In the early days of shelter-in-place, I felt as if I was living through a “Seinfeld” episode.
Specifically, the one where Elaine is beside herself when she learns her favorite contraceptive sponge is being discontinued. Guarding her precious remaining supply tightly, she’d pick apart any new suitor to determine if they were indeed “sponge-worthy.”
I did the same — only with yeast. Because it was scarce at supermarkets and I had only three packets left, I found myself loathe to try any new recipes using yeast lest they turn out to be disappointing failures.
After all, I simply couldn’t afford to waste those few precious packets. So, I made only tried-and-true recipes that I knew were absolutely, without a doubt, yeast-worthy.
Until now. Three weeks ago, my husband miraculously scored yeast at Whole Foods. Hallelujah!
Now, restocked and raring to go, I couldn’t wait to try some new recipes that used yeast. The first one to catch my eye was “Sweet Tahini Rolls” from the new cookbook, “Falastin: A Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.
The book is by Sami Tamimi, executive chef and founding partner of the Ottolenghi restaurant group, and Tara Wigley, a long-time Ottolenghi recipe writer. They titled the cookbook, “Falastin,” after the Palestinian newspaper that brought diverse people together.
The more than 100 recipes celebrate the evolution of Palestinian cuisine, as seen through the lens of Tamimi’s childhood in Jerusalem. They also draw from his recent travels with Wigley through the region to visit refugee camps, home kitchens, family farms, and tahini mills.
Be transported with recipes such as “Buttery Rice with Toasted Vermicelli,” “Beet and Feta Galette with Za’atar and Honey,” “Chicken Shawarma Pie,” and “Palestinian Bakewell Tart.”
“Sweet Tahini Rolls” are a little like American cinnamon rolls — but thankfully not so achingly sweet. The dough gets spread with cinnamon sugar (just like cinnamon rolls), and a smear of tahini before getting rolled up, then cut to form spiral rolls. They get brushed with egg yolk, which gives them an especially golden top when baked, then a crowning flourish of white sesame seeds.
The recipe calls for 7 1/2 tablespoons of whole milk for the dough. However, I found that my dough remained extremely shaggy, and didn’t hold together until I added another 3 tablespoons of milk while everything was being mixed in the mixer. So, just be aware that you might need to add more milk, too. Even then, I found it was best to knead the dough a few times before taking it out of the mixing bowl to get it to form compactly into a ball.
If you find the ends of your spiral rolls not sticking completely before baking, don’t worry. Just brush your egg yolk-wash on well in that area, and it will act like glue to hold the ends securely to the rest of the rolls.
These rolls bake up so pretty. They’re not behemoth Cinnabon-like creations, but far daintier in size. They are tender, bread-like in texture rather than shatteringly crisp and light like French viennoiserie. They are just sweet enough, scented with the warmth of cinnamon, and the nuttiness of sesame.
These are a favorite of kids from Lebanon to Armenia, Tamimi writes, who love them just as they are or spread with more tahini mixed with a little date molasses.
Are they yeast-worthy?
Are they ever.
Sweet Tahini Rolls (Kubez el Tahineh)
1½ teaspoon fast-acting dried yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
7½ tablespoons whole milk, lukewarm, plus more as needed
Olive oil, for greasing
2 cups plus 6 tablespoons (300g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
For rest of rolls:
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 tablespoons (120g) tahini
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
To make the dough: Put put the yeast, sugar, and milk into a small bowl. Mix to combine, then set aside for 5 minutes, or until it starts to bubble. Lightly grease a bowl with olive oil.
Put the flour and ½ teaspoon of salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed, then slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Add the melted butter and continue to mix for about 1 minute. Add the egg to the mixer bowl, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes, for the dough to get well kneaded. You may need to use an additional 3 tablespoons of milk to get the dough to really come together. Using your hands, knead and scrape the dough into a ball; it will be slightly sticky and elastic. Place it in the oiled bowl, turning it a couple of times so that the dough gets well greased. Cover the bowl and let rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough is almost doubled in size.
Put the ½ cup sugar and the cinnamon into a small bowl. Mix well to combine, then set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 14-by-20-inches. Drizzle the tahini over the dough, then, using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread it out evenly, leaving ½ inch clear of tahini at both the shorter ends. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the tahini and let rest for 10 minutes, until the sugar looks all wet.
Starting from one of the long sides, roll the dough inward to form a long, thin sausage. Trim away about ¾ inch from each end, then slice the dough into 10 equal pieces; they should each be just over 1¾ inches long. Sit each piece upright, so that a cut side is facing upward, then, using your hands, gently flatten it to form a 3¼-inch wide circle. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Transfer each roll of dough to the prepared baking sheet, spaced 1 inch apart. Brush the top and sides with the egg yolk, sprinkle with the sesame seeds, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 18 minutes, or until cooked through and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 20 minutes — you don’t want them to be piping hot — then serve.
Note: These are best eaten fresh on the day of baking but are also fine for up to three days once baked, warmed through in the oven. They also freeze well, after they’ve been baked and left to cool; you can pop them into the oven straight from the freezer until warmed through.
Adapted from “Falastin” by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
More Baking Recipes With Tahini: Fig-Tahini Cookies by Republique
Plus More Ottolenghi-Inspired Recipes: Roasted Eggplant with Anchovies and Oregano
And: Vineyard Cake