I have been meaning to make these for a couple months now. A few years ago, my sister and I were watching Mind of a Chef, and more specifically, an episode that featured chef April Bloomfield. In that episode, she was making these “breakfast buns”, which consisted of puff pastry and a broccoli rabe pesto. And that was kind of where the idea to make these came from! The idea of this bitter, creamy, and floral pesto enrobed in a buttery, soft dough just sounded like a fun time, so I wanted to try my hand at that and do something similar. These buns are perfect in that they are super fluffy and light, being made by hybridizing aspects of Italian focaccia(in the usage of olive oil for both flavor and to keep the bread from drying out), Japanese milk bread(in using a tangzhong, or cooked flour mixture to give the buns a springy texture), and French brioche(lots of eggs and butter for a richer dough). They’re honestly perfect for any meal of the day, and the best part, in my eyes, is that they are portable! A meal on the go!
For the dough, like I had mentioned, it took inspiration from three different kinds of breads. The tangzhong, or cooked flour and milk mixture, is traditionally used in Japanese milk bread to give the final dough a springy texture. I mixed my milk-based tangzhong, while still hot, with butter and eggs, just to bring down the temperature of it faster so that I could mix it into the yeast mixture without killing it – yeast starts to die when exposed to temperatures higher than 120 degrees F, so it is important that everything yeast is mixed with is about bath water-temperature. The eggs and butte, beyond cooling down the tangzhong faster, add a richness to the dough as well! However, just using butter in a bread dough could result in the bread drying out and getting to almost biscuit-levels of crumbly if the bread is left around too long, so by adding in the olive oil, that guarantees that the buns will not dry out after a day or two! That and the olive oil adds a beautiful focaccia-like flavor to the dough!
For the filling, that was where I had the most fun. I knew I wanted to use kale, because I love kale. Other pesto must-haves include garlic and olive oil. And really from there, that’s where you can mix and match. I used basil and scallions, just to pay homage to my Taiwanese childhood, where I grew up with basil or scallions on everything. I also used Calabrian chilies for a punch of heat, preserved lemons(which I had made a buttload of), for acidity and another punch of salt, and anchovies for that tang and umami! You could totally add in cheese if you want as well(I really wanted to add parmesan into mine, but I had just run fresh out), or change up the herbs you use in there as well(sage, parsley, cilantro, the world is your herb garden!).
For the tangzhong:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
a pinch of salt
In a pot, stir together the flour with milk on medium heat until combined and at the consistency of a thick paste. Take off heat and while still warm, mix in the butter. Once the butter is fully melted in, mix in the eggs and salt to finish. Allow the mixture to come down to room temperature before attempting to mix into the brioche dough.
For the brioche:
1 packet active-dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
In a bowl, mix together the yeast with water and sugar and allow that mixture to sit for 10 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer with a dough hook and combine the yeast with olive oil, flour, and the tangzhong. Mix on medium-high speed for 10 minutes, or until the dough is fully combined and elastic. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Leave to sit for 1 hour at room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Allow the dough to refrigerate for another 2 hours before rolling out into a rectangle. Keep cold for the assembly.
For the pesto:
2 bunches dinosaur kale
1 bunch fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic
1 anchovy filet or 2 tsp anchovy paste
2 bunches of scallions, just the green parts
1 preserved lemon, seeds removed
2 tsp Calabrian chilies
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Blend together in a food processor. Pour into a bowl and cover with cling film, pressing the wrap against the surface of the pesto – this is important so that the pesto does not oxidize and turn black! Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before using.
Spread the pesto onto the dough. Roll up the dough and divide into 12 pieces. Transfer to lined cupcake molds and bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes.