October 7, 2015

CinnaBabka Streusel Muffins

Midterm season is upon us here in Madison, but I just survived my first round (plus a few interviews, club meetings, and apartment hunting escapades thrown in for good measure). That means it's time for something completely and utterly decadent. This recipe came about when I couldn't decide which breakfast food I wanted to drown my sorrows in. I love the smell of cinnamon buns in the morning, but I'm addicted to coffee cake, too. I also love the idea of wrapping chocolate in bread dough Babka-style.

The solution? Take all three dishes, combine them using about a pound of butter (yes, you read that right), and you've got something that will get you through just about any crisis. These things got me through accelerated summer organic chemistry, people. Don't underestimate them.

The backbone of these rolls/muffins is some old-fashioned, vanilla-scented, butter-loaded brioche dough. Brioche is currently taking over the bakery scene, and for good reason. It's incredibly light and fluffy but simultaneously rich and substantial. Unlike most breads, it contains butter and eggs, which add flavor, color, and tenderness. I also add some sugar since it's a sweet breakfast bun, but keep in mind that the filling is pretty sweet, too, and you don't want to go into a sugar coma until you're on at least your third one. The brioche also gets a hearty splash of vanilla because I grew up in a family where you can't bake anything without it.

You may notice something a little odd about my brioche "bread" recipe. Hint: it doesn't use bread flour. Before you call me out on that, just know that just last week in my super advanced high-tech ahead-of-the-crowd introduction to food science class, we had a lab dedicated to baking breads with different types of flour to see what effect the gluten content has on the texture, color, height, etc. of bread.

Turns out that the all-purpose flour made decent bread, and I don't want a strong network of gluten anyway. That's great for hearty, crusty loaves to dip in olive oil as an appetizer or snack (or an entire meal... I won't judge), but I want my brioche to be tender and short (mouthfeel, not height; these will still rise nicely). All-purpose flour has just enough gluten to rise and brown but not too much that it's hard and chewy.

The finished bread dough has to rise for about 90 minutes, but there's still plenty to do. I like to make the filling during the first rise so that it's ready to go when the dough is finished. Traditional cinnamon buns get smeared with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, but I want something more. Coffee cake-inspired streusel and chunks of rich dark chocolate are poured onto the dough and rolled up so that every bite is infused with fragrant cinnamon and oozing delicious chocolate.

The streusel is my standard recipe, the one I use in my peach crumb cakeraspberry chocolate almond coffee cake, and pretty much any other breakfast treat that could be improved by cinnamony, buttery goodness. It's a simple combination of sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, butter, and flour. I use enough sugar to make it sweet enough for my taste, a full stick of butter since all streusel needs butter, and enough flour to hold it together. I go pretty easy on the cinnamon since I'm all about the chocolate, but if you're feeling particularly excited about fall baking (perfectly understandable), throw in as much as you want.

The last component of these insane bites of heaven is the chocolate. This is my favorite part, and I always have to buy more chocolate than I intend to use because of course I need to check the quality before I use it (read: eat 50% of it because I'm denying my chocoholism). You can use chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, or whatever else you can find that I didn't name.

The important thing is that there's a lot of it; my favorite thing about these buns is biting into them and getting perfectly melted chocolate absolutely everywhere. My personal preference is to use bittersweet baking bars and chop them into chunks of various sizes for a rustic look. You end up getting chocolate in every bite, but each bite tastes different because you get different proportions of brioche, streusel, and chocolate.

Once your dough has risen, your streusel has been mixed, and your chocolate has been prepared/partially consumed, it's time to start assembling. Unless you're a professional who can somehow wrangle 2' long dough logs that spill streusel and chocolate all over your kitchen, I recommend splitting the dough in half. Roll each half into a large, thin rectangle (the thinner the rectangle the bigger the spiral/more filling you can stuff in there) and cover with half the streusel and the chocolate.

Starting from the side closest to you, gently but firmly roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder. Cut the cylinder into about 14 rounds and place each into a greased muffin cup. You could bake these in a big pyrex pan all together like some people make cinnamon rolls, but I prefer the muffin tins so that there's more crust and they bake more evenly.

Repeat this process with the other half of the dough, streusel, and chocolate, and don't worry if your second batch comes out nicer than the first. I try to serve my friends only the pretty ones, so if some of them are ugly it just means I get to eat more of them. I should point out, though, that I don't think anyone will care how attractive they are. To quote one of my esteemed lab-mates who has been in the industry for years, has traveled around the world (literally), and knows pretty much everything about confections, "These things are like crack." I hope you enjoy these as much as my friends, labmates, and I do, and just try not to think about the massive amounts of butter in them.

1 Cup Warm Milk
1/2 Cup + 1 T Sugar
1 T Yeast
2 Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Cups Flour
12 T Butter, Softened & Cubed

1/3 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Stick Butter, Melted
8 oz Chocolate, Chopped

Whisk the milk, 1 T sugar, and the yeast together. Let sit until the yeast is activated and foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, yolk, and vanilla. Stir in the salt. Gradually beat in three cups of flour, then add the butter a few cubes at a time. Add the remaining flour as necessary to form a soft but not too sticky dough.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the filling, whisk the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together. Stir in the butter, then add the flour.

Split the dough in half and roll each portion into a large, thin rectangle, about 12x18". Sprinkle half of the streusel filling and half the chopped chocolate evenly onto the dough, pressing lightly to adhere. Cut into 14 cylinders and place each in a greased muffin tin. Repeat with the remaining dough, filling, and chocolate.

Cover the muffins and let rise for another hour.

Heat oven to 350F.

Bake the muffins until golden and cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Makes 28
Inspired by How Sweet Eats

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