By Shannon Sarna
(The Nosher via JTA) — I had my first proper halva experience at The Halva Kingdom in the Machane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem. I’d never really liked halva before that — the one or two times I had tasted it, the texture was weird and crumbly and there was a slightly bitter aftertaste. But in the shuk, surrounded by dozens of varieties of blocks of halva, I couldn’t resist trying the sample offered by the charming vendor.
You guys, it was so, so good! I was pleasantly shocked at how much I liked it. It had this unbelievably creamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency and a satisfying richness. I bought two varieties — pistachio and coffee — to take home, and couldn’t resist nibbling on the candy the whole tram ride back.
Since then, I’m a total halva convert. I just love its unique texture — dense, creamy and fluffy all at once — and distinct sesame flavor. I also adore tahini and have been using it in myriad ways: mixed with honey and swirled with Greek yogurt, in an ice cream that tastes like the frozen version of halva, even spread on toast with melted dark chocolate.
I decided it was high time to turn my favorite flavor trio into a baked good and came up with these buns. Here, a cinnamon spiced dough is topped by a butter, chocolate and cocoa filling, which is then swirled together with a sweetened tahini paste. The whole thing is topped with crumbles of halva and sliced into big, thick rounds that bake up soft and fluffy.
Drizzled with a tahini icing as soon as they come out of the oven, the buns are fudgy, rich and bursting with flavor. They’re decadent but not too overpowering that you won’t want more than one, and I love that this is the sort of treat that works for both dessert and coffee time. (Side note: Is coffee time a thing? Yes? No? It should be.)
These buns have a lot going on, but it just works. Even non-halva lovers will get in on the action, finding the combination of sesame and chocolate deliciously alluring. Then again, who can resist the siren call of a bun? Yell “I got buns, hon!” and you’ll have everyone line up ready to taste these for themselves.
Yield: Approximately 24 big buns (two 9-by-13-inch pans)
Why I love this recipe: A soft and rich yeast dough is flavored with cinnamon and turned into buns that are filled with a swirled mixture of buttery chocolate, sweet tahini and nutty halva pieces. Finished with a tahini glaze, these buns are rich, chocolatey and warm, the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee.
For the dough:
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the chocolate filling:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)
6 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
7 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the tahini and halva filling:
1/2 cup tahini
6 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup torn and shredded halva pieces
For the tahini icing:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons warm milk or water
1 tablespoon tahini
Make the dough: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the milk and heat until warmed through.
In a small bowl combine the yeast with a couple of tablespoons of the warm milk mixture and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes.
In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the flour, remaining sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the yeast mixture, the remaining milk and the eggs. Stir until a dough forms.
Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, around 5 minutes. The dough will be soft and sticky. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
As the dough rises, make the chocolate filling: In a saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in the powdered sugar, cocoa and salt. The mixture will form a spreadable paste; set it aside until needed.
Now, make the tahini filling: Combine the tahini, sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir well until thoroughly combined. Set the filling and the halva pieces aside until needed.
Once the dough has risen, divide it in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the dough to a rectangle roughly 10-by-17 inches, with the long edge facing you. Spread half of the chocolate filling over half of the dough, making sure to spread it all the way to the edges. Top with half of the tahini mixture and, using a toothpick (or your fingers), swirl the chocolate and tahini together.Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the halva pieces evenly over the chocolate- and tahini-covered dough. Now roll up the dough. Roll it up the short way, perpendicular to you. Slice into 12 buns. Transfer the buns to a baking paper lined 9-by-13-inch pan.Repeat the above process with the second piece of dough and the remaining chocolate paste, tahini filling and halva pieces. Transfer the buns to another lined 9-by-13 pan.
Cover the buns with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise for 30-40 minutes, or until big and puffy. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. After the buns have risen, bake them for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking.
While the buns bake, mix together the confectioner’s sugar, liquid and tahini until completely smooth. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, drizzle the glaze all over them. (It may have hardened a bit, so whisk it a few times to break it up again.)
Serve warm or cool the rolls completely, then store them in an airtight container in the freezer.
Shannon Sarna is the editor of The Nosher, a food blog offering new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.