Rhubarb Jam Buns with Crème Fraîche Frosting
Have you heard enough from me about rhubarb?
I'm sure you're nodding your head yes. I've sufficiently expressed my love for rhubarb: on this blog, on Instagram, to my friend Caroline who wasn't sure what it was so I dove into a long-winded fanatical explanation of how wonderful it is... people know I love rhubarb. Especially the very few followers of this blog. So I won't go on and on about it, mostly because you've got places to be and things to bake but also because the past week at work has been one of the most challenging few days I've ever experienced, and if I sit here and let myself type for too long, this will turn into a cry-fest that none of us wants to hear.
Nevertheless, you came for rhubarb jam buns, so I'm going to give you rhubarb jam buns. And you're going to love them. Sometimes people ask me what happens to the baked goods that I whip up in my tiny kitchen here in Boulder. Do I eat them all? Do I share them with neighbors? Sell them? Snap a photo and toss them? (Somebody actually asked if I did the last one and I couldn't even believe it but, I'm sure some Instagrammers do just that). But the truth is: I bake them and I bring them to work, and my wonderful co-workers are my taste testers. And let me tell you... these jam buns were a hit. A HIT! Granted, I woke up early and popped them in the oven, smothered them in that crème fraîche frosting that I dreamt of the night before and then took them to the office still warm and just set enough so that the frosting hardened only slightly, still with the perfect level of give that you want when you bite into a bun. Any bun, really. But my boyfriend Carson and I agreed: There is nothing worse than biting into a stale, cold cinnamon roll and getting that gritty crunch of cool frosting in your mouth. That's not how a bun should be.
This lovely recipe was adapted from Julia Turshen's book Small Victories - I only changed the raspberry jam to rhubarb jam, but I'm sure any jam would do deliciously.
¾ cup whole milk
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2⁄3 cup rhubarb jam
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup creme fraiche
½ tsp vanilla extract
In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until it is body temperature (you can also use the microwave for this). Transfer the warm milk to a large bowl and stir in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until the yeast is dissolved and looks cloudy (almost like miso soup), about 5 minutes. A few bubbles on the surface is also a good sign that your yeast is ready.
Crack one of the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Add the beaten egg to the milk-yeast mixture, along with the flour, granulated sugar, salt and butter. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything together until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. (If after a minute or two of mixing it doesn’t pull away from the bowl, add a little more flour, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it does. On the other hand, if the dough seems far too dry and impossible to mix, add a little more milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it becomes a little more forgiving. This is the nuanced part of baking where all the tiny variables—how humid the air is, how you measured your flour, etc.—all come into play. Don’t worry too much and trust your instincts.)
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into a large ball and knead it by pressing it with the heel of your hand and pushing it away from you, then immediately pulling it back, folding the top of the dough back on itself. Kneading is all about this push-and-pull. Turn the dough clockwise a little bit each time you push and pull it so that it gets evenly worked, and knead it until its surface is completely smooth and the whole thing feels both solid and soft at the same time. It will take a solid 5 minutes of kneading.
Put the dough back in the large bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in the warmest spot in your kitchen until it’s soft and puffy and just about doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Return the dough to the lightly floured work surface and use a floured rolling pin to roll it into a large ovalish rectangle measuring roughly 18 in wide. If the dough resists while you are rolling it, simply let it rest until it yields to the rolling pin; dough responds well to patience. Spread the surface of the dough evenly with the raspberry jam, leaving a ½-in rope. Cut the rope into a dozen even slices (I like to cut it in half and then cut each half in half, and so forth, so that it’s easy to get even pieces). The ends might not have much jam—you can still add them to the bunch to make a baker’s dozen.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the buns, spiraled-jam-side up, on the prepared baking sheet in relatively even rows. The buns should be touching each other but not shoving each other and the seams on the rolls should be facing inward in the “huddle” so that they don’t unravel in the oven. Cover the buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until they’ve risen a bit and are soft and puffy, about 1 hour. Or, so you can prepare them the night ahead, let them rise at room temperature for just 30 minutes, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, pull them out and let return to room temperature, about 1 hour, before proceeding.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 F.
Crack the remaining egg into a small bowl and whisk it with 1 Tbsp water. Uncover the buns and brush them with the egg mixture (I use my hands for this so I get to be very gentle, achieve even coverage, and don’t have to wash a brush afterward). Discard whatever egg mixture is left over (or save for another use such as a tiny omelet).
Bake the buns until they’re beautifully browned and the exposed jam is caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.
While the buns are in the oven (ha!), in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, crème fraîche and vanilla.
Drizzle the hot buns (yeow!) with the crème fraîche mixture—this should be a wonderfully messy moment. Serve immediately (an even more wonderfully messy moment). These buns are best served warm out of the oven rather than at room temperature.
If you know you will have extra buns, don’t top them with the crème fraîche. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days or wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for up to 1 month (thaw at room temperature). Warm in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes. Top the warmed buns with the crème fraiche mixture and serve.