Aya Fukai may hold the title of pastry chef at RIA in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, the hotel formerly known as The Elysian, but she’s quick to give credit where credit is due, acknowledging that she’s only been on the job a few months and the sticky buns baked in individual Staub cocottes were concocted by assistant pastry chef Andrew Johnson long before she arrived. And the nontraditional icing of vegetable shortening, cream cheese, and confectioners’ sugar, that was a request from chef Danny Grant to do “something jazzy for the photo.”
Frosting or no, these sticky buns are constructed from a pain de mie dough rather than the usual brioche dough. Again, thinking of breakfast, when sticky buns are most often served—although she made the classic version for tea service when she worked at L’Espalier in Boston—Fukai says the pain de mie makes for a lighter bun. “The brioche is heavier on the butter, and too much butter doesn’t leave you feeling great in the morning.”
Fukai, who was born in Japan and came to the United States when she was 9, prefers miso soup, broiled mackerel or salmon with soy sauce and grated daikon, and rice in the morning. But this sticky bun has its place. “Personally, I wouldn’t like to have it with the frosting if I were to eat this for breakfast,” she says, “but as a snack it would be great.”
For 12 servings
Pain de mie dough:
• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 4 1/2 cups bread flour
• 9 Tbsps. unsalted butter
• 2 Tbsps. plus 1 1/8 tsps. granulated sugar
• 1 Tbsp. plus 1/8 tsp. salt
• 1 Tbsp. fresh yeast
• canola oil (for bowl and plastic wrap)
Place milk in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment; add remaining ingredients except oil; mix on low speed 2 minutes; switch to dough hook; mix on medium speed 6 minutes; remove dough from mixer; form into ball; place dough in clean, lightly oiled bowl; cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap.
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan set over low heat; cook, stirring constantly, until butter melts, sugar dissolves, and mixture is smooth; remove from heat; reserve (keep warm).
• all-purpose flour (for work surface)
• pecans, chopped (for filling), plus 1/4 cup pecans halves
• 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
• 1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
• 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Heat oven to 350°F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into 1/4"-thick rectangle (A); spread thin layer of filling over entire surface of dough (B); sprinkle with chopped pecans; roll dough into a log (C); slice crosswise into 4 oz. portions (D).
Spoon 3 Tbsps. filling and some pecan halves into the bottom of each 3" diameter cocotte (E); arrange a sticky bun cut side up in each cocotte; loosely cover; let proof in warm dry place until sticky buns are double in size (about 1 hour).
Bake sticky buns until brown (about 15 minutes); remove from oven; cool slightly (F).
Place shortening, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment; mix on high speed 12 minutes; reserve.
To serve, unmold sticky buns onto large plate; spread top generously with cream cheese frosting.