Tartine Bakery's "Mourning" Buns

I woke up this morning to the smell of what could have been. My friend Erika and I spend all day yesterday yeasting, mixing, proofing, mixing again, proofing again, rolling, cinnamon-sugaring, cutting and baking what was supposed to be Tartine Bakery's famous Morning Buns...all gone wrong in a blink of an eye. Le sigh.

If you haven't heard of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery, it's famous for one pastry in particular: the Morning Bun. These buns are a hybrid between the croissant and the cinnamon roll; flaky goodness filled with cinnamon, sugar, orange zest and butter. They require a full day to properly make, starting with six hours of croissant dough development and culminating in three to four additional hours of waiting for the actual buns to proof, bake, cool and get rolled in a crystallized sugar bath. If you haven't seen or had Morning Buns, the little lovelies are supposed to look like this:

Image courtesy of www.CountryLiving.com

Let's just say that until the very end, that's what ours looked like, too. However, I've learned that the smell of burned cinnamon buns lingers for over 24 hours, fooling me into thinking – if only for an instant – that Bryan and I had a bounty of warm, flaky, gooey, cinnamon sugar-y, orange zest-y Morning Buns to enjoy today for breakfast. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. The moral of the story is that you can't be perfect in the kitchen all the time, so bear with me as I share the sad, sad story of the pastry that will be known as simply, "Mourning Buns."

Erika and I planned our "Morning Bun Baking Day" for two weeks. She found the recipes, we studied them, got together the ingredients and set aside all of Sunday to tackle the buns. The day started out great. At 8am, I got up and prepared the "starter," a combination of sugar, warm milk, dry yeast and flour. It sat, covered in a warm place, for two hours until doubling in size. Erika joined me at 10:30am, at which point we combined the ingredients for the dough in my Kitchenaid mixer. The dough hook certainly got its workout for the day – or year – mixing the starter with flour, eggs and a sugar-water mixture. A soft dough eventually formed, becoming more and more elastic and happily welcoming the 1 1/2 sticks of softened unsalted butter thrown its way. I've never seen so much butter in a recipe (unless it was written by Paula Deen) and it was clear that these buns were going to be flaky, buttery and delicious. Oh joy!

Image courtesy of http://WhereTheSidewalkBegins.blogspot.com

We let the dough rise for the required three hours, watching NFL football playoffs and chatting in between. Come 2pm, it was time for us to roll out the dough, cover it with Tartine's signature cinnamon sugar crumble and cut them into individual, unbaked Morning Buns. We were so excited to get to this stage; literally buzzing around the kitchen in anticipation. The dough was incredibly gorgeous; gliding through our fingers like buttery strips of velvet. When we cut the individual buns and left them to double in size, they revealed perfectly-filled centers of crumbled cinnamon sugar. The photos are really amazing, as you'll see in the recipe section below.

The Morning Buns, before disaster struck

Long story short, Erika and I finally put the buns in the oven at 3pm (seven hours after starting). The recipe required 45 minutes of baking time at 375 degrees, and we checked on the buns at 35 minutes. They were perfect but the sugar topping hadn't melted completely. So we decided to give them five more minutes, even when our instincts told us to take them out. This was where it all went wrong; we went back into the kitchen and the oven was SMOKING. The sugar had melted too much, dripping to the bottom of the oven and burning. The next few minutes were a blur as Erika and I frantically tried to remove the buns from the oven, as though the faster we worked the more we could reverse the damage. But it was too late. The Morning Buns were ruined.

Sad & burned little Morning Buns
We stood over the little carcasses, breaking open each bun to see if the centers were salvageable, somberly reflecting on our day. Our only solace? The fact that the recipe actually said, "If you screw up – and you really should a few times if you want to get good – keep trying." So we will...but maybe not for a few weeks.

Yields: approximately 2 pounds of dough

For the Starter:
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm milk or water (105 degrees)
  • One 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon warm milk or water (100 degrees)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for the bowl
Make the starter: Combine the sugar and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour, forming a soft dough. Let the starter rise, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature until doubled, at least an hour. (Note: I doubled the recipe and made one starter in a steel mixer bowl and another in a large glass bowl. Plastic wrap adheres much better to glass than metal, so the starter in the glass bowl rose much more dramatically than that in steel bowl. Just a thought: perhaps use a kitchen towel to cover the steel bowl so less air gets in.)

Prepare the starter

Let starter sit until doubled in size

Make the dough: Combine the salt, sugar and milk in a small bowl and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Fit the mixer with the dough hook; add the eggs, sugar mixture and flour to the starter and mix on low until a soft dough forms. Slowly add one stick of the softened butter and mix well until the dough is smooth and elastic, about six minutes (keep an eye on the dough, as it will come together all of a sudden and you'll notice it becomes stretchy and elastic). Add the remaining butter and beat one minute, or until the butter is incorporated.

Lightly butter a large bowl and scrape the dough into the bowl with a rubber spatula. Lightly dust the dough with flour to prevent a crust from forming. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until more than doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours.

Make dough

Let dough rise for 2-3 hours
Once the dough has risen for 2 to 3 hours, you're ready to start assembling the buns. Here is Tartine's signature Morning Buns recipe:

Yields: approximately 12 buns
  • 2 pounds croissant dough
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 medium oranges
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, melted
  • extra white sugar for coating muffin cups and for rolling finished buns
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, 1/2 cup white sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and salt. Mixture will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or in the freezer for a month.

Make cinnamon sugar filling
Prepare a 12-muffin capacity muffin tin by generously brushing bottom and sides of each cup with melted butter. Put a teaspoon of sugar in each muffin cup and swirl around to evenly coat. Tap out excess sugar.
Generously butter and sugar muffin pan
Roll out croissant dough into a 1/4-inch thick, 6-inch-by-18-inch rectangle, with the long side in front of you. Brush dough with melted butter, and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the whole rectangle—the sugar layer should be about 1/8-inch thick. You may have some of the mixture left over.

Roll out dough on floured surface

Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture on dough

Roll dough into cylinder, starting from long edge
Starting with the long side of the dough, roll rectangle into a cylinder. Cut cylinder into 1 1/2-inch discs. Fit each disc into the buttered and sugared muffin tins so that the swirl pattern is visible on top. You may have some extra rolled bun dough left over or just choose to bake fewer buns (if you do, cut them all and freeze individually on a pan). Once frozen, place in a resealable plastic bag and store in freezer.

Cut rolled & filled dough into 12 buns

Place in sugared muffin pan, rolled side facing up
To bake buns that are frozen: Prepare pan as above, let buns defrost in the prepared cups (this will depend on how warm your kitchen is, about 45 minutes), then continue with step 5.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Let rolls rise in a warm but not hot place for approximately 45 minutes. The rising time will vary depending on how cold your dough was to start and how warm a place they are put to rise. They should rise approximately to 1 1/2 times their original size. Place the muffin tin on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or foil to catch any drips while baking.

Let sit in warm place until doubled in size (~1 hour)
Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on your oven. When done, the tops should be well browned and the sugar melted.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour
Remove pan from oven and immediately turn buns out onto a clean baking sheet or work surface. Place pan in sink and cover with hot water (it will be easier to clean later). Let the buns set for 5 to 10 minutes, then toss in a bowl with some sugar to coat. These buns are best eaten the day they are made. If eating the next day, heat them up first in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes before serving.

Here's where it all went wrong, ladies and gentlemen: The burned buns. Next time we'll listen to our gut. But hey, getting 9 of 10 steps right ain't bad.



  1. i just had something similar this morning from a local place...but they used only sugar in them...and it wasn't browned at all..but utterly delicious...so i can only imagine how wonderful those buns could be. you should use your rejects (which actually don't look that bad to me) for bread pudding...i bet they would be yummville

  2. Oh - I feel your pain. Two weeks of planning and 7 hours of baking down the drain, that is sad. But I'm glad you're not giving up! :)

    The morning bun concept however, sounds divine!

  3. well, i applaud your efforts. although i've never had a morning bun (or a mourning bun, for that matter), i can only imagine that they're worth every second of labor when they're successful. this post was a great read--thanks!

  4. Tragic! I feel your pain. Thanks for chronicling your experience -- I'll definitely use your lessons when I attempt them myself.

  5. I live down the street from Tartine and the morning buns are divine... Thanks to your awesome blog I tackled baking them today from crossiant dough to final tasty delicious gooeiness finish and they are PERFECTION!!! Thank you for posting your notes and photos for inspiration. I am so full of baking joy right now!!!

  6. I actually enjoy Tartine's tarts more than the morning buns. It's probably just me... Sorry about your burnt loss! Bet there are beautiful batches that followed tho...

  7. I've failed at making them twice now. The first time, like you, the buns likely would have been salvageable had the buttery goo not developed into a layer of cement slash shellac ruining a muffin pan and the buns.

    This most recent time I halved the croissant dough recipe as the recipe in front of the book has you make a whopping four pounds of dough. I tried making them instead in baking dishes like many cinnamon recipes call for. This just resulted in the "buns" swimming in a half inch of bubbling sugar butter. Like you, I tried to salvage thinking there was still some hope of enjoying them. There wasn't.

    A gluten for punishment, I'll probably give it another shot someday. What's most disheartening is the amount of time and effort I spent in making the dough. Alas, thanks for letting me bitch.

  8. I actually had the morning bun yesterday. I was lucky to get the last one. I intend to make this :)

  9. Hi, I am from Asia, my weekend therapy is BAKING not shopping! So, i tried all sorts of bread, cookies and cakes...
    Last Sunday, my 1st attempt to make cinnamon buns! It turns out well! I get thumbs up from my 2 boys!

  10. 45 min sounds like way too long - no wonder they burned. When I bake cinnamon rolls it takes only about 20 minutes to bake.

  11. I love love Tartine's buns!

  12. Not looking so overly burnt... I woulda eaten them right up! :)

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience. Helps the rest of us not feel so bad when we mess up!

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