These admirable buns have much in common with krantz cakes, babka and cinnamon rolls. That said, while not lean per se, they are leaner than most of those. They are sweet without the toothache, kept keen by the bite of seasonally appropriate marmalade and grounded by a savoury smudge of tahini. Cocoa nibs bring texture to the filling, along with a memory of those sliced chocolate oranges my older brother used to like.
There is a seeming madness in suggesting a recipe that reads as long as this one does, right when we're just finished a season of holidays and all the related production. Fear not. The endeavour is one of relative ease.
And I'll go so far as to make a case for a project like this to carry us into the new year, as the modest moments of industry earn a boon in return. Let's start the calendar with good fortune.
The dough is best when it gets its start the night before, which means the preparation is spread out with rests in between. The filling is a matter of stirring, and the glaze takes a moment on the stove. The frosting is a bit of prettiness that can be left off if it feels too much.
And a couple notes on that filling. For the sugar, use the darkest you can find. Muscovado, a semi-refined cane sugar, is particularly appreciated here; its bittersweet depth adds dimension to the filling, and its colour brings that much more contrast between the filling and dough. Instead of cocoa nibs, toasted nuts would do nicely.
Servings: Makes 12 buns
For the dough
2/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons honey
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups bread flour, plus more as needed
1-1/2 teaspoons medium-grain kosher salt
2 teaspoons or 1 packet instant yeast
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for bowl and pan
For the filling
1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, see headnote
1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup marmalade
1/4 teaspoon medium-grain kosher salt
1 cup pitted dates, chopped small
1/4 cup cocoa nibs, toasted
1/4 cup mixed seeds (white and black sesame, poppy seeds)
For the syrup
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
For the frosting
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons cream or milk, divided
A good pinch medium-gained kosher salt
Ideally the day before you intend to bake the buns, make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, pour in the milk, honey and eggs. Scatter 3-1/2 cups of flour across the liquids. On one side of the flour, sprinkle the salt. On the other, scatter the yeast. Stir on low to moisten, then turn the machine up to medium and knead until the ingredients come together to form a dough. If the dough seems too loose and won’t collect around the hook, spoon in more flour, a little at a time.
Once the dough is smooth, start adding the softened butter, bit by bit, kneading until the butter is incorporated and the dough is elastic and dense, 3 to 5 minutes. Should the dough become sticky, stingily flick more flour into the bowl as needed. When ready, the dough will cleanly come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead by hand to form a ball, then place in a large, greased bowl, smooth side down. Cover with clingfilm. Let stand for an hour at room temperature, then move to the fridge to rise overnight. Alternatively, keep the dough in a draft-free spot on the counter for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
When the dough is almost ready, grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin, and get the filling started. In a medium bowl, cream the tahini, sugar and butter together with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in the marmalade and salt. Set aside.
Deflate the dough by punching it down gently with a closed fist. Tip dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to 15-by-22-inch rectangle, with a long side close to you. Spread the tahini-marmalade paste across the dough, leaving a finger-width of a border on all sides. Strew the dates atop, followed by the cocoa nibs and mixed seeds. From the long end closest to you, fold one-quarter of the dough up, so you have three-quarters still exposed. Press the fold lightly to compress. Fold the rectangle over two more times, to form a sort of squashed Swiss roll. Let rest for 5 minutes. Use the rolling pin to flatten the roll away from you, extending its height, being careful not to force out the filling. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 12 short strips. Pick up a strip, holding an end in each hand. Simultaneously twist, turn and stretch the strip, exposing the filling layers. Bring the two ends together to form a tightly coiled round. Tuck the round into one of the wells of the prepared muffin tin. Repeat the shaping for the rest of the dough. Cover the tray with a damp, lint-free tea towel and allow to rise at room temperature until the buns are puffed and just about twice their size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Bake buns until golden brown, and an internal temperature of about 200 F (93 C), 25 minutes or so. Set tin onto a cooling rack.
While the buns are baking, make the syrup. Cut lengths of zest from the clementine with a vegetable peeler. Squeeze its juice into a small saucepan. Drop in the zest, then pour in the water and sugar. Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, swirling the pan regularly. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the syrup bubble for 1 minute. Take off the heat.
As soon as the buns emerge from the oven, brush half the syrup over the buns. Wait 2 minutes, then brush with the remaining syrup. Allow the buns to stay in their tins until they’re only warm, then release to cool completely on the rack.
If you wish to ice the buns, wait until the syrup has dried to a shining glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, 1 tablespoon of cream and salt. Add more cream to reach desired consistency. Drip the frosting from the tines of a fork or use a small piping bag fitted with a plain tip to decorate.
The buns are best the day they are made, but can be kept at room temperature under a cake dome for a day or so.