Sweet Dough Series – No. 1 Paris Buns
I’ve had to take a break from baking recently. Everyone caught whatever lurgy was going around and whatever lurgy it was seemed to last for ages. Then there was Easter. I did attempt a batch of hot cross buns but, just like last time, they didn’t turn out very well. Most of them went to feed the birds.
Bearing this in mind, along with my previous disasters with sweetened and enriched dough (remember the iced fingers and the pain au raisin), I’ve decided to make a real effort to master the art of buns and pastries. For the next few weeks, I’m going to try some of the recipes from my dedicated bread book, Éric Kayser’s, The Larousse Book of Bread
Hopefully, it will give me some insight into what I’ve done wrong in the past and how to improve my sweet dough baking (as usual, my links to recipe books on Amazon are affiliate links, so if you click on it and then buy something, I will get some commission).
The Book of Bread contains a lot of technical details about the bread/dough making process from the best type of raising agent, to the ideal kneading and proofing times, and the optimal temperatures for the perfect loaf/bun/pastry. If I’m going to get the hang of sweet dough, then this should be a great place to start.
The first recipe in the Sweet Pastries and Breads section of the book is for Paris Buns. Apparently they’re not at all Parisian, but hail from Scotland or Ireland (according to Wikipedia that is). I can’t find the Larousse recipe online and, to be honest, although I did come across some Paris bun recipes, none of them seem remotely similar to the one I used.
Anyway, here’s how I managed to make a successful batch and what I learned in the process.
Step 1 – Making the Dough
I’d decided to make the dough in my KitchenAid. Even though I’m forever complaining about it, using it for dough is, in my mind, preferable to getting stuck in with my hands. I know that the experts and artisans out there will gasp in horror, but I really hate getting my hands covered in wet and sloppy dough. In know that, if you do enough kneading, the dough should come off easily but I just hate it.
One thing that the Book of Bread says (and which I’ve never bothered about before) is that something called “base temperature” is important if you want to produce good quality bread. To calculate the base temperature, you add the room temperature to the temperature of the flour and of the water. The total for white bread should be somewhere between 54 and 56°C. I got our electric thermometer out and started measuring.
With flour and room temperature giving me a total of 36°, to get into the magic 54-56 range, my liquid (in this case, milk) would need to be between 17 and 19°. It was too cold. I popped it into the microwave for half a minute. It was too hot. I waited for about ten minutes. Still a bit too hot. I was too impatient to wait any longer so I went with it.
I put plain flour, the milk, caster sugar, fast action yeast and salt into the KitchenAid (the recipe uses fresh yeast, but I’ve never been able to find any, and the only yeast we have in the house at the moment is fast action. When you use dry yeast you use half the amount of fresh yeast required by the recipe).
Following the recipe exactly, I used the dough hook to knead on low-speed for four minutes. The mixture looked really dry, but I was going to add some butter, so perhaps it was meant to be like this. After four minutes, I turned up the speed and gave it another four minutes. It was still very dry. I added some softened butter. It wasn’t working. My dough wasn’t really a dough, just a series of clumps.
I decided to put some more milk in. Oh my goodness. At this point, it started to look like cauliflower and it began to smell. I’d have to start again.
This time around I did things slightly differently. I gave the dry ingredients a quick mix before I added the milk (which was in the right temperature range this time). Since the dough still looked dry after I’d added the amount required by the recipe, I added some more. Éric Kayser does say that the amount of liquid in a recipe may need to be adjusted, it’s just that this information is in a note at the start of the book. If only I’d read the Ingredients section before starting out. Next time I’ll know.
This time, after four minutes with the KitchenAid on slow, I had a proper dough. I cranked up the speed and kneaded for another four minutes. It was a long four minutes. Usually, I would have stopped a long time before the time was up. I’m glad I didn’t. I had the smoothest, stretchiest dough I’ve ever had in all of my limited bread making experience.
I added softened butter and turned the KitchenAid on again. The recipe says that you should knead for four minutes after adding the butter, but it doesn’t say at what speed. I kept the speed up. My dough turned into cake mixture. I thought I was going to have to give up and there wasn’t enough flour in the house for a third attempt. Amazingly, after four minutes being pummelled in the KitchenAid it had turned back from cake mixture into dough.
I offered my thanks to the God of Baking.
Step 2 – Proofing and shaping
I tipped my dough onto a board, covered it with a damp tea towel and Ieft it for an hour. Then I divided it into seven pieces and left them for fifteen minutes. I made baton-shaped buns by flattening the pieces into ovals, folding the edges over and joining them underneath. My batons were a lot bigger and a lot less refined than those in the book, but they’d do.
I put them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, brushed them with egg and left them to proof.
Step 3 – Nib Sugar
This step wasn’t in the recipe. The Paris buns are decorated with nib or pearl sugar. Apparently you can get this from Waitrose. You can’t from Tesco, so I Googled about a bit to see if I could make my own.
The recipe at the top of Google’s list is from the blog While he Was Napping It seemed pretty straightforward, although, being an American recipe, I wasn’t 100% sure what type of sugar I should use. I tried caster sugar first and it didn’t work. The results with granulated sugar were much better. I simply put some sugar into a pan with a little of water, put it onto the lowest heat and stirred until the sugar clumped up. I knew I wasn’t going to end up with the dainty sugar nibs I may have found in Waitrose, but I certainly had something I could use.
Step 4 – Baking
My buns had more than the two-hour proofing time as set out in the recipe. The children had some friends over after school and I had to deal with the fall out from my completely unreasonable decision of not allowing a three-year old to be supervised by two six-year olds in a garden with a pond. The grown-ups weren’t coming out to look after anyone. They were drinking cups of tea and having a chat.
When the fury had subsided, I came back to the buns, brushed them with egg again, and made some snips in the dough with scissors. I also sprinkled my sugar over the top. I poured a cup of water onto a baking sheet that had heated up in the oven, put the buns in and baked them for 15 minutes at 180° fan.
Here are the finished buns.
Was it worth it?
Definitely. I had, at last, made sweet buns that looked and tasted like buns. They may not have been as dainty as the picture in the Book of Bread, they were much bigger for a start and my nib sugar was a bit rough and ready compared with the snow-white Waitrose sugar nibs. They were good though. The children loved them and so did we.
I also feel that I’ve learned a bit more about the sweet dough process. I was more careful about temperature than I’ve been before, I now know that it’s OK to add more liquid than the recipe says, and that I probably need to knead for much longer than I thought before the dough reaches the correct consistency. I’ll be trying something sweet again next week. Hopefully the Paris buns haven’t been a one-off success.