Have you ever read a piece of fiction that describes some kind of food in such rich, real detail that the food becomes real to you?
It’s a talent, writing about completely made-up food in a way that’s so real to the reader that they have a visceral need to create (re-create?) the food in their world. As an avid reader, I’ve certainly run across these kinds of fictional foods from time to time, but rarely has a recipe captured my imagination like the November Cakes from Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Scorpio Races”.
In the middle of a chill, windy, haunting Irish November, Stiefvater describes these rolls as “oozing honey and butter, rivulets of the creamy frosting joining the honey in the pit of my hand.” Pretty amazing, right?
I actually tried a recipe for this a year or two ago, but was disappointed with the dry, somewhat bland results. When I saw this particular recipe and heard people rave about it, I knew I had to give it another try.
And these were everything promised. The dough itself isn’t that sweet, just an orange-tinged yeast roll. It’s the combination of the honey-caramel glaze (which I also spiked with orange extract) soaking into the rolls and the sweet white orange-flavored icing on top that elevates this to complete indulgence.
First, set out all the butter you’ll need for the recipe so it can get room temperature, and pre-heat the oven to 100°F. If your oven doesn’t have that as a setting (I think my lowest is like 200 F), put it on the lowest setting and then shut it off once it reaches about 100-125 degrees.
Start by pouring the milk, water, oil, and butter into a large cup measure—at least 2-cup—and microwave it for 2 minutes. When you pull it out of the microwave, crack the eggs into it.
In the large bowl of your mixer, briefly pulse together 1 1/2 cups of the flour with the yeast, sugar, and salt.
Pour the now-heated liquid into the dry ingredients and mix on low. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour a cup at a time and mix for about four minutes.
The result will be a ridiculously liquidy, gooey mess of a dough. It’s honestly somewhere between batter and dough. I was pretty freaked out by the texture, thought there was no way it was going to turn out right.
You can add a little more flour if you want, but you don’t need to, and you definitely don’t want it to get too dry, and a wetter dough will result in softer bread. I added maybe an extra 1/4 cup. It’s better right now to trust the process, trust that it’ll turn out like it’s supposed to.
Turn off the oven & open the door to release the most intense heat. Grease another large bowl and use a spatula to scrape the dough down the sides of the mixer bowl, then pour the dough/batter into the greased bowl.
Lay a towel over it and place it in the warm oven, then close the door and let the dough rise for an hour.
This is why you need the big bowl…it grows quite a bit.
Remove the dough from the oven and turn it out (“pour” might be a better word!) onto a *heavily* floured surface. The dough was so liquidy that I was scared it would never work out.
I kind of went on faith at this point, trusting in the recipe. I added a bunch of flour as I started to knead it, and all of the sudden it was this magical silky texture.
Knead it for a few minutes to make it more manageable & then roll it out to about a 12″ x 20″ rectangle.
In a small bowl, mix the softened butter with the orange extract. I find softened butter easier to deal with than melted butter, which will squish out the ends as you try to cut the dough.
Spread the butter across the surface of the dough.
Carefully roll up the rectangle short-wise (from the 12″ end), trying to keep it 12″ wide as you roll. Slice the roll into 1″ wide sections. I’d recommend using a pizza cutter or something like that, because when I tried to use a knife I totally butchered it.
Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or a 9×13 pan and place each roll into the pan, cut-side up. I threw a few into a muffin tin and then the rest into a 9×13 pan. The pan keeps them a little more moist (since all the edges touch), but the edges won’t be very pretty. The muffin tin will create prettier individual rolls. Cover with a towel & place in the oven to rise for 30 minutes.
Remove the towel—this is important if you don’t want to burn down your house—but leave the rolls in the oven and turn the oven on to 400 F.
Bake until the edges begin to brown, about 14-16 minutes (depends on your oven and how fast it heats up). Remove the rolls from the pan & let them cool on a large platter or a couple of large plates.
When the rolls have cooled a little, make the glaze. Combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, and orange extract in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Make sure your spoon or whisk is silicone or metal; plastic can melt.
Add the cream and vanilla, and bring the mixture to a boil for at least two minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from the heat and let it cool for a couple minutes.
One at a time, hold the rolls by their bottoms and dip the tops into the pot of caramel glaze, swirling around a little to get the top totally covered, then return to the platter. Be careful with your fingers, the glaze is hot!
Spoon the remaining glaze over the rolls, and let them sit for about 30 minutes to an hour to let the glaze sink in.
Finally, make the icing. Combine the very soft butter, powdered sugar, and orange extract with the back of a spoon. Mix a teaspoon or two of water into the mixture, and increase a little bit if necessary.
You want an icing that’s pourable, but not too thin. Drizzle the icing onto the rolls and serve warm.
They’re amazing fresh, but still great for a few days leftover—10-15 seconds in the microwave does wonders.
Other sweet & gooey breads you’ll love:
- Paul Hollywood’s Chelsea Buns
- Heavenly Dark Chocolate Orange Babka
- Norwegian Skillingsboller (Cinnamon Buns)
- Orange Cinnamon-Sugar Twist Bread
- Pear Fritters with Maple-Honey Glaze
November Cakes (from “The Scorpio Races”)
Original recipe from FictionFood