This recipe is based on one of my favorite pastries of all time: craquelin, made by stuffing infused sugar cubes inside buttery dough. When the dough bakes, the sugar melts inside of it, creating a sweet pocket in the center. It's just dreamy. —Erin Jeanne McDowell
Up to 4 days and at least 1 day before you want to make the buns, mix the sugar cubes, orange zest, and vanilla bean scrapings to combine. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Place 12 stand-alone baking cups on a baking sheet and spray the insides with nonstick spray (alternatively, you can just grease the cavities of a standard muffin pan).
Divide the sweet dough into 12 even pieces (4 ounces each). Working one piece at a time, flatten the dough out slightly. Cut or break up 2 sugar cubes into 3 to 4 pieces each.
Sprinkle the infused sugar chunks in the center of the dough, then fold the edges inward and pinch to seal. Shape the dough into a tight round by cupping the dough in the palm of your hand and move it in a circle until you've formed an even round.
Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking cups. Cover each piece with a damp paper towel or greased plastic wrap and let rise until nearly double in size, 35 to 45 minutes.
When the buns are nearly risen, preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the towels/plastic wrap from each piece. Brush each bun with egg wash and sprinkle turbinado sugar on top.
Bake until the craquelin is golden brown and has an internal temperature around 195° F. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, came out on November 10th, 2020, and my pie merch collaboration with Food52 is out now too: https://food52.com/shop/merchants/manifest-food52/food52-x-erin-mcdowell