This book has received a ton of shining reviews since it’s debut in December 2020. It’s received so much praise that I became skeptical. Could it really be that good?
So when I started reading it, I was looking for a reason to dislike it. I just didn’t believe the hype.
Cut to me sobbing though the entire second half of the book. But like, good sobbing. This book evokes that “everything’s going to be okay even though there are massive issues and injustices in this world because some (most?) people have the capacity for kindness and empathy” feeling. With its beyond lovable cast of main characters, vivid imagery, and fantastical yet simple storyline, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is literary serotonin.
🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 / 5
A Brief Summary
Linus baker is a by-the-book king of guy, which makes sense because he’s a government employee — a case worker for the, slightly (or not so slightly) sinister Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). DICOMY is tasked with ensuring that all magical youth are “cared for,” and, seemingly more importantly, registered and surveilled. Linus is fantastic at his job on paper. He knows the rule book by heart, and he doesn’t let his emotions get in the way. In fact, he doesn’t let his emotions factor into any part of his life. He endures the same routine day in and day out with minimal variation. Sure, he dreams of a more colorful life by the sea, but he’s not foolish enough to believe that dreams can be real. So, he continuously trudges on in his self-inflicted cycle of monotony.
Until one day, he gets a new assignment. Not just any assignment, but an assignment directly from Extremely Upper Management that’s top secret to boot! Next thing he knows, Linus is on a train to the seaside to observe and inspect a magical youth “orphanage” on an island in the most gorgeous sea.
He resolves to remain stone hearted and fact-driven, but these children are exceptional. Linus finds himself learning so much about these ostracized children, who range from an amorphous blob whose biggest wish is to be a bellhop, to the literal Antichrist, who is a young boy who goes by Lucy. These children had no choice in the circumstances of their birth, but they are doing the best with what they have and what they know. Linus can’t help but fall in love…with the children, with the island, and perhaps with Arthur, the mysterious and charming master of the orphanage.
As he works on his most enthralling assignment of his life, Linus comes to realize that he’ll never be the same after his time at the house in the cerulean sea.
Though reading this book feels like eating a big bowl of something comforting like gumbo or ice cream, depending on your mood, there aren’t many mentions of food.
But, there is an important scene before the climax that begins with Zoe, an adult island sprite who helps Arthur care for the children, and Lucy making sticky buns:
Linus was smiling, and he was laughing, though his heart felt like shards in his chest. Sticky buns were in the oven, and if he listened hard enough (though Lucy was doing his very best to make sure he couldn’t), he would hear the sounds of the others moving throughout the house.The House in the Cerulean Sea, pg. 312
This seemed like a perfect pairing for a book that reads like written comfort food. And oh man did they come out delicious! I definitely recommend trying your hand at these.
I will warn you though, this recipe is kind of an event. There are several hours of rise and chill time involved, so if you want to split it up into two days, you can by chilling the dough overnight before the first rise.
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 5 tbsps white sugar
- 1¾ tsps dry active yeast
- 2 large eggs room temp
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup room temperature unsalted butter cut into pieces, plus ½ a tbsp melted butter
- 1¾ cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts because that's what I had, but pecans work best.)
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ¾ cup heavy cream (I didn't have any, so I used half and half, which worked fine.)
- ⅓ cup honey (The honey flavor was delicious, but I'm willing to bet that maple syrup would be even better.)
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup room temperature unsalted butter
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- all purpose flour (for dusting)
- 1 large egg
- sea salt
- Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium or in a microwave about 110°–115°. Transfer milk to a 2-cup measuring cup; stir in 1 Tbsp. sugar. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs; whisk until smooth. Combine flour, salt, and remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture. With mixer running, add ½ cup room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions. Mix on medium speed 1 minute. Knead on medium-high speed until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.
- Brush a medium bowl with about 1 tsp. melted butter; place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; cover with plastic wrap.
- Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1–1½ hours.
- Chill dough for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until fragrant and slightly darkened, 10–12 minutes. Let cool completely. Set 1¼ cups nuts aside for buns.
- Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, cream, honey, salt, and orange zest, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until glaze is golden brown and glossy, 3–4 minutes. Pour 1 cup glaze into baking pan, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside remaining glaze. Sprinkle ½ cup toasted nuts over bottom of baking pan and let cool.
- Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and kosher salt in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Set filling aside.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12×16" rectangle about ¼" thick. Arrange dough on work surface so 1 long side faces you. Spread cinnamon-sugar mixture over dough, leaving a 1" border on the side farthest from you.
- Sprinkle ¾ cup chopped pecans over cinnamon-sugar mixture. Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll dough into a log, tightening as you roll and patting in ends if they begin to taper. Pinch together the seam where the long side meets the roll to seal. Arrange log seam side down.
- Using a large knife, cut log crosswise into 9 pieces (lightly flour knife between slices if dough is too sticky). Turn buns cut side up and gently pat top to flatten slightly. If needed, reshape to form round edges by cupping lightly floured hands around each bun and gently pushing and turning them in a circular motion. Transfer buns to prepared pan, spacing evenly apart (buns should not touch each other).
- Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 45 minutes–1 hour, or 1½–2 hours if dough has been chilled overnight.
- Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Whisk egg with ½ tsp. water in a small bowl. Brush tops of buns with egg wash. Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185°, about 50 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over. Sprinkle ½ cup pecans over. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.
- Lightly sprinkle sea salt over. Serve buns warm or at room temperature.
If you haven’t read The House in the Cerulean Sea yet, grabbing a copy to read while you try this recipe sounds like a pretty cozy Sunday. You’ll have a ton of time to get some chapters in while your dough rises.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think!