Remarkable sticky buns need more taste tests

May 21, 2000|By ROB KASPER

When Lula Mae Liason makes sticky buns, she makes them in big batches. How big?

Try a batch of 336, which is how many she and a few helpers whipped up last weekend for the Jenkins Fair, a community gathering held at the senior life center next to St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore.

This is how she was taught to make them decades ago by Sister Amelia Trunko, a Daughter of Charity nun who was her supervisor in the kitchen of what was then called the Jenkins Memorial Nursing Home.

Liason went on to work 34 years in the kitchen of the institution, and "Lula Mae's Sticky Buns" became featured fare at any gathering in the Southwest Baltimore complex.

Last weekend, when Catholic Charities, which now operates the facility, revived the Jenkins Fair as an annual spring event, Lula Mae's Sticky Buns were there. They sold out at $2.50 a piece.

I was able to taste a few of them. They are remarkable. The dough had excellent consistency. The mixture of cinnamon and sugar was just right. And the nuts -- pecans -- were plentiful. The first one I tasted was outstanding. I ate two more, just to be sure.

I called up Liason to get the recipe. I had visions of making these sticky buns in smaller batches in my kitchen. She gave me the recipe, sort of.

Speaking from her West Baltimore apartment, Liason, 73, told me she came out of retirement to help produce the sticky buns for the fair. However, her recipe is based on institutional proportions. She told me, for instance, to start with a 5-pound bag of sweet-roll mix. This, it turns out, is a mix sold by commercial food suppliers.

"You can't find it in the grocery store," Liason said. The mix comes with four packets of yeast which, along with 5 cups of water, she blends to make a dough.

While she lets the dough rise until it doubles in volume, she begins melting butter and brown sugar in a pot on top of the stove. The proportions she gave me were 3 pounds of butter and 4 pounds of brown sugar.

The idea is to make a syrup that you pour on the bottom of large baking pans. The coating is about half an inch thick, she said.

"How big are the pans?" I asked. "Big enough to hold two dozen buns," she replied.

Nuts also are sprinkled on the bottom of the pan. She uses pecans. The nuts are a distinctive, if costly, ingredient. "Lots of people who make sticky buns, they don't put nuts in them," she told me, a note of disapproval in her voice.

Next, she rolls the dough out, brushes it with butter, dusts it with cinnamon, tosses in raisins, then folds the dough over. She cuts the dough into pieces, places them in the pan that has been coated with the syrup and nuts. The dough rises a second time.

She bakes the buns in a 350-degree oven, "until they are done." This, she said, usually takes about 45 minutes.

After the pans have cooled, she flips them onto wire racks, "just like you do with a pineapple upside-down cake." This lets the sugary "bottom" become the sweet top of the sticky bun.

After I hung up, I thought about trying to track down the sweet-roll mix, then scaling this recipe down to proportions that would feed a family of four.

After considering going into the baking business, I decided not to try. Instead of attempting to re-create Lula Mae's Sticky Buns, I will eat them. I will wait until next May, the next fair, and chow down.

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