place a piece of plastic wrap over the paste and allow it to cool at room temperature until lukewarm before adding to dough. (If you don’t have a thermometer, cook the mixture until it starts to thicken, then continue to cook for about 1 more minute before removing from heat.)
- While the roux is cooling, combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, milk powder, white sugar and yeast into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the lightly beaten egg and lukewarm water roux and mix in. Gradually add just enough of the 150 ml. (2/3 cup) of lukewarm water to form into a slightly sticky, soft dough. (Mine took all 150ml) Knead for 10 minutes by hand or about 5 with the mixer until smooth and elastic, but slightly sticky. If hand kneading, the dough is a bit sticky, so it needs to be thrown onto the working surface once every few minutes between kneading to improve the dough structure. In the mixer, allow the dough to knead a few minutes before adding any additional water or flour. My dough seemed really sticky but after a few minutes of kneading in the mixer, it came together nicely.
- Knead in the butter into the dough until incorporated. (In my mixer, the butter cubes had a habit of riding up the side of the bowl. I just stopped the mixer every so often and moved them down onto the dough). Once all the butter has been incorporated, remove the dough from the bowl and form into a round ball. Place into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
- While the dough is rising, now is the time to make your apple filling (if you don't have apple preserves on hand).
- For the apple filling: Peel and dice your apples and place into a saucepan or microwavable bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. If using the microwave, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and stir. Test taste a piece of apple. You'll want the apples to be cooked as they won't cook much more in the buns. If they're still hard, microwave for another 1 1/2 minutes and test again. Repeat as needed until the apples are tender. The timing here is a little loose, since different apples will take different amounts of time to soften. Once your apples are tender, leave them in the bowl covered with plastic wrap to cool at room temperature while the bread rises.
- Prepare your cinnamon sticks for the "stems" by cutting each stick in half lengthwise (Do be careful here. I just laid the knife along the cavity in the middle and gave the top of the knife a rap. Do be sure to keep your fingers out the way! Once halved, break the pieces into 1 1/2-inch lengths, until you have 16 pieces. Set aside.
- For forming the buns: Once your dough has doubled, remove the it to a lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly and form into a ball shape. Divide the dough ball into 16 roughly equal portions. The easiest way is to first divide equally into 4 larger portions first, then divide each of these again into quarters each. Form each piece into balls and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Grease 16 regular-sized muffin cups and pre-heat oven to 375° F. (190° C).
- With a rolling pin, roll one of your dough balls into a a flat circle, about 6-inches in diameter. Place one heaping Tbsp. of the apple filling into the center of the circle. Gather the outside edges of the circle, using a lift, pleat, pinch together motion, until you've formed a sealed pouch. Be sure the dough is pinched together well to avoid filling leakage. By gently patting the edges, you can re-form your pouch into a circle if it has become a bit oval. Place your filled bun SEAM SIDE DOWN into a prepared muffin cup. Repeat until you've completed all your buns.
- Spray or grease some plastic wrap and place it over the buns (sprayed side towards the buns) and allow to rise until doubled again (mine took about 40 minutes).
- Once doubled, brush each bun with the egg wash. Stick a piece of a prepared cinnamon stick on top of each bun. (I wasn't sure if they should pierce the dough or not. Most of mine seemed to just bend the dough and not pierce it, although a few did pierce. In the end, it didn't seem to matter in the finished product).
- Bake: Bake in the pre-heated 375° F. oven for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans 180° about halfway through cooking, for even browning. Buns should be evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for about 10 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to cool. (Once cooled, they can be place back into the muffin cups for storage, if you like). Serve warmed (10 seconds in microwave to re-heat) or at room temperature. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, if you like.
- These are best on the day they are baked, but will keep well for several days stored covered at room temperature. These also freeze well.
- Variation: Add a bit of shredded aged cheddar on top of the apple filling when forming the buns.
These buns were inspired by this post from Cornercafe and the dough recipe was adapted from that post. The apple filling is my own creation.