HARRISBURG, Pa. — When it comes to baking, is stepping outside of the box really better?
Yes, and no.
At the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s annual sticky bun contest on Jan. 11 the entries capturing first and second place may have taken a more traditional route, using ingredients like cinnamon or pecans, but third place went to sticky buns topped with bacon.
That’s right, bacon — specifically, eight slices of thick-cut goodness.
“I liked it. It’s a sweet and salty balance. I was surprised when I tried it,” said Matt Barcaro, TV anchor for WGAL News 8 in the Harrisburg, Pa., area.
The creator of the Maple Bacon Sticky Buns, Alexis Foor, may not have been present to watch the judges taste her creation, but this wasn’t her first time participating in the contest.
Last year, she assisted her younger sister, Madison, take home first place. Her mom, Pam, placed fourth this year with her banana-topped sticky buns after capturing second in 2012.
After the winners were announced, Barcaro said: “It was pretty hard to narrow down. This is the first year I can remember with all the different types of sticky buns — apples inside, marshmallows, bacon, bananas.”
Even though a lower count of 34 sticky bun entries were submitted for tasting this year, two mother-daughter duos captured first through fourth place.
Shelley Pokrivka and her daughter Elizabeth, Seven Valleys, Pa., won first and second, respectively. Alexis Foor and mom Pam, Everett, Pa., were awarded third and fourth. Katie Mast, Oley, Pa., took fifth.
Family Living department volunteer Diana Bissett, Washington County, Pa., said that two bakers have dominated the winners’ circle for years, “but now others are stepping up and becoming good bakers too.”
Judges for the event were Barcaro; Ken Walker, an avid baker from Beaver County, Pa.; Deb Felak of Lancaster, Pa., former Cocalico School District family and consumer sciences teacher and the daughter of Family Living volunteer Sheila Black; and Debbie Ellis, Penn State University.
The 34 entries were divided among four judges. After the judges assessed all 34 on their appearance and/or smell, they were then responsible for tasting all the sticky buns on an assigned table. From that tasting, judges picked their top three, resulting in a top 12. Those 12 sticky buns were then tasted by all four judges, who named their top five.
“I’ve never had sticky buns with bacon. Marshmallows on the side (of one entry) is new. The presentations are excellent,” Felak said. “There’s a whole process for me — the appearance, smell, and tasting last.”
While bakers and spectators alike are present for the free sticky bun samples afterwards — the Family Living department volunteers are the real stars of the show.
Family Living Coordinator Gerri Moore, Beaver County, Pa., has been volunteering for 25 years and coordinating for 15.
“I love volunteering. When I started, we had 800 exhibits. Back then I was the president of the (Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs). I had the idea to bring fair volunteers (to the Farm Show) because they already know how to judge and enter (items). We have 4,000 exhibits now, with 53 volunteers. We’re a family. It’s a reunion every year,” Moore said.
Howard Berrell, Gettysburg, Pa., said, “I volunteer because I like to support the farmers of the state.”
While the Farm Show is open to the public for eight days each January, many of the Family Living volunteers spend 10 or more days in Harrisburg, setting up prior to the opening, running the contests, and then tearing everything down afterward.
Berrell said that he was one of the volunteers who came in New Year’s Day to start the preparations.
“I’m here because I love Farm Show. Really! I couldn’t imagine not being here. We (my family) used to come with animals. Then I met up with the Family Living people,” Bissett said.
With all the varieties of baked goods at their fingertips, volunteers, unlike the public, aren’t always tempted to dive right in.
“It’s like working in a candy store. You look at it so much, you don’t really want to eat it,” said volunteer Sheila Black.
Following are the top three winning sticky bun recipes.
Heavenly Sticky Buns
6-1/2 to 6-3/4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 envelopes rapid rise yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the water, milk and butter. Heat and stir until warm (120-130 F) and butter is almost melted. Add vanilla, then add to flour mixture. Add egg. Beat for 30 seconds on low, scraping the sides of the bowl. Beat for 3 minutes on high. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as your can.
Turn out on a floured board. Knead in any remaining flour to make moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (1 hour).
1/4 cup softened, unsalted butter (divided in half)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts or pecans
Combine the sugars, cinnamon and nuts. Set aside.
Sticky bottom (1 batch for each pan of rolls):
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, sugars and corn syrup. Cook, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cream and salt until it is incorporated.
Pour into a greased 8x8-inch pan. Makes enough for 4 pans. Sprinkle with nuts and to be topped with buns later.
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon rum or cream
Mix well and set aside.
Pinch down dough, turn out and divide into half. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
On a floured board, roll out each half of the dough into a 9-by-14-inch rectangle. Spread with 1/2 of the butter (filling ingredients) then sprinkle each with 1/2 of the filling mixture.
Starting at the long side, roll up jellyroll-style. Cut each into 12 slices.
Arrange, cut side down, 1-inch apart in prepared pan (bottom ingredients).
Cover and let rise 15 minutes.
Bake at 375 F for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Turn out on to plate and drizzle with glaze. Garnish with nuts or as desired. Yields 24 rolls.
Seven Valleys, Pa,
First Place, Sticky Bun Contest
Ultimate Sticky Buns
2/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1-3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus 1/2 tablespoon melted butter
2 large eggs, room temperature
2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1-3/4 cups chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 cup flour, for dusting
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/2 teaspoon water
Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until thermometer registers 110-115 F.
Transfer milk to a 2-cup measuring cup. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs. Whisk until smooth.
Combine remaining 4 tablespoons sugar, flours, and salt in a food processor. Pulse to blend. Add milk mixture. Process until combined.
With processor running, add 1/2 cup room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions. Process until dough is soft and silky, 2-3 minutes longer. Dough will be sticky but should not be greasy.
If it is greasy, process for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Chill dough for 2 hours.
Melt butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, cream, honey, salt and orange zest. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until graze is golden brown and glossy, 3-4 minutes.
Pour 1 cup of glaze into 8x8-inch baking pan, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside remaining glaze. Sprinkle 1/2 cup toasted pecans over bottom of baking pan and let cool.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat filling ingredients except flour, egg and fleur de sel, until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Set filling aside.
Pinch dough down. Transfer to a floured work surface. Lightly dust top with flour. Roll out dough until it is a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick.
Evenly spread filling over dough and sprinkle with 3/4 cup pecans. Roll into a log and cut into 9 equal pieces.
Place in a prepared pan, over the 1 cup of already added topping. Cover. Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.
Arrange a rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Whisk egg with 1/2 teaspoon water in small bowl. Brush tops of buns with egg wash.
Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, and a thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185 F, about 50 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over. Sprinkle 1/2 cup pecans over. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.
Lightly sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve.
Seven Valleys, Pa.
Second Place, Sticky Bun Contest
Maple Bacon Sticky Buns
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1 packet active dry yeast
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoon fine salt
4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out dough
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature, plus extra for coating the bowl
8 thick-cut bacon slices
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup table syrup
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
Coat a large bowl with butter and set aside.
Combine milk and water, and heat in microwave or on stove until the mixture reaches 100-115 F. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.
Add the eggs, sugar and salt, and whisk until evenly combined. Add the measured flour and place the bowl on a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated and the dough just comes together, about 1 minute.
Increase the speed to medium high and add the measured butter one piece at a time, letting each piece completely dissolve before adding the next.
Continue mixing until the butter is completely mixed and the dough is smooth and pulling away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes total.
Transfer the dough to the prepared bowl and turn to coat with the butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 90 minutes.
Punch down dough, cover with plastic wrap, return to the warm place, and let rise again until doubled, about 45-60 minutes more.
Heat oven to 400 F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Arrange the bacon slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until browned and crisp, about 15-25 minutes.
Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate and pour the rendered fat into a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, coat two 8-inch round cake pans with the bacon fat.
Set aside greased pans and remaining bacon fat.
When the bacon slices are cool enough to handle, dice them and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the edges of the mixture start bubbling, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream, syrup, and salt.
Divide the mixture between the prepared pans. Sprinkle half of the diced bacon into each pan. Set the pans aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F and keep the rack in the middle. Place a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil on a lower rack to catch any drips from the sticky buns while they are baking.
On a lightly floured work surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 14x14 inch square. Brush the dough all the way to the edges with the reserved bacon fat. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and toasted pecans all the way to the edges.
Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a cylindrical shape. As necessary, tuck the center in and under to ensure that the cylinder is being rolled at an even thickness.
Using a sharp knife, slice the dough cylinder crosswise into 12 pieces.
Place 1 roll cut-side down in the center of each prepared cake pan. Evenly space 5 rolls around each center roll.
Set the pans in a warm place, uncovered, and let the rolls rise until they touch the sides of the pan and each other, about 40 minutes.
Place the plans in the oven on the middle rack and bake until the rolls are puffed and golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the pans to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Place a serving plate over top of each of the pans and invert the rolls onto the plate. Remove the pans. Let cool.
Third place, Sticky Bun Contest