I have been lax in watching the calendar. August has tiptoed in, virtually unnoticed, and there is less than a week before I leave Boston - for real.
It struck me that this year, I won't be around for autumn in New England. No falling leaves. No Halloween. None of those perfect, bright, crisp days that occur before the weather starts to turn unpleasantly cold. The thought saddens me, because autumn is the season New England does best.
This year I'll have two springs, two summers, and no winter, because the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, but I'll miss the foods I associate with fall.
No mulled cider fragrant with cloves and cinnamon. No butternut ravioli or pumpkin bread. No roasted squash from the farmers' market, eaten hot with butter and maple syrup.
When I return to Australia, maple syrup will be a rarity, a product found only at imported food stores. Even imitation maple syrup will be an oddity. (Australians, like the British, get their syrup fix from golden syrup.) And the TSA won't let me bring my half-empty pint jug of Vermont Grade B on the plane, which is why I've decided that I'll just have to eat my fill before I leave.
On pancakes. In blueberry buckle. And in maple walnut sticky buns.
As far as breakfasts go, sticky buns are a little more involved in their preparation than pancakes. Maybe even a lot more involved. But if you're willing to invest time in kneading and rolling and waiting through two rises, the end result is wonderful: soft, buttery rolls studded with walnuts and drenched in sticky maple glaze.
Lovely on a cool grey morning, even if it's still a little early for fall.
Maple Walnut Sticky Buns
(Recipe adapted from one sent by Bobbie Sue. Makes sixteen small buns.)
In a large measuring jug, combine three-quarters of a cup of milk at room temperature with a quarter-cup of warm water to produce a mixture of a lukewarm temperature. Stir in one teaspoon of active dry yeast, and leave in a warm place to develop. (The mixture will become slightly foamy.)
Set out four tablespoons of butter to soften.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together two-and-a-half cups of flour, one teaspoon salt, and two tablespoons brown sugar. Pour in the milk mixture. Stir well to combine, then turn the mixture out on a clean countertop and knead until a sticky dough forms.
Take two tablespoons of the softened butter and add them to the dough. Knead until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth in texture.
Place the dough back in the mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size - an hour or so.
To make the filling, take the remaining two tablespoons of butter, and cream them with two tablespoons of white sugar and a half-teaspoon of salt. Beat in four tablespoons of Grade B maple syrup, a tablespoon at a time, and stir in half a cup of chopped walnuts. (It will look somewhat curdled.) Put the mixture in the fridge to chill.
For the topping, combine half a cup of white sugar with a quarter-cup of water in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and bring to a boil. Cook the mixture until it turns golden in color, then remove from heat. Stir in four tablespoons of butter, followed by one-third of a cup of Grade B maple syrup. Stir in one cup of chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between two eight-inch cake pans.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into two pieces.
Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Top it with another sheet of paper. Roll the dough out into a rough six-by-ten inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling, and roll into a log.
Cut the log into eight pieces, and arrange them in one of the cake pans, leaving space between each piece. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough and the remaining filling.
Cover the cake pans with foil and leave in a warm place to rise, forty-five minutes to an hour.
Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until buns are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with a finger.
Let the buns cool in the pans for ten minutes, then turn out on large plates. Serve warm with tea or coffee.