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Pistachio morning buns

Fri, 6 August, 2021

Pistachio morning buns, with the crunch of pistachios and the fragrance of cardamom, are one of the nicest ways to greet the day.

pistachio morning buns

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.

pistachio buns from enriched dough

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.

tangzhong dough morning buns

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.

Morning bake?

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.

sweet buns with cardamom and pistachios

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.

morning milk dough sweet buns

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.

pistachio buns made from tangzhong dough

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!

pistachio morning buns

Servings: makes 9 bunsTime: 3 hours plus proving overnight


  • For the tangzhong:
  • 120g (½ cup) whole milk or buttermilk
  • 25g (3 tbsp.) plain flour
  • For the dough:
  • 250g (2 cups) strong bread flour
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
  • 25g (2 tbsp.) caster sugar
  • 5g (1½ tsp) fine sea salt
  • 10g fresh or 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 60g (½ stick) cold unsalted butter
  • For the filling and topping:
  • 65g (½ cup) raw shelled pistachios
  • 50g (½ cup) Demerara sugar
  • zest grated from 1 small lemon
  • ¾ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 60g (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. honey


1. To make the tangzhong, whisk the milk or buttermilk gradually into the flour in a medium saucepan. Bring it to the boil on medium heat and cook, whisking continuously, for about a minute until the mix thickens and smoothens.

how to make tangzhong

2. Transfer the tangzhong into a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer and leave it to cool completely. You can cover it and place in the fridge when it’s not steaming hot.

3. To the cold tangzhong add the flour, oil, eggs, sugar, salt and yeast (even if using fresh, just crumble it into the bowl). Mix it with a dough hook attachment at low speed until combined into shaggy dough. Up the speed to medium and mix for about 15 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl often, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

tangzhong dough

4. Cut the cold butter into dice and add half to the bowl. Mix at low speed until absorbed. Add the rest of the butter and mix at medium speed for 15-20 minutes until the dough is very stretchy and elastic and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. You can do the windowpane test at this stage: stretch the dough in your fingers until it forms a membrane which doesn’t tear easily and lets the light through. If it still tears, give it another 5 minutes of mixing.

windowpane test

5. Transfer the dough onto a work surface and shape it into a smooth, taut ball by folding it on itself several times. Return it to the bowl, cover it with cling film and place in the fridge for between 4 and 24 hours, preferably overnight.

proving dough

6. The next morning toast the pistachios in a dry frying pan or in a warm oven for 10 minutes until browned and fragrant. Chop them finely and set aside.

toasted pistachios

7. Mix the sugar, zest, cardamom and salt in a bowl and rub the spices into the sugar with a spoon to infuse. Reserve 1 tablespoon for sprinkling and stir the rest with the chopped pistachios.

cardamom and lemon zest

8. Melt the butter with honey in a small pan and set aside.

9. Prepare a round tart or flan dish about 23cm in diameter.

10. Take the dough out of the fridge and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle 35 x 25cm, dusting with flour so it doesn’t stick to the work surface.

shaping tangzhong dough

11. Brush with the butter and honey mixture reserving about 2 tbsp. for brushing baked buns. Sprinkle the pistachio mix evenly over the dough. Starting with a long edge, roll it tightly into a log and seal the seam. Return it into the fridge for 15 minutes if it became too soft, then slice it with a serrated knife into 9 pieces. Arrange them, cut side up, in the prepared dish.

proving pistachio buns

12. Cover the dish with cling film or a plastic shower cap and leave in a warm place for 1 hour 30 minutes or until they have impressively risen, puffed and are touching each other.

13. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

14. Bake the buns on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden all over.

baked pistachio buns

15. Remove from the oven and brush with the remaining honey mix, then sprinkle with the reserved spiced sugar. Cool completely in the dish.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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