Salted caramel and apple: a perfect marriage for tasty swirl buns
The fruits of your labour will be worth it for every salty, sweet, doughy bite
Salted caramel apple swirl buns. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
I couldn’t resist using the apples from my garden in another bake. There is a certain joy in using something so seasonal and abundant, and making the most of them before they disappear. Combining apples with a sticky sweet caramel is a perfect marriage. Add in vanilla and butter, slowly cook them together, and your kitchen will be filled with one of the best aromas in the world.
One of my favourite things to cook when I was training as a pastry chef was tarte Tatin. It is a simple French upside-down tart of thick-cut apples cooked in caramel, under a blanket of flaky, rich puff pastry. The classic combination of apple, butter, vanilla and caramel is so delicious that I have used it in a multitude of ways over the years, once even blending it up and using it as a chocolate bonbon filling.
Here I have taken that caramel apple concept, added it to a custard, and put it inside a sweet, leavened bun. The dough can be made the night before you want to bake your buns and kept in the fridge overnight to rise slowly, before letting it come back to room temperature the next morning.
Making caramel isn’t something to be afraid of. As you are cooking caramel you need to pay attention to it, to stop it going too dark and becoming bitter. Adding the butter as soon as it turns golden brown will also slow down the cooking process, and adding a little pinch of salt adds a depth of flavour and contrasts against the sweetness.
Both the caramel apple filling and the custard can be made in advance too, as they will need to be cool before spreading on the bun dough.
SALTED CARAMEL APPLE SWIRL BUNS
For the filling:
2 apples, peeled and cored
30ml cider or 15ml Calvados apple brandy
½ tsp vanilla extract
35g custard powder
For the dough:
650g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
100g caster sugar
7g dried yeast
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the egg wash:
1 tbsp milk
For the icing:
1 tbsp Calvados apple brandy, or apple juice
150g icing sugar
For the filling:
1 Roughly chop the apples and set aside.
2 Make the caramel apple puree filling by putting the sugar in a medium sized saucepan on a low heat. Slowly begin to cook the caramel, shaking the pan a little to help it cook evenly. Refrain from stirring the sugar. Once the caramel has turned an even golden brown throughout, add the butter, taking care as the caramel will spit and splatter a little.
3 Swirl the pan to melt the butter, add the salt, cider or Calvados, vanilla and the apples, and continue to cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the apples are soft.
4 Remove the caramel from the heat and leave to cool completely. Put the caramel apples into a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Set aside.
5 Make the custard by mixing the custard powder with a little of the 375ml milk and whisking to a smooth paste. Put the remaining milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the custard powder paste and whisk together. Cook the custard until thick, smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool.
For the dough:
1 Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a mixing bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.
2 Place the milk and water into a saucepan and gently heat until warm but not hot. Whisk the eggs and butter together in a separate bowl, and slowly whisk in the warm milk, mixing well to combine. Begin to mix the dry ingredients in the mixer on a low speed. Slowly add the liquid egg mix and continue to mix on a medium speed for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
3 Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size. Alternatively, place in the fridge overnight.
4 Once risen, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knock the dough back, pushing down to release any air bubbles. Work the dough for 2-3 minutes until smooth and elastic.
5 Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
6 To finish the filling, beat the apple puree into the cool custard until smooth.
7 Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each out to a rough 30cm x 20cm rectangle. Divide the caramel apple custard between the two rectangles, spreading evenly, leaving an inch around the edges. Roll up each rectangle from the long end to form a log. Cut each log into six using a sharp knife and arrange the slices in the muffin tin. Cover the tin with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave to rise again for 30 minutes.
8 Mix the egg and milk to make an egg wash and brush over the top of each bun. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and cooked through. Cool before removing from the tin.
9 To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the Calvados. mixing well to combine. Drizzle over the buns and serve.