When you bite into a great sweet pastry, say a perfect cinnamon roll, you know. It’s the dough that sends that first message. Long before you can taste cinnamon or sugar or nuts, just the way you can bite through the dough sends messages. And a great sweet dough has a flavor all its own: buttery, soft, rich.

That dough, literally a sweet dough, is a very different creature than you may encounter at a mega market bakery or from, God forbid, one of those cardboard containers you find in the refrigerator section. Great dough is not doughy.

For a great pasty, you need great dough. This is just the recipe: the perfect sweet dough.

Last summer, Brian and I attended the Kneading Conference in Maine. Devoted to baking and with great emphasis on wood-fired baking, the conference draws bakers writers, and enthusiasts from around the country. Some superior bakers attend each year, and this summer Ciril Hitz was here.

Born in Switzerland, raised here, educated here, and then interned back in Europe, Ciril is a master baker and teacher. Department Head of the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson & Wales University, Ciril is an artist. We watched him bake several items in a huge wood oven, and then sampled them as they came out, fresh and steaming.

His cinnamon roll is easy to describe: the best you ever had. Ever. I’ll post the recipe for his cinnamon roll tomorrow. The foundation for those rolls is this sweet dough. And you need to start it the day ahead. So, if I were you, if I wanted great pastries, I’d get started.

Ciril’s recipes have been tested and perfected. They are written from the home baker from the experience of a seasoned professional. You may just want to get Ciril’s book, Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads, to benefit from the pictures, DVD, and most informative sidebars.

Basic Sweet Dough

Ingredients:

  • 350 grams/12.87 ounces/1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 whole egg
  • ½ vanilla bean, optional
  • 660 grams/23.28 ounces/5 ¼ cups bread flour
  • 13 grams/.45 ounces/3 teaspoons instant yeast, preferably osmotolerant
  • 70 grams/2.46 ounces/½ cup granulated sugar
  • 13 grams/.45 ounces/1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 7 grams/.25 ounces/1 teaspoon diastatic malt [optional]
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 70 grams/2.46 ounces/5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Preparation:

Day before Baking

Bring the whole milk and eggs to room temperature. Optional: split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add the seeds to the milk. If you are taking the mile and eggs directly from the refrigerator and would like to speed up the process, you can place them in a microwavable container and microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring between heating sessions. Stop when the temperature is about 68°F (20°C).

Pour the liquids in the bowl of a 5-quaret (5L) stand mixer. Add the bread flour, instant yeast, sugar, salt, malt, and lemon zest. Mix at low speed using a dough hook until the dough comes together (cleanup stage). Scrape the dough down off the hook from time to time if necessary.

Soften the butter to a plastic stage by hammering it with a rolling pin. Increase the mixing speed to medium and slowly add the softened butter in stages. Make sure you give each addition of butter enough time to fully incorporate into the dough before adding the next.

When the dough is fully developed, place the dough in a plastic container sprayed with oil, cover and allow to bulk ferment for 2 hours at room temperature.

After the bulk fermentation, place on a sheet pan lined with parchment and press the dough down to about ¾ inch (1.9 cm) thick. This ensures a quick, uniform cooling process for the dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

On Baking Day

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Choose one of the variations available [cinnamon rolls, for example] and follow the respective shaping and baking instructions.

Notes

The malt is optional. It is suggested to help in fermentation and provide extra sugars for carmelization during the baking process.

Source: Baking Artisan Pastries & Breads by Ciril Hitz