Make Ahead

Em's Buns

June  7, 2011
Author Notes

..."They're cheeky!" (TM) :-)
That's the name and slogan of my imaginary company. In my mind I even have caps and aprons with this printed on them, along with a little line drawing of a rotund bun speckled with sesame seeds. You see, when I threaten to drop out of my PhD program, which happens at least once a week, if not more (it's the only way I can keep part of my sanity and sense of autonomy) my plan for what I will do next is to start a bicycle-pulled food stand from which I will sell little stuffed buns as an afternoon snack from 2:30-5pm.
The idea for afternoon buns was inspired by the buns they have at the St. John's Hotel. I've never had their afternoon buns, but I read their description of them as "warm little buttock-like buns" and I thought it was the most hilarious and ingenious thing ever. Basically everything Fergus Henderson does is genius.
A little stuffed bun is exactly what I want as a snack in the afternoon every day. So, I decided to start working on making them. I've been working on the recipe for some months now - you know, just in case I really do decide to start my company. The idea is that the filling will be different every day, made from really good quality ingredients, based on what's in season, what seems inspiring that day etc. But, there will always be one savory and one sweet option, and if you don't want either of them, well come back tomorrow. But, I really think you want one!
I've made them with all sorts of vegetables and cheeses and fruits. Broccoli, gouda and chile flakes. Mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Ham and cheese with mustard. Chocolate and a cherry. Jam and cream cheese. Banana and Nutella...
I wanted the dough to be the same for both savory and sweet, so after trying a whole bunch of different styles, I opted for an enriched dough that's still a bit south of being brioche rich. It's really pliable and easy to work with when it is cold after its refrigerator rise.
Here are a couple of my favorite buns that seem appropriate for this time of year. I've written the recipe so you can make half the batch savory and half sweet.
And hey, they also make fabulous picnic food - I can say this from experience! - fiveandspice —fiveandspice

Test Kitchen Notes

I made these buns over the weekend to take to various holiday festivities, and they were a big hit. The flavor combinations, especially in the savory bun, were spot-on. I loved the fatty-salty combo of sausage and green olives, and the strawberry-brie mixture was just sweet enough to toe the line between dessert and afternoon snack. I did have a problem with my buns leaking in the oven; next time, I think I'd use a little less filling and shape the dough a little thicker. Otherwise, these were wonderful! —Kate Williams

  • Makes 2-dozen buns
  • Bun dough
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons un salted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons raw cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (save the white for the egg wash)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 cups about, all purpose flour (plus more as needed)
  • Bun filling
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 12 small cubes
  • 6-7 ounces good quality hard salami, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped, pitted green olives
  • 6 ounces good brie (or another similar triple creme cheese)- rind removed and cut into 12 pieces (this is easier if it is cold)
  • 1 cup finely chopped strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 egg white for egg wash
  • sesame seeds for sprinkling
  • pearl sugar for sprinkling
In This Recipe
  1. Bun dough
  2. Heat the milk to just over 100F, then in a large bowl, stir together the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and yeast. Let this stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
  3. Stir in the 2 eggs, egg yolk, and salt. Then stir in about 4-4 1/2 cups of the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. (This can all be done in the bowl of a standing mixer using a bread hook as well). At this point you should have a shaggy dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (use the last 1/2 cup of flour) and knead, adding more flour in small amounts if needed (ooh, pun!), for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth. If you're mixing the dough in a mixer, add a bit of the extra flour (about 1/4-1/2 cup), just enough to give you a stiff dough and mix on low with the bread hook for 10 minutes.
  5. Coat a deep bowl with a little bit of oil, put the dough into the bowl, turn the dough to lightly coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. After about 12 hours, punch down the dough, then fill and bake it as directed below.
  1. Bun filling
  2. First off, toss the strawberries with the sugar and mint and set aside.
  3. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, punch it down, and divide it in half. Put half back in the fridge. Roll the half you have out into a log, then divide this log into 12 equal pieces (I usually divide it in half, then half again, then thirds, but if I were really being detail oriented I would use a scale).
  4. One at a time, take a piece and roll it into a ball. Stretch this ball into a circle about a quarter inch thick, and pull it even thinner around the edges.
  5. In the middle of the dough circle, place one piece of provolone, a couple little pieces of salami (1/12th of the salami pieces, in fact), and a small scoop of the chopped olives. Then, take the edges of the circle and gather them up around the filling, pinching and twisting them tightly together to close up the bun. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  6. Repeat this procedure with the remaining 11 pieces that you cut filling them with the provolone, salami, olive mix. Once this dozen are on the baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
  7. Then, start the second dozen. Take the remaining dough out of the fridge and divide it into 12 pieces.
  8. Fill these buns in the same manner as the first, except put a piece of brie and a scoop of the strawberries in each. Put these buns on a second parchment lined baking sheet. When finished, cover with a clean towel and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350F. When the first dozen buns have finished rising, brush them with the egg white and sprinkle them with a pinch of sesame seeds each. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
  10. In the meantime, brush the second dozen buns with the egg wash and sprinkle them with a pinch of pearl sugar each. When the first batch is baked, bake the second batch.
  11. The buns are the very best still slightly warm from the oven, and are definitely best the day they are baked. But, they keep for a couple of days and rewarm nicely. (And of course, they're especially good sold out of a special food stand trailer attached to a bike parked on a street corner...I imagine.)

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.