milky finger bunlets
I’ve been leaning towards the classic of late.
Golden, bubbling cheese on toast with a tiny smear of vegemite below. Slices of squishy tomato on saladas with a sprinkling of black pepper and a bit too much salt. Peanut butter on fresh, white, sliced bread.
Maybe it’s because I’m down to the days before I hit 30.
Maybe it’s the cold, and an inner yearning for the familiar. The childhood favourites. The comforting.
Finger buns were a particular treat as a child. Why spend a whole 70 cents on a piece of bread when mum could whip up some toast with extra sugar on top for next to nothing?
We weren’t the most well off and between saving for new uniforms and shoes, the off holidays up and down the coast and the (expensive) air tickets for four to visit family in Malaysia, finger buns seemed an unnecessary extravagance. (Along with movies in theaters, eating Chinese food in a restaurant and sports. Because sports equipment is expensive, but saying your times tables is free).
But sometimes, when we’d done well at school. Or when we’d not caused utter chaos whilst our parents’ friends were over. Or when a well meaning aunty or uncle asked us what we would like, standing in front of the bakery with cash in hand. Oh. Then.
My sister would always say lamingtons. They were her favourite then and are now.
But for me, it was the finger bun.
Oh! Fluffy, sweet white bread topped with a smear of pure white icing and millions of crunchy rounds of coloured sugar sprinkles. Or pink! Pink with a dusting of dessicated coconut, pointing here, there and everywhere and causing a rain of snow on your clothes when you bit into it.
And, somewhere in the corner, the plain iced ones with a smattering of cinnamon sugar. Which I liked. But not as much.
I still sneak out for a bun, every now and then. Usually when Koji isn’t watching and when I am well and truly sick of being an adult.
When the green smoothies and herbal tea breakfasts are leaving me hungry and the taxes and bills need sorting and paying. When I’ve got two armfuls of grocery shopping and a banking run to do. When the car is sitting in a forgotten corner of the shopping centre car park with the petrol light on empty.
“One sourdough loaf”, I’ll start, trying vaguely to keep up a semblance of adulthood as I order, “sliced thickly.”
“Oh, and a finger bun. The one with the hundreds and thousands.”
An apologetic smile and shrug. (Maybe she’ll think the kid next to me is mine and that I’m buying it for the kid! For the kid!)
I’ll rip open the bag in the privacy of my car, hidden in the dark of the basement car park.
One big, crunchy bite as I swing the wheel around towards the ticket gate. Another as I pause at the traffic lights at the top of the hill. By the time I’m safely parked in my garage, only crumbs and stray sprinkles remain.
I sometimes foist off my baking excess to people who live nearby. To friends and family. Half of my first batch (sans icing) went to a little family of almost-five, with the rest of the batch forming morning tea for my mum and I the next day.
My second batch, shaped to look like fluffy bunnies with long ears and a sheen of dessicated coconut for fur were intended for Koji’s unsuspecting colleagues. Except that he refused to bring them along.
“I can’t turn up to work with rabbit buns. It’s my first week!”
“But they’re sweet! Like an afternoon tea snack.”
“What am I supposed to say? Here, have bunny bread that looks like a cat. It’s not a cake. It’s a bread. Do you want a bread with your coffee?”
So they went to mum’s instead.
All of which is to say that I’ve tested this recipe a few times, based on this sweet milk bun recipe from Corner Cafe and using the Japanese style of making a soft, milky loaf. The recipe is far more detailed there, but mine has icing. And more milkiness. And less bun in each bite (so you can eat two at tea time and tell yourself that they’re only small so it’s ok.)
After the first day, they get a little tough, but 20 seconds or so in the microwave has them back to their original beauty.
- 25g (just under 2 tbsp) bread flour
- 125ml (1/2 cup) water
- 475g bread flour
- 50g milk powder
- 80g caster sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 7g instant dry yeast
- 1 egg
- 150ml warm water
- 50g butter
- 500g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp milk powder
- 80ml (or so) mlik
- Combine 25g bread flour and 125ml water in a small saucepan and stir well to combine. Put the saucepan over a medium heat and continue stirring vigourously until the past has become thick, translucent and bubbles like it's about to boil. Keep it at this heat (still stirring vigourously) for about 30 seconds, then take it off the heat and let it cool off to one side.
- Put the remaining bread flour, 50g milk powder, caster sugar, salt and yeast in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer and stir well to combine.
- Make a well in the centre and add the lightly beaten egg and most of the water and use the stand mixer to knead the mixture together to make a dough. If the dough is still looking quite dry after it comes together, add the rest of the water. You should end up with a soft, sticky dough after about 10 minutes in the mixer.
- Cut the butter into small cubes and knead it into the dough using the mixer again.
- Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl and cover it with cling film. Leave it to prove for at least an hour, or until it has doubled in size, in a warm spot.
- When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and split it into 16 even portions. Roll each out into the shape of a bun and then set them onto lined baking sheets, under a tea towel to rise again until they have increased in size by at least 50%.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan forced) and bake the buns for 15 minutes, making sure they don't over brown.
- While the buns are cooling, mix half of the icing sugar with the milk powder and all of the water. When you have a smooth paste, add the remaining icing sugar a bit at a time until you have a thick, glossy icing.
- Spread the icing on the cooled buns with a spoon and dip in hundreds and thousands while the icing is still not set so that the sprinkles stick.