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
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.