Pistachio morning buns, with the crunch of pistachios and the fragrance of cardamom, are one of the nicest ways to greet the day.
This is the sweetened version of my brioche rolls, made following Claire Saffitz’s recipe for the buns and the enriched dough. The dough is a cross between brioche and Japanese milk bread, with a nod towards eggy challah.
The best of all baking worlds
What a fantastic pan-global production! The perfect fusion! Who would have thought that a combination of French, Japanese and Jewish baking expertise would produce such an excellent result?
Well, I would for one. Those in my view are the three most masterful baking cuisines, even if Japan isn’t popularly perceived as a baking nation.
I’d thought that for a long time, having never been to the Far East and unable to imagine (stereotype alert!) bread that could be eaten with chopsticks.
But I should have known better because panko are the best breadcrumbs in the cooking world and they are Japanese of course. And where there are breadcrumbs, there must have been bread: the milk dough, made with the fascinating starter called tangzhong.
What is tangzhong?
Tangzhong is a mixture of milk and flour, cooked until thick, smooth and glossy, very much like roux – the starter to fine sauces. What the chemistry of tangzhong in bread is I have no idea, chemistry being far from my forte, but I know that it makes the loveliest, fluffy but rich, delicate but tasty loaves, rolls and buns.
The dough is made in advance, as it rests and proves overnight in the fridge. The next day it needn’t, or indeed mustn’t be brought to room temperature. Being very rich, buttery and runny, it is only possible to work with when cold.
Pistachio and cardamom filling
The filling in the buns is a variation on the cinnamon roll theme, but with cardamom and lemon zest spicing the mix. Rolled out dough is brushed with a mix of butter and honey, and the crunch of toasted, chopped pistachios mixed with coarse sugar is divine.
Filled dough is rolled up into a log and cut into portions, after being chilled briefly if it should become too pliable and soft. And just like Chelsea buns, cinnamon rolls or honey buns they nestle snugly in a buttered tin or dish, cut side up.
You might think the pistachio buns need to be baked first thing, if served for breakfast, considering they are ‘morning buns’. But all that milk, butter and eggs in the dough makes it so reliably rich that these buns remain fresh and supple for a good few days.
Still, if you’d like to have them at their ultimate fresh from the oven best, prove them in the fridge and rise early to bake them for breakfast.
Are pistachios too expensive?
Those are pricy nuts, so the cost of making the buns, especially in double quantity, might be prohibitive. In which case I’d say halve the amount of pistachios and bulk it out with hazelnuts. The buns will still be delightful.
Are the buns not sweet enough?
I like things barely sweet for breakfast, especially when I’m acutely aware of these little things’ high calorie content. But I completely understand those who like it sweet or not at all.
In which case double the amount of honey in the brushing mixture, the amount of sugar in the filling and glaze the baked buns with a simple icing made with 100g of icing sugar and a drizzle of milk, just so it is runny enough to spread.
What else can the dough be used for?
We have all got used to burgers housed in a brioche, so it will not surprise anyone if I suggest making burger buns from the dough, or brioche rolls if you want them to be more universal. Gorgeous with burgers, delicious with butter and jam and lovely even as bacon sandwiches.
You can also vary the fillings, though I believe this is a perfection that shouldn’t be improved upon. Instead of pistachios and cardamom, mix the sugar with raisins and double the amount of lemon zest, for a better approximation of Chelsea buns. Or fill the buns with chopped glace cherries for indulgent cherry buns.
Not so easy, but well worth it
Making the dough is quite labour- and time-consuming. The gluten strands in the dough must develop to sufficient strength to support the richness of butter and eggs. Therefore using a standing mixer is very much advisable so the dough passes the windowpane test.
To make windowpane test, pinch a ball of dough and try to stretch it into a membrane without it tearing, thin enough for the light to pass through. It is an exciting exercise, even more so if the dough passes the test at the first attempt. If it fails, work it some more and try again.
But the end product is worth all the effort and time put into it. If you bake a double batch for the freezer, or just for one or two modest eaters, gently separate the baked buns and freeze them in an airtight box – to be enjoyed for breakfast after breakfast to come!