05 April 2008

Flaky Sesame Rolls (Tahinli)

Having grown up in Baltimore and lived in both New York and Washington D.C. I’ve spent more time on Amtrak’s northeast corridor than anyone can imagine or should have to endure. Despite the fact that this should merit a medal of valor (I once joked that I was the curse that made every train I got on break down, including the time we had to dismount in the snow and walk on the train tracks to the nearest platform!) I actually still love the train. I also have an uncanny habit of always running into someone I know, often a collegaue or former classmate, which makes the time fly by.

Recently, I ran into a high school classmate of mine, both of us returning home briefly. When I mentioned my travels abroad, Lisa delighted, exclaiming her parents had grown up in Beirut and had wonderful memories of it and soon we were ensconced in a conversation of travels, languages, and cultures. I had always known Lisa was Armenian, but in the vague way you know things when you’re sixteen and think you know much more than you really do. Now, of course, I knew about the genocide her family must have fled, I’d visited the Armenian district in Beirut with its amazing goldmarket. But mainly, I knew about the great influence Armenian cuisine has had on the cuisine of the Middle East. And I couldn’t help thinking what great culinary knowledge her family might hold (is it bad that I see most people as a potential source of heirloom recipes?)

Armenian cuisine is most famous for its use a of red peppers and spices and also for its cured sausages, but one of my favorite Armenian contributions to Middle Eastern cuisine are the flaky sesame rolls known as tahinli. The rolls are made with a yeast dough which is rolled out, spread with sweetened tahini (sesame seed paste), then rolled up and twisted into coils, resulting in a wonderfully flaky texture and a nutty taste. Sesame bread rolls are popular all over the Middle East, sometimes the spirals are as large as a plate but I like them small dinner-roll size. If you imagine a flaky roll with a taste redolent of peanut butter, you’ll understand why I love them so much.

I never got to ask Lisa if her family made tahinli, but when I went home I dug up my own recipe and made them. Dunked in a homemade beet soup, or toasted for breakfast, they were gone before we knew it. And while I won't be thanking Amtrak any time soon, who knows what friend or recipe my next trip will turn up.

Flaky Sesame Rolls (Tahinli)

3 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 cup milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope, 7 gr) yeast
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup tahini
1/2 cup honey
1 egg beaten
sesame seeds

1. Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a bowl. In a small bowl combine the egg and oil. Heat the milk to warm (120 - 130F). Add the milk to the flour mixture, then work in the egg mixture to make a smooth, elastic and not sticky dough. If needed add more flour.
2. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes. It will not rise like other breads, do not panic. Mix the filling ingredients while the dough is resting.
4. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, lightly grease them with a bit of oil so they do not dry out and make it east to roll. Let rest, covered, 15-20 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 325 F. Roll one ball of dough out to very wide thin circle. Spread with a thin layer of the tahini mixture (I find it easiest to drizzle the tahini over, then sort of spread it with the back of the spoon). Starting at the longest edge, roll up the dough into a rope. Gently twist the rope so it is spiraled. Roll up the rope to a form a coiled bun. Gently flatten the bun with the rolling pin or a firm press of your hand. Place on a greased or lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
6. Brush the rolls with the beaten egg, then sprinkle a few sesame seeds over top. Bake 25-30 minutes, until light brown.


Maggie M. said...

Very cute! These look like a lot of fun :)

Jenna Lee said...

I'm also convinced that the stretch of Amtrak rails between Philadelphia's 30th Street Station and Union Station in D.C. is haunted. Or cursed. Something atrocious always seems to happen.

And what delicious looking rolls. :adds to list of breakfast baked goods to try:

Leslie said...

These look great...I just bought some carob molasses and have no idea what I was planning on doing with it. It says it's usually mixed with tahini and served as a spread...I wonder if it might also work well instead of the honey in the filling? Might have to give it a try...

Mercedes said...

Jenna- sigh, I know. I love the convenience of the train but not the reliability.

Leslie- how ironic, I just had a conversation with a friend of mine today about carob molasses (dibs kharoob). I love the stuff, however, I will counter that it has quite a tart edge, so I wouldn't recommend you use it in this recipe. The roll of the honey in the filling is to sweeten, most recipes for tahinli just use sugar but I prefer honey. Not that it would be bad, mind you, I just think the carob might overwhelm the flavor, and the tahinli are so good as they are, I'd recommend you trying it as written first.

The tahini-carob mixture is really good simply spread on pita bread and rolled up as a snack. Definitely give that a try!

Anonymous said...

i think i will be making these soon. sooner than soon.

Deborah said...

These rolls sound so delicious!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

As a fan of sesame seeds, I'm going to have to give these a try. They look and sound delicious.

test it comm said...

Those look good. I like the sound of sesame flavoured pastry.

Lyra said...

I love tahini and these look awesome,I'll have to makes some to take to work!

Lyra said...

A quick logistical question: after you have formed the rolls, do you let them rise again before you bake them or do you pop them right in the oven (sounds strange, but maybe that is what you do?) I wasn't sure from the recipe...

Anonymous said...

Am a big fan of your recipes and the stories that come with them. I impolitely chose to tag you for a meme (http://sanneonthemove2.blogspot.com/2008/04/thats-what-you-get-when-you-dont-blog.html), because I'm really curious as to which book you'd post.

Mercedes said...

Lyra- no you don't let them rise after the final shaping. It's funny, when I went back and read the recipe, I thought, maybe you should let them rise. But I didn't, they probably get a good 10 minute rest, what with the time it takes to shape them all and then brush them. But no, no specific rest.

La Tartine Gourmande said...

This looks so nice! I would love to try!

Y said...

These sound great, and I'm a big fan of tahini, so I"m bookmarking this recipe to try some time.

jenny said...

i made these just now... SOOOOOO GOOD! thank you!

Amy I. said...

I spotted these the other day when I first came across your lovely blog and haven't been able to stop thinking about them, so I made them and they are divine. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe!

Luke said...

Absolutely wonderful. Didn't quite know what to expect but the result was stunning: slightly crispy and flaky pastry with aromatic sesame-honey filling. It will definitely become one of my favourite recipes.