And I realize that yes, in fact, I am messy enough to embrace the drippy, crumbly, finger-licking-good baking philosophy espoused in Charmian’s new cookbook, The Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchen. We all are.
Charmian knows from messy. Her Kitchen Disasters and Fixes App has already talked many a cook and baker out of a sticky (or salty, or burnt) situation. And likewise, The Messy Baker imparts the same go-with-it wisdom that makes people excited to get into the kitchen and create. Perfect may be the enemy of the good, but these recipes are great.
Instead of specific prep times, Charmian offers up a Commitment Level of how much of your day you’ll need to devote to baking each recipe—it’ll either be Ready in an Hour or Less, Done in Stages, or wait for a Lazy Sunday Afternoon. Her patient instructions are positive reinforcement for nervous bakers suffering from second-guessing syndrome. “This is normal. You didn’t do anything wrong,” she soothes those wondering why their peppery pear and smoked Gouda dutch baby doesn’t rise very high. (There’s a lot of cheese weighing this recipe down, which makes it no less tasty for its low-rise look.)
Dutch babies, crêpes, samosa pockets: baking takes many forms in this cookbook, lending confidence to those who think they have no talent for pies and cakes. Slice-and-bake savory pecan and cheddar bites are no more difficult to make than a round of shortbread or sugar cookies, and really do taste for all the world like a nutty cheese ball in biscuit form. Chili cheese twists are waiting in the wings for those who’ve mastered the pecan and cheddar bites and want to add another spicy and savory appetizer to their repertoire.
Other recipes sweeten the deal by barely requiring baking at all: a gingersnap cookie crust needs only 10 minutes in the oven while you whisk up a cool lime-flecked mascarpone filling. (OK, if you decide to top this ginger-crusted strawberry mascarpone tart with Charmian’s roasted balsamic strawberries instead of fresh ones you’ll need 15 more minutes of oven time. Worthwhile oven time.)
When you’re ready to graduate to the Messy Baker Big Leagues, it’s time to roll up to Charmian’s burnt caramel and sea salt sticky buns (recipe follows). “Messy” in this sense refers to the layer of caramel sauce hidden under these soft, doughy cinnamon rolls as they bake: flip or scoop the finished buns from the baking pan to discover their intensely caramelized tarte tatin-like underside. You’ll be scraping the pan clean to get every drop of deep, rich caramel.
With a broad range of sweet and savory recipes, The Messy Baker is a gorgeous yet accessible cookbook that manages to inspire both beginning bakers and old pros looking for a new challenge. Grab lots of napkins before you begin—Charmian may turn all of us into Messy Bakers yet.
Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt Sticky Buns
From The Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchen by Charmian Christie
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
(or, as the book says, Commitment Level: Lazy Sunday Afternoon)
Makes about 12 buns
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/3 cup (2 1/3 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons; 2 oz.) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 cups (17 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons; 2 oz.) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Cinnamon Sugar Filling
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons; 2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/2 cups (11 1/4 oz.) packed Demerara or dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Make the dough:
If using active dry yeast, whisk the yeast into 1/2 cup warm water (about 100˚F) along with 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until foamy. If using instant yeast, skip this step and wait to add the yeast to the flour (see below).
Whisk the sugar, butter, sour cream, milk, and salt together in a small saucepan over low heat. Only cook until the butter has melted and the liquid is smooth–you don’t want to heat the liquid too much but keep it just slightly warmer than room temperature. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg and vanilla.
Measure the flour and instant yeast (if using) into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the active dry yeast (if using) and the melted butter mixture, and stir by hand or with the stand mixer paddle attachment on low speed until the ingredients come together evenly.
If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment once the flour and liquid are fully combined and knead on low speed for another few minutes. The dough is ready when it pulls away from the side of the bowl and begins to climb up the dough hook. Transfer the dough from the stand mixer to a lightly floured work surface and knead for about a minute more, until smooth and elastic.
If mixing by hand, when it becomes too stiff to stir, turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if the dough is sticky.
Transfer the kneaded dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until doubled in size. When the dough has almost doubled, make the caramel sauce.
Make the caramel sauce:
In a high-sided, heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan, stir the granulated sugar and water over medium-high heat until dissolved. When the liquid comes to a simmer, stop stirring and continue to cook, brushing down the sides with a pastry brush dipped in water as needed to remove any hardened sugar crystals that might start climbing the sides of the pan.
Boil the sugar for 6 to 10 minutes, or until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful to keep an eye on this, as it can burn quickly. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the butter—take care, as the scalding sugar may bubble up. When the butter has been incorporated, stir in the cream, again watching as the caramel will bubble and steam violently. Set aside.
Assemble and bake:
Transfer the risen dough to a floured surface and roll into a rough 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the dough and brush all the way to the edges with a pastry brush (you may not need all the butter).
Whisk the Demerara or brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Generously cover the buttered surface with the cinnamon sugar, going all the way to the edges with the filling. Sprinkle evenly with the walnuts (if using).
Work with the long side of the dough to roll it into a spiral, tucking and smoothing slowly with your hands. Press firmly to secure the roll. Cut the dough into about 12 pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches thick. Trim and discard any unfilled ends.
Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and pour the caramel sauce into the dish. Arrange the buns evenly in the —they don’t have to and in fact shouldn’t squish up against one another tightly, since they’ll expand to fit. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
While the buns rise, preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
To invert the buns for a spectacular presentation, run a knife around the edges of the baking pan to loosen the buns and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. While wearing oven mitts, place the rimmed baking sheet on top of the buns and turn the baking pan upside down to drop them onto the baking sheet. Scrape the caramel from the baking dish over the buns.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Allow to cool slightly before eating.
Note: Sticky buns are best eaten warm but can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days or wrapped and frozen for 1 month. Reheat before eating.