I have written about my love for Za’atar before – how much I love Lebanese Manoush (flabread disks that get smothered in a generous layer of Za’atar mixed with olive oil before baking) and how much I love starting a lazy Saturday or Sunday with a fried egg atop some Labneh and the whole thing drizzled with Za’atar Oil. And over the past few weeks an idea for some sort of pastry or bun flavoured with Za’atar found its way into my notebook.
Initially there was no more than a single line in my notebook with a question mark next to it (the way many of my recipe ideas start). Slowly I started considering different options – a savoury turnover with feta and za’atar? Maybe too salty. A danish pastry not unlike custard pretzels but with a feta cream in the centre and labneh? Too fussy. And what about pairing za’atar and labneh? Two ingredients I already adore so much, both on their own and when paired together? And a savoury bun that is nonetheless as soft and fluffy like Swedish Cardamom Buns? With sticky layers you could unfurl one by one and dunk into the creamy yolk of a soft-boiled egg should you so wish? And eventually it was this last idea that found its way into my oven in the form of these Za’atar and Labneh Buns.
Since I think of these buns as very much a breakfast item I guess it made sense that we first ended up having them for dinner (we had them on the side of some Shakshuka, one of my favourite brunch dishes (and that is equally tasty eaten in the evening). But you could really eat them anytime of the day, be it on their own alongside your morning cup of joe, as part of a lazy weekend brunch with some eggs or smoked salmon, or even as a sandwich bun and as the perfect vehicle for your favourite toppings. I bet you could even slice them in half and toast them and use them as burger buns should you so wish.
Za’atar and Labneh Buns
Makes 6 buns
250g all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp dried active yeast / 3g – or 10g fresh
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
125ml warm milk
35g melted butter
If using unsalted labneh, a pinch of salt
2 tsp cornflour
6 tbsp Za’atar
6 tbsp olive oil
Eggwash: 1 egg whisked with a pinch of salt
To finish: olive oil
To make the dough, whisk together the flour with the yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg, warm milk and butter. Knead for 5-10 minutes on medium speed or until the dough passes the window pane test (i.e. the dough can be stretched so thin without ripping as to be almost translucent).
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise somewhere warm for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. If you want to make these buns for breakfast or brunch, you can make the dough the night before and place it in the fridge (in a covered container) overnight for the first proofing.
Punch the dough down. Next, roll the dough out into a 25x35cm rectangle on a floured surface, with one of the longer sides of the dough facing you.
If not already salted, season the labneh with a generous pinch of salt and stir in the cornflour. Spread the labneh evenly over the dough. Whisk together the za’atar with the olive oil and spread over the labneh.
Carefully fold the top ⅓ of the dough towards you. Then fold the bottom third (so the long side closest to you) on top of that.
Using a sharp knife, pastry cutter or bench knife, cut the dough into 6 strips approximately 2cm in width and 25cm in length.
To shape the buns take one strip of dough and, holding one end of a strip of dough between the top of your thumb and your index finger, wrap the dough a few times around the index finger and middle finger of the same hand, stretching the dough slightly as you go. When the remaining strip of dough is ca. 10 cm long carefully wrap the strip of dough around the middle of the loops of dough now resting on your index finger and middle finger (essentially the same way you might start a ball of yarn), tucking both ends of the strip of dough underneath the bun. Place the bun on a sheetpan lined with parchment paper and repeat this step with the remaining strips of dough. Izzy’s gif is great at showing how best to do this.
Cover and set aside to proof for a further 30-45 minutes or until visibly puffy and a small dent created with a finger leaves a visible mark and only disappears very slowly.
While the buns are proving, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Brush the buns with egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes.
While the buns are still hot, brush with olive oil for a nice sheen.