One early summer morning I woke up in St Petersburg, Russia. We were staying with my mums good friend Natasha and her husband. It was the middle of summer and the season for white nights…that meant it never got dark outside. I couldn’t believe it or imagine it until I experienced it myself. It was my second time visiting St Petersburg and even though it was the middle of summer it was actually quite cold! Natasha, a self taught talented home baker originally met my mum in Belarus..they lived a few streets away from each other and they grew up together. I love looking through their old photos together, with fire in their eyes, bottles of empty soviet champagne in the background and the two of them all dressed up for an apartment party, looking fabulous. Natasha, being the baker she is, was so excited to have us stay with her and spend time together. That first morning, I woke up early and the kitchen smelt like freshly cooked buns that she made. Buns in Russian are called ‘bulki’…i’m sure the neighbours could also smell this smell. There is something in the depth of the warm smell of fresh homemade buns that connects with us, it’s a feeling that gets to me all the time – it leaves me feeling nourished and energised. I dream of going back to St Petersburg now to document and learn from Natasha. In the time being, I’ve learnt a few things about baking buns so far…they need a warm surrounding and the complete focus and concentration of the baker.
This recipe that i’m sharing today uses the dough recipe that my my great grandmother would make – with a few adjustment as like many of her recipes – we have to do a bit of guesswork on some of the ingredient quantities. I’ve really needed to do some baking recently, I feel like it totally transforms the energy and smell of the house. Even our neighbours could smell the cinnamon buns cooking away. I topped the buns with a cheats custard recipe which is quick and less fuss than making creme anglaise custard from scratch (not that there’s anything bad about taking some time to make a proper custard).
I hope you like this one and let me know if you make it!
Recipe for Cinnamon and walnut buns with a quick custard
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Makes approximately 16 cinnamon buns
1 cup milk
3 tbsp sugar
14g dry yeast
250g butter (diced)
5 cups of flour + a bit extra for the surface when kneading
200g butter (diced)
1/2 cup sugar
tiny pinch of salt
walnuts (finely crushed)
1 egg (roughly mixed for the egg wash)
1 and 1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp cornflour
1/4 cup sugar
- For the dough, begin by activating the yeast. Place the milk and 2 tablespoons of the sugar into a small pot. Warm the milk sugar mixture until it’s lukewarm then take it off the heat and add in the yeast, mix roughly together and set aside for 10 minutes until frothy. See cooking note below!
- In a separate small pot on a medium-high heat, place the butter for the dough to melt, stirring occasionally so that the butter melts through evenly. Once melted remove from the heat. In a separate small bowl, whisk the 3 eggs together. Once the melted butter has cooled down slightly and is lukewarm, add in the whisked eggs.
- Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the 1 tbsp of sugar, the egg and butter mixture and the activated yeast milk mixture. Use a spatula to fold and combine the ingredients together until a rough dough ball has formed. Transfer this dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes to make sure the dough is evenly combined with a smooth surface. Preheat the oven to 40 degrees.
- Transfer the dough into a large mixing bowl and into an oven safe large pot and cover with a lid. Place into the 40 degree heated oven and leave it for 30-40 minutes or until the dough has expanded and risen (check in on it once or twice to see how it’s rising but don’t move it around too much).
- While the dough is rising, make the cinnamon filling. Place the butter, sugar and cinnamon into a small pot and on a medium-high heat melt the butter and mix it through with the cinnamon and sugar so that the mixture comes together. Add a pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Once the dough has risen, lightly flour your kitchen bench and transfer the dough directly onto it. Knead it together slightly again and some of the flour from the surface until it’s a round smooth dough ball.
- Lightly flour the surface once again and roll out the dough (use a rolling pin) into a large rectangular shape. Alternatively you can divide the dough in half and roll it out into two individual rectangular shapes (that is up to you and your personal preference!). Roll out the dough so that it’s approximately 1 millimetre thickness (Add a bit more flour to the surface if you need to during this step). Once you’ve rolled out the dough into a rectangular shape, use a kitchen brush to spread the cinnamon mixture over the entire surface as evenly as possible (stir the mixture well before pouring it over the dough). Sprinkle the crushed nuts over the top.
- Keep the oven on 40 degrees heat for now.
- To roll the dough into buns, start with either the top or the bottom edge surface of the dough and fold it in, pressing down lightly, roll it all into one large long roll. Begin to divide and slice the roll into individual small buns. To do this start from one end and mark slightly on the surface the width that you’re going to slice all the rolls, mark the same width for each roll so that they will all end up being a similar size. Use a large sharp knife or other tool to slice through into each bun.
- Transfer the buns onto either 1 extra large baking tray that’s lined with baking paper or two medium baking trays. Keep approximately 1.5 centimetres distance between each raw bun as they will expand as they rise and cook, and make sure that the roll with the filling is showing upwards. Place the tray (or trays if using two) into the 40 degrees oven and keep for 30 minutes in or until the buns have visually expanded and risen (This warm environment in the oven helps speed up the rising process). Remove the buns from the oven then increase the oven heat to 180 degrees.
- Use a kitchen brush to coat the top and side surfaces of the raw buns in the egg wash. Once the oven is 180 degrees, place the tray of buns into the oven to cook for 35-40 minutes (check your buns as each oven is slightly different). After this time has passed remove the tray of buns and if you have a second tray put it into the oven to cook afterwards.
- While the buns are cooking, make the quick custard. Place the milk, butter, cornflour and sugar into a small-medium pot and mix together well. Bring to a simmer and mix it continuously while the mixture comes to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to a medium and stir the mixture until it has thickened and is a custard consistency (test this with a spoon). Pass the custard through a strain so that there aren’t any chunky bits left in the custard. Set aside until use.
- Once the buns come out of the oven and are still warm, use a spoon or kitchen brush to spread a tablespoon of the custard over each bun. I recommend to eat fresh while still warm or keep in an air tight container to eat the next day!
For the yeast and milk mixture, make sure that the milk is lukewarm and not too hot as a high heat will kill the yeast. To check that the milk is warm just test a tablespoon by placing it on the outside of your hand – you will feel the temperature and whether it’s too hot. If it is quite hot just let it stand a cool for a bit before adding in the yeast.
Warming the oven to 40 degrees helps the dough rise faster than what it would normally take on a kitchen bench.