Before I share today’s recipe, I just wanted to thank everybody who read and commented on my last post containing my thoughts about blogging. Those thoughts have been marinating in my mind for some time now, and I briefly wrote that I was initially hesitant to write about them in the first place. At best, I was worried that some people would think that I was knocking their careers and chosen professions as bloggers. At worst, I feared folks would call me hypocritical (since, after all, I monetize my blog and benefit from all the same sponsorships and networks too). But not publishing the post for fear of upsetting people and losing followers would have been the exact opposite of what I advised people to do, so I took a deep breath and hit “publish”.
Since publishing the post, I’ve received a number of comments and emails from other bloggers sharing their own experiences. It’s been wonderful and eye-opening reading everybody’s take, and it made me realize that what I wrote about was a pretty universal experience for bloggers. If anything, it made me realize that we need more opportunities to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff and about the doubts and fears we all share. I don’t know exactly how to provide that (and, quite frankly, it’s kind of asking a lot from a food blog), but hopefully taking more risks will eventually pave the way for such opportunities.
Speaking of taking risks, the recipe I’ve got for you guys today is one that I’ve kept near and dear to my chest for fear of alienating some of my audience. Black sesame and goat milk aren’t exactly the most accessible ingredients, although black sesame is a staple in Asian desserts. Usually black sesame appears in subtle desserts like panna cotta or pudding, often accompanied by lots of honey, syrup, or sweetened condensed milk to take its slightly bitter edge off.
My favorite kind of black sesame desserts, however, are ones that are un-subtle and un-delicate in flavor. The kind that, where if you take a bite of it, there’s no hiding that black sesame at ALL. And that’s exactly what’s going on with these rolls; you’re not gonna find a “light, floral touch” here — there’s no mistaking the nutty, toasty and almost woody flavor from the sesame. And that’s because they’re filled with nothing but butter, sugar, and black sesame seeds; there’s nothing there to distract or take the edge off the main star of the dessert.
Well… except maybe the goat milk. Since I’m mildly lactose intolerant (though in severe denial about it), I’ve been playing around with goat milk as a substitute for regular milk. When I bought my first bottle, I’d envisioned it to have a flavor similar to kefir — tart, and almost yogurt-y. My imagination ran away, thinking that using it as a substitute for regular milk in baked goods would give the final product a subtle tangy flavor, similar to using sour cream or yogurt. I was more than disappointed to find that goat milk kinda tasted like... well, regular milk.
But goat cheese? Whole other story. Turns out that you can easily replace cream cheese with goat cheese in almost any recipe, giving you that awesome goaty, farmy taste. This goat milk glaze is more technically a goat cheese glaze, with that unique farmy goat cheese flavor playing very, very well with the black sesame, adding tang to all that toasty goodness.
And of course, if you’ve been sitting there wrinkling your nose this entire time, you can always, always just go with a more traditional cinnamon sugar filling and a cream cheese glaze. Which is always good too.
But I promise you’re missing out.
Some baker's notes:
- Black sesame seeds are available in the bulk sections of fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets. You can also find them online.
- I let the dough develop overnight in the fridge because I found that the slower rise brought out more flavors in the bread. I also liked breaking up the work into two portions, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just sitting around waiting for things to happen foreverrr. But if you’d like to just get it all out of the way, no worries! After kneading the dough, allow the dough to proof for about 1 1/2 hours in a lightly greased bowl covered with plastic wrap. During this time, it should double in size — after it's done so, follow the instructions in the recipe to roll out and re-proof the rolls a second time.
- If you don't have a deep-dish pie pan to bake these rolls in, you can also use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or sheet — simply lay them out in rows of 3, spacing each about an inch or so apart. They actually bake more evenly and consistently this way (but I liked the look of the rolls baked in a pie pan 'cuz I'm a sucker).
- The recipe starts by instructing you on how to make black sesame sugar using an oven and a food processor, thanks to this utterly genius recipe by Mandy of Lady and Pups. The recipe will make slightly more than what's needed for the rolls, and you can store whatever's leftover in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month (similarly, you can make the sugar in advanced for up to 1 month). It's important to refrigerate the sugar since black sesame seeds have a ton of oil in them and go rancid fast. However, my leftover sugar never lasts that long — I often find myself reaching for it and stirring it into my green tea or coffee.
For the Black Sesame Sugar:
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, warmed to lukewarm
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/3 "heaping" cup black sesame sugar (from recipe above)
- 1 teaspoon ground vanilla powder
(makes around 1 cup, enough for generously frosting 6 rolls)
- 3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons goat milk
- 1 teaspoon ground vanilla powder
- 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400ºF.
- Spread 1/4 cup black sesame seeds evenly across a baking tray, before placing inside the oven. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to stir and toss the seeds every 3 to 4 minutes to ensure that they're being evenly heated, baking for a total of 15 to 17 minutes. Towards the end, the seeds should turn a light brown color and start to steam and smoke. To check that the seeds are ready, rub a seed between your fingers. The seed should shatter and crush easily into smaller grains, emitting a nutty and fragrant smell. When the seeds pass this test, immediately transfer to a cooler plate on a wire rack to prevent any burning.
- Once the seeds cool off completely, transfer to a small bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. Divide into two batches and pulse half the mixture in a food processor until finely ground; the mixture should resemble super-fine cornmeal. It took my food processor around 20 seconds of pulsing to achieve the desired texture (which you can see in the jar in the pictures above). Repeat with the second batch. DO NOT PULSE IN ONE BIG BATCH — otherwise, you risk the seeds turning into a butter instead of sugar. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Set aside.
- In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together 1 cup buttermilk (warmed to lukewarm — remember that yeast is a living thing, so it's important not to kill it by warming the liquid too much; you want the temperature to be similar to that of a warm bath and no more), 1 large egg, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Set aside.
- Use a tall cup or a large measuring cup to make a well in center of the dry ingredients (from the 1st step) and add liquid ingredients (from the 2nd step), using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir until combined. As the dough starts to form, transfer to a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticking, you can add up to 1/2 cup of extra flour as you knead, but don't over do it.
- Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, until the dough has doubled in size.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, transfer to a lightly floured counter and use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 8 x 20 inches. Pro tip — the longer your rectangle, the more attractive your rolls will be! Try and make that 20 inches work.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon honey Use a pastry brush to brush the rolled dough with the butter and honey mixture. Sprinkle heavily with 1/3 cup black sesame sugar and 1 teaspoon ground vanilla powder. For more attractive rolls, make sure you sprinkle the sugar and spices evenly and completely over the rolled out dough, including the edges.
- Working widthwise, roll the dough into a log, pinching its edges to seal. Cut the roll into 6 pieces, each about 2 inches wide. Place cut sides down on a 9-inch, deep dish pan in a flower shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the edges of the roll are rounded and touching, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Once the rolls have risen, preheat the oven to 350 (F). Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for around 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges of each bun are golden in color. Baked in a pie dish, i's a little hard to tell when the buns are fully baked on the inside. The best way to do so is to stick a skewer inserted in the center bun and see if it comes out clean, without any dough. If the tops of the rolls start to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil and continue baking until a skewer comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack.
- While the rolls are cooling, make the goat milk glaze. Combine 3 ounces softened goat cheese, 2 tablespoons goat milk, and 1 teaspoon ground vanilla powder in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on a low speed until combined. Add 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar all at once and beat until fluffy and of drizzling consistency. Use immediately to drizzle on top of each cinnamon roll while the rolls are still warm, using a rubber spatula or butter knife to spread out the glaze.