Challah, that stretchy, rich, lightly sweet, braided glossy bread that’s brushed with egg and baked to an burnished burnt umber shine, like many great traditional foods, does not exist in a vacuum. While challah is a Jewish ceremonial bread, eating on Sabbath and major Jewish holidays, and is usually paerve (dairy product-free, so it’s Kosher regardless of what is being served), pulled away from the Judaic lens, it’s a close cousin to brioche and other enriched breads.
And it is from this jump — challah is brioche-like; breakfast buns are brioche-like… — that I began making challah-ish breakfast buns last year. We adore them. They’re less rich and more fluffy than the usual gooey, rich and very sweet cinnamon rolls (which, of course, there is always a time and place for), they go well with afternoon coffee or tea, should you find yourself in the kind of civilized life where this is your norm (and please teach me your ways) but hardly abstemious. My two favorite fillings I auditioned were a sweetened cream cheese with jam (basically tastes like cheesecake) and a chocolate-tahini swirl. For a Food Network episode, we featured the cream cheese buns; they liked the story about my dad growing up in the Bronx and having cream cheese and jelly sandwiches from a local deli (as do I, less so that ridiculous face I’m making in the video still).
But if you think that meant I’d let rich chocolate spirals float off into The Ether of Retired and Forgotten Recipes, you might have missed the part where I mentioned they had chocolate in them. Also: butter, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar to smoothly offset the bittersweet chocolate. (It takes a page from this babka filling.) Also: tahini, but just enough for a toasty, nutty, but not overwhelming effect. You can make a powdered sugar glaze for it; it’s great here with either lemon or orange juice (your choice); I know they often taste over-the-top but here, where the sweetness and richness is slightly restrained, it’s not unwelcome. But my favorite part is that it has that deep varnished top of a good (and here, very lucky) challah.
* I am not sure if you follow @smittenkitchen on Instagram but do know that whenever I find pockets of time, I’m having great fun making stories of recipes I’m working on, such as this. And including their ups and downs, such as when this one just decided not to rise for a couple hours, quite rude of it. (Alas, they expire after 24 hours, so you’ll have to watch this one in the next 2 to 3 hours.) It’s a fun place to share works in progress at a detail level that would be excessive, even for this loquacious site. Sometimes I talk, too, but I mostly try to spare us all that awkwardness.
Have you gotten to check out the book tour for Smitten Kitchen Every Day? It begins the day the book comes out — October 24th — and I’m so excited. I hope your town is on it. I hope this means we finally get to meet. And if you’re in Minneapolis, Nashville, Denver, Atlanta or Montreal… we should have more good news soon (eee!).
Chocolate Tahini Challah Buns
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable or another neutral oil, or melted butter
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) milk or water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed
- 3 3/4 (490 grams) cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the counter
- 1 packet (7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt
- Butter or nonstick spray for baking pan
- 4 ounces (115 grams) dark (semi- or bittersweet) chocolate (or approximately 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
- Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup (20 grams) cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup tahini (30 grams), well-stirred
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Sesame seeds
- 2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon or orange juice
Filling and assembly
Were your ingredients really cold? This is fine, but if so, it might take 30 to 45 minutes longer. You can speed this process along by turning your oven on to 150 degrees F and turning it off and then placing bowl the dough inside. Keep an eye on it because it will rise more quickly.
Butter a 9×13-inch or equivalent size baking dish, or coat it with nonstick spray.
Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar, cocoa and tahini; mixture should be a spreadable consistency. [New note:] If your filling is thin, pop it in the fridge or freezer (if freezer, keep a very close eye on it) for a few minutes to let it thicken a bit.
Assemble buns: On a very well-floured counter, roll out dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide (side facing you) and as far away from you (i.e. length) as it comfortably goes, usually 12 to 15 inches. Dollop chocolate mixture over and spread it smooth. Roll dough in a tight spiral.
Cut log very gently — it’s going to be a soft mess, use a sharp serrated knife, sewing thread works well here too — into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch segments. Arrange cut side up in prepared pan. Beat egg in small bowl. Brush tops of buns and tops of sides with egg and cover with plastic wrap. You can either refrigerate overnight, along with leftover egg wash or leave it at room temperature to proof for another 60 to 90 minutes, until puffed a bit.
Bake buns: If in fridge, remove buns from fridge and let warm up for 30 minutes before baking. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush tops tops of sides with egg with egg wash again (I forgot and skipped the sides, which is why they are pale in the photos) and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes, until bronzed all over and buns have an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. Let cool slightly before serving.
To glaze (optional): If using glaze, whisk ingredients until smooth. You can drizzle this over the buns or serve it alongside with a spoon. If drizzling over, it’s best to let the buns almost fully cool before putting it on or it may melt off.