This Honey-Glazed Pull Apart Bread Lets You Have Sourdough for Dessert
Pastry chef Caroline Schiff discusses her upcoming baking book that celebrates sourdough.
Caroline Schiff changed my life, unbeknownst to her. During a balmy summer evening, I visited the newly reopened Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn—a 125-year-old restaurant where Schiff is the pastry chef. Although everything was delicious, it was her signature coconut lime cake, in tandem with a salty caramel chocolate cake, that left me speechless.
“I nurture everybody through food and baking—that’s how I take care of my friends and family, like a love language,” she explains. “I love my community and the strangers at Gage & Tollner, I love my friends, I love my family. If I go to dinner at their house, I always bring something. It’s how I connect with people.”
So when the pandemic first struck New York City, delaying Gage & Tollner’s grand re-opening once more, Schiff wasn’t exactly sure what to do. There were tears, lots of sleeping, phone calls to her mom, and doom scrolling. It was only when Schiff realized she found calm while she was baking, as her hands were covered in flour, that she devoted herself to the craft at home. That, and she wanted to keep the sourdough starter from Gage & Tollner alive for whenever the world would resume once more.
Schiff went full steam ahead with the sourdough. She was making loaf after loaf of bread, sharing the starter with those who inquired and also sought the joy of baking. In her own words, that’s when she “overdosed on bread” and began turning her attention to new recipes.
“One of the things I love about being a chef is just the creativity [in] the R&D process,” Schiff says. “The stakes are relatively low. Like the worst that happens is it’s not delicious—and then you just don’t make it again or you learn from it.”
The recipes that make up her upcoming cookbook, The Sweet Side of Sourdough, began coming together—despite the fact that Schiff wasn’t intentionally trying to write a recipe book. Instead, she was making sweet rolls with sourdough, cakes, pull-apart breads, cookies—anything she could dream up that still used the live ingredient but wasn’t another loaf of bread. And like a mystical baking fairy of her Fort Greene brownstone, she was distributing her treats to neighbors.
For many, the idea of sourdough in sweets might seem unappealing, but Schiff is a magician with flavors, striking the perfect balance between tang and sugar. “I’ll always have a salty element or a savory element [in my desserts] because I think it makes things a little more compelling and sort of mouth-watering—it makes you want to go back for more,” Schiff explains. “[Sourdough] offers this sort of tanginess or savory undertone that goes really well with salt and caramel and chocolate. It has an earthy quality that goes so well with a lot of fruits.”
Even her chocolate cake—the very same one I obsessively consumed during my evening at Gage & Tollner—has sourdough in it. “It’s not on the menu but it’s just my little secret,” Schiff grins.
But one of the most special recipes Schiff developed for her cookbook is a honey-glazed pull-apart bread. After testing and retesting the recipe, it received the stamp of approval from her friend’s three-year-old daughter, who peeled layer after layer of the buttery enriched dough back, methodically working her way through the loaf. The sticky honey glaze that seeps through the crevices livens up the loaf more, balancing out the sourdough.
“With the pull-apart, you cut these squares of dough and then line them up like a deck of cards. And they bake and they stick together and then [you pour] the glaze right over it while it’s still hot, it kind of trickles down between the layers,” Schiff says. “It’s just so fun to peel one off and just shove it in your mouth or smear some jam on it.”
The loaf is stunning to look at—perfect for a potluck centerpiece—but also unfussy to divvy up.
“It’s super shareable. And I think we were all starved of sharing stuff for so long,” Schiff says. “Now it’s like, I just want to share everything.”
Caroline Schiff’s Honey-Glazed Pull-Apart Bread
Makes one 9-inch loaf
- 1 levain build, doubled in size (see below)
- 2 ½ cups plus 1½ Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large whole eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons whole milk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 3 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoon honey
- 2 Tablespoon whole milk
- 3 Tablespoon powdered sugar
- Flaky sea salt, to garnish
1. To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook, combine the levain, flour, soft butter, sugar, whole eggs, egg yolk, milk and salt. Knead on low speed for 25 to 30 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping it down every 10 minutes or so to make sure everything is getting incorporated, until the dough comes together in a smooth ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The long kneading time is necessary for proper gluten development. It’ll start off looking very shaggy and messy, but resist the urge to add additional flour before it magically smooths itself out!
2. Transfer the dough to a large bowl coated very lightly with neutral nonstick cooking spray. Cover and set in a warm spot, letting the dough proof for 4 hours at room temperature. It may not rise much this first proofing; that’s OK! Gently fold the dough over itself, cover and transfer to the fridge to ferment overnight, 12 to 14 hours.
3. Spray a 9 x 4 x 4-inch (23 x 10 x 10-cm) loaf pan with neutral nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Remove the dough from the fridge and gently turn it out onto a floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour and gently roll it out into an 8 x 18-inch (20 x 46-cm) rectangle.
4. To make the filling: Spread the soft butter all over the dough in a thin, even layer. Combine the sugar and salt in a small bowl; evenly dust the mixture over the butter. Using a pizza cutter or large knife, cut the rectangle into 24 small squares. I do this by cutting it 3 x 8, first dividing it into three 18-inch (46-cm)-long strips, and then slicing those each into eight even pieces. Stack the pieces of dough, a few at a time, and line them up in the bottom of the prepared pan, so they’re all standing on edge. Once all the dough is stacked in the pan, cover it loosely with a piece of plastic. Place the loaf in a warm spot and proof until the rectangles have increased in size by about a third and appear light and puffy, 3 to 4 hours.
5. Heat the oven to 350F (177C) with a rack in the center. When fully proofed, uncover and transfer the loaf to the oven and bake until it’s a deep golden brown on top, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature in the pan.
6. To make the glaze: In a small saucepan, bring the honey and milk to a boil. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.
7. After the loaf has cooled slightly but is still warm to the touch, gently remove it from the pan and place on a cutting board or platter. With a pastry brush, gently brush the top of the loaf with about half the honey glaze. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then add a second coat of glaze and garnish with the flaky sea salt. Pull apart and enjoy while still warm.
Makes enough for one 9-inch loaf recipe, or 210 grams of levain
- ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons room-temperature water
- ¼ cup active sourdough starter, 100% hydration
- ⅔ cup bread flour
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the water and the active sourdough starter. Add the bread flour and bring the mixture together, kneading by hand if necessary, until uniform. Transfer the mixture to a clear jar or plastic container, 16-ounce (480-ml) capacity or larger.
2. Cover and set the container in a warm spot to double in volume, at least 6 hours and up to 12 hours. Use a rubber band or piece of tape to mark the starting volume and watch its progress. When it’s doubled in volume, it’s ready to use.