Sticky Sweet Rolls With an Ethereal, If Unusual, Caramel

March  7, 2018

I can't remember my first taste of pure tahini. It must have been sometime in college, as I didn't grow up eating much Middle Eastern food. But though I don't recall the first time, I certainly can recount the hundreds, nay thousands, of times I've had it since.

Tahini is a hard ingredient not to swoon over. Nutty and creamy, it's like a more sophisticated cousin to peanut butter. It's equally good in sweet or savory applications. Less thick and sticky than nut butters, it's easy to work with whether baking or cooking. Once I started experimenting with giving some of my favorite recipes the tahini treatment, it was hard to stop.

So I didn't! I put tahini in my chocolate chip cookies (because Danielle Oron said so). I swirl it into my oatmeal. I mix it with honey and drizzle it over yogurt. I dunk fresh figs in it, fold it into my ice cream custards, stir it into my waffle batter, and whisk it into salad dressings.

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Of course I had to try pairing it with one of my go-to yeasted doughs. This is the dough I use to make classic cinnamon rolls, as well as any variations like five-spice chocolate sweet rolls. I like shaping it into rolls, but you can also just roll up the log and twist it into a babka shape instead.

The dough is exceptionally forgiving: pliable and soft and easy to roll out. The filling is very lightly adapted from a shortbread recipe out of Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's excellent new baking cookbook, Sweet. It's a rather simple caramel recipe, to which you add tahini and flaky sea salt at the end.

I add more tahini, both for flavor and to give it a slightly thicker texture which makes it easier to spread over the dough and roll up. However, since the filling is somewhat loose, don't worry if it looks like a hot mess as you try to slice the rolls. Just work quickly and do your best to keep the filling inside the rolls. It'll be delicious no matter how messy it is!

I always spoon my extra caramel over the top of the rolls before baking to gild the lily, so to speak. This also creates this gorgeous and crackly golden lid to the rolls, which shatters ever so slightly with each bite. I realize cinnamon rolls and sticky buns are firmly ensconced in our hearts as the ultimate sweet rolls, but I think today's recipe could dethrone even those classics.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.