I have a new favorite sweet treat, ya’ll: Sweet Potato Sticky Buns with Pecan, Dates, and Bourbon Glaze. It’s a mouthful to say, I know, but Good Lord, they are good.
The inspiration came from a surprise visit to Chef and the Farmer (thanks Mom and Dad!) while I was home for Thanksgiving.
Honestly, I’ve pined to visit this restaurant because Vivian Howard is one of my idols. For years, I bought gift certificates to the place for the people I hold most dear so 1) they could enjoy it and 2) I could live vicariously through them while I was far, far away. Finally, my time came to eat there myself, and it met my expectations.
The beer list was impressively local. All the beers listed, aside from a Scrumpy (aka hard apple cider) were from east-of-Raleigh. I really enjoyed Mother Earth’s Oatmeal IPA. I’d recommend that beer to any non-IPA beer drinker because of its impressive ABV %, smooth mouth feel, and little bitterness.
LANE ANGUS BEEF TARTARE | parsley oil, mustard, black garlic, fried capers, Parmesan Reggiano, soft poached egg, sweet potato chips
LIMA BEAN SPREAD | spicy tomato relish, beer cheese toast, fresh herbs
OUR DAILY BREAD | benne sourdough focaccia, roasted garlic butter
NC SHRIMP & GRITS | mushroom & spicy tomato ragout, scallion, bacon
HOUSEMADE PASTA | beef bacon, cabbage, nutmeg, pecans, oregano, Parmesan Reggiano
BRITTANY RIDGE PORK CHOP | farm apple mostarda, turnip green gratin
SWEET POTATO HONEY BUN | maple glaze, cinnamon-orange ice cream, spiced pecan
Everything was delicious. The Lima Bean Spread (creamy and rich), Pork Chop (perfectly–not overly–cooked and succulent), and Sweet Potato Honey Bun (subtly sweet and flavorful) were out of this world, though.
It’s the type of restaurant where waitresses don’t jot down your order, cooks shout out the tickets and line cooks make everything from memory. Your table is serviced frequently with constant refills and clean silverware. In a word, you don’t feel like you’re in Eastern North Carolina. You feel like you’re dining somewhere more posh, more urban. When your meal is done, you’re soon reminded where you are when you walk outside to the forsaken infrastructure of a depressed town and coastal plains’ humidity.
But you leave knowing Vivian Howard has done something special and feeling like you’ve had a small hand in that ‘something special’ because that’s what you’re doing when you eat local.
So Chef and the Farmer’s honey bun was the inspiration for what’s happening here. I cooked up the sweet potatoes I smuggled to Maine in my suitcase from Williamston, North Carolina. And I grabbed the pecans I smuggled to Maine in my suitcase from Bath, North Carolina. And I got to baking.
The Cast: Sweet Potato Sticky Buns with Pecans, Dates, and Bourbon Glaze
Puffy, pillowy sweet potato bread
Sticky, sweet bourbon and maple syrup glaze
Chewy, sugary dates
Crunchy, nutty pecans
- For the dough:
- 1 pack (or 2½ tsp.) of active dry yeast
- 1 cup water, lukewarm
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¼ cups dry milk
- 1 cup pureed sweet potato (see instructions below)
- For the Glaze:
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. bourbon
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 6-7 large Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- For the Filling:
- 2 Tbsp. refined sugar (see headnote)
- 2 heaping tsp. cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- For the sweet potato, peel and cut into chunks one medium sized sweet potato. Boil in water for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain. Let cool. Puree in a food processor until smooth.
- To make the dough, add active dry yeast, 2 Tbsp. lukewarm water, and a pinch of sugar to an empty bowl. Stir. Let sit until frothy and bubbly, about 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add yeast mixture, 1 cup water, flour, melted butter, salt, and pureed sweet potato. Knead on level 2 for 6 minutes, or until the dough draws up from the sides. Cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free place for 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, stir together the maple syrup, brown sugar, and bourbon. Set aside.
- Separately, combine the sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- When the dough has doubled, remove from bowl to a lightly floured surface. The dough should be sticky but easy to work with. With your fingertips or a wooden rolling pin, pat or roll out into a 12ish x 16ish inch rectangle. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the dough, leaving about 1 inch along a long edge free of sugar.
- Starting with the long, sugar coated edge, roll the dough into a log. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into 16 pieces, about 1 inch wide.
- Evenly distribute the maple syrup-bourbon glaze in two 9 inch round cake pans. Distribute pecans and dates evenly over top of maple-bourbon glaze in each pan, too.
- Place 8 buns in each of the prepared pans. Cover the buns with a towel and let rise again for about an hour and 15 minutes.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Next, place an oven-safe dish filled with water on the bottom rack of your oven.
- When buns have risen, place pans in oven and bake for 25 minutes, checking at the 15 minute mark to make sure they're not browning too quickly. If they are, tent with foil and continue baking.
- Once internal dough temperature has reached 160 degrees, remove from oven and let cool slightly.
- Finally, invert on a plate and enjoy warm or cold.
- NOTE: I prepared the rolls (through step 9) and let them sit in the fridge, covered, overnight. The next morning, I took them out and let them sit at room temperature for an hour before baking. They rose beautifully and were delicious to boot.