Cheese and Za’atar Buns

by Hanelore Dumitrache

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Quick and delicious breakfast treats

Growing up by the Black Sea in Romania, I was lucky enough to experience a mixture of cuisines and flavours. From Lebanese to Greek and Turkish, I love all of them. The spices and breakfast pastries are by far my favourite parts and they are the true definition of comfort food to me.

Traditionally, Romanians really love their cheese – especially kashkaval cheese. We would put that gooey deliciousness in every pastry and sandwich if possible. Basically… you can never have enough cheese

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, and I like to indulge in the occasional savoury pastry. This recipe is my interpretation of two things I absolutely adore: Za’atar and breakfast pastries. The breakfast buns are easy to make, soft and fragrant and can be frozen or reheated. 

Za'atar, a most fragrant spice

I started cooking with Za’atar in the past 3-4 years, after having my first Lebanese pizza (also known as manakish). Za’atar is a fragrant Palestinian Thyme spice mix commonly used around the Middle East to make amazing treats. 

Za’atar typically includes thyme, roasted sesame seeds, sumac, salt, cumin and coriander. The spice goes perfectly with pastries of all kind, focaccia bread, pizza toppings, chicken and roast potatoes, as well as salads and dressings. This amazing ingredient can be either home made or bought from your local Arab or Turkish market. 

Cheese bun ripped in half with melted cheese showing

Making the Cheese and Za'atar buns

This recipe is very easy and doesn’t require kneading or a high level of skill – making it perfect for beginners and advanced bakers alike. The taste although authentically Middle Eastern, is not overbearing and can be enjoyed by everyone (Note: please be mindful of sesame seed allergy).

Gather all your ingredients to ensure you have everything you need and let’s begin! In a large bowl, start by combining warm milk with instant dry yeast and sugar. Please ensure the milk is warm and not too hot, as this can essentially kill the yeast. The sugar is optional, and used to ‘feed’ the yeast and help it activate better. 

Let the yeast bloom for 5-10 minutes, then add in the rest of the ingredients: flour, Za’atar, egg, salt and melted butter. 

Bowl with milk and dry yeast
1. Add warm milk, instant yeast and sugar in a bowl
Mix milk and yeast with a spatula
2. Mix milk and yeast to combine

Start mixing the ingredients with a wooden spoon or spatula until they combine thoroughly. The dough will be quite sticky, but please resist the temptation to add more flour, as this will make the buns too dense. Cover with a cling film and let the dough prove for 1-2 hours until the dough doubles in size. 

Dry ingredients mixed with milk and yeast mixture
3. Mix your dry ingredients with the milk
Combined dough with wooden spoon
4. Combine with spoon until the dough forms

When the dough is almost ready, prepare your filling by chopping the spring onions finely and cutting the kashkaval cheese in walnut-sized cubes. 

Chopped spring onions on board
5. Finely chop spring onions for filling
Cubes cheese and finely chopped spring onion
6. Cut the cheese in cubes the size of a walnut

The dough has doubled in size, so now we can prepare our cheese buns. Start by dividing the dough into 10 smaller pieces. Take a small piece of dough and roll it between your palms to form a round ball. Gently press with your finger to flatten the ball into a circular disc roughly 8-10cm in diameter. 

Place a pinch of spring onions and one cube of kashkaval cheese in the middle of the disc, the close it up. Use your fingers to pinch the dough and create a perfect seal to prevent the cheese from seeping out. Roll the bun between your palms to make round. 

Complete all the 10 buns, then cover them with a wet towel or cling film and let them prove for 30 minutes. 

Small ball of dough in palm
7. Take a small piece of dough and make it round
Flattening dough into a disc by pressing it with fingers
8. Flatten the dough into a disc
Hand holding flat round disc
9. Your disc should be around 10cm in diameter
Chopped spring onion placed in the middle of the dough disc
10. Place a few spring onions in the middle of the disc
Kashkaval cheese placed on top of spring onions on dough disc
11. Place a cube of cheese in the middle
Pinching dough with tip of fingers to seal the dough bun
12. Use your fingers to pinch the dough sealing the filling
Rolling dough between palms to make round
13. Roll the bun between your palms to make it round
Finished round bun in palm
14. Finished bun should be round and smooth

Baking the buns

After proving, make a quick egg wash from one egg and brush over the buns. Sprinkle some sesame seeds or more Za’atar over the buns for a crunchy finish. 

Bake the cheese buns in the preheated oven at 190C (or 170C with fan) for 25 minutes or until golden. Let the buns cool on a wire rack then serve whilst still warm. Enjoy! 

Brush cheese buns with egg wash
15. Brush cheese buns with egg wash
Sesame seeds sprinkles on top of buns
16. Sprinkle sesame seeds on buns
Cheese buns before baking
17. Bake for 25 minutes
Baked cheese buns
18. All ready! Let cool slightly then serve.

Cheese and Za’atar Buns

Print
Serves: 10 Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Nutrition facts: 165 calories 6 fat
Rating: 5.0/5
( 2 voted )

Ingredients

For the dough
125ml milk
8g / 1tsp instant dry yeast
8g / 1tsp tsp sugar 
1 medium egg 
250g plain flour 
40g melted butter
8g / 1 tsp salt 
15g / 1 tbsp Za’atar
Extra: sesame seeds, egg for washing

For the filling
100g kashkaval cheese 
4 spring onions

METHOD

  1. In a bowl add the warm milk, instant yeast and sugar. Mix to dissolve the yeast, then let it sit for a few minutes. 
  2. Add the flour, salt, Za’atar spices, egg and melted butter. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate. The dough will be quite sticky, but do not add extra flour. 
  3. Cover dough with cling film and leave in a warm place to prove 1-2 hours until the dough has doubled in size. 
  4. Once the dough has proved, chop the spring onions finely and cube the kashkaval cheese in larger pieces the size of a walnut. 
  5. Divide the dough in 10 parts. Take a small piece of the dough and make it round by rolling in between your palms. 
  6. Flatten the dough with your fingers into a disc the size of your palm. Add some spring onion and one cube of kashkaval cheese in the middle of the disc. 
  7. Use your fingers to pinch the dough together to seal in the filling and form a ball of dough. Roll between your palms to make the bun rounder. 
  8. Place the buns on a baking sheet, cover with a wet towel and let it prove for 30 minutes. 
  9. After the second proving, brush the buns with egg wash and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. 
  10. Bake in a preheated oven at 190C (or 170C with fan) for 25 minutes or until golden. 

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