The Whirlaway is moist, spongy, and very soft, with the smallest touch of sweetness. It really is unique—somewhere between a pecan roll and a yeast doughnut. The whirled shape isn't only aesthetically pleasing; it also makes it fun to unroll them as you eat to find the hidden chunks of chocolate.
First step: making the versatile Whirlaway dough. Jen crumbles a block of fresh yeast into the middle container with flour and sugar. On the left, milk is warmed on a hot plate so that it will be the right temperature to wake the yeast up when it is added.
Mix It Up
Eggs join the flour, sugar, yeast, and warm milk party. When she created the recipe for Whirlaway dough, Jen loosely based it on brioche, but she didn't want the result to be quite as rich as brioche so she made a few tweaks.
Jen adds soft butter to the mixture, scrapes down the sides, and then allows it to mix just until everything is incorporated. The result is a high-moisture content (read: very sticky) dough.
The dough requires some coaxing with a bench scraper at several points on its journey to a finished Whirlaway. Here, it is literally scraped out of the bowl as opposed to a bread or brioche dough, which usually pulls away from the sides of the bowl when it is ready to be kneaded.
Jen sprinkles some flour on top of the dough, and then covers it with cling wrap. She'll let it rise for about an hour before she rolls it out.
Rolling Out the Dough
Jen takes a hefty sprinkle of flour (remember, this dough is very sticky) and a small portion of the dough and quickly rolls it out. Even with the help of the flour, the dough will stick to the stainless steel table, so Jen uses a silpat as well.
Unsticking the Dough
As she rolls, she periodically checks the underside to make sure it's not sticking too badly. If it is, she gently nudges it off the silpat with a bench scraper.
Jen spreads a very thin layer of vanilla pastry cream onto the dough before slicing it into long strips.
Adding the Chocolate
"And yes, people always ask: I do count the chocolate."
Rolling a Whirlaway
Each long strip becomes one Whirlaway. Jen starts at the bottom and rolls her way up, making sure the chocolate doesn't slip off of the strip. The bench scraper comes into play yet again for any stubbornly stuck spots.
Ready for Another Proof
The end of the strip of dough is tucked underneath so they bake up vertically and don't unravel (please ignore that forlornly slumped Whirlaway on the bottom right, also known as my amateur attempt).
The rolled Whirlaways make a stop in this proofer to rest and rise a little more before being baked.
Jen has been known to bake these in small batches throughout the day, so it's possible to arrive for a fresh one even midday. Here, inverted tart pans are used as weights so the parchment paper doesn't lift up and stick to the Whirlaways as they bake.
All Poofed Up
After ten minutes or so, the Whirlaways puff up dramatically and start to brown. Their name didn't immediately come to Jen upon their creation. Instead when a friend remarked that their shape is reminiscent of a horse's hoof, she started to look up racehorses and stumbled upon Whirlaway, the name of a racehorse champion from the 1940's.
After trying to simultaneously bake and work the front of the bakery proved too stressful, Jen recruited her friend Stacy Verburg to help out. When asked how the two met, Stacy replied, "It all started with The X-Files—no really, it did!" They used to gather with a group of friends to watch The X-Files at each others apartments and the rest, as they say, is history.