It’s the end of February, only carbs and cheese will do. We had a bit of a snowstorm in Toronto this week. And while we’ve been enjoying a reasonably mild winter this year, this is always the point in the season where my patience begins to wear thin. The cold feels more insulting, the snow more cumbersome, and the road salt more disgusting. And as anyone Canadian will tell you, March offers very little respite from the winter weather. The calendar may announce the arrival of Spring but more often than not the forecast has other plans. So when I hit this weather-worn state while staring down the barrel of yet more winter, I like to make things like today’s Pesto Shallot Cheese Buns to help see me through. They’re a cozy and unabashedly indulgent ray of sunshine when there is very little to be found. So let’s make them!
Okay, so before we jump in let’s talk about what these buns are. These buns feature a pillowy whole wheat potato bread exterior flecked with caramelized shallots. Inside is a gooey molten center comprised of pepita and parsley pesto, goat cheese, and creamy mozzarella. The buns are finished with a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano that bakes up crisp and golden in the oven. These buns are truly overwhelming in the best possible way.
We’re going to kick things off by caramelizing the shallots. This takes no time at all. Simply slice a couple of shallots into half moons and heat a little oil in a pan. Add the shallots and sprinkle them with salt. Back the heat off and leave the shallots to sweat. I like to cover my shallots while I sweat them, so the moisture doesn’t cook off too quickly. The shallot juices are where all the sugars are, we don’t want to lose them. After 10 minutes in the shallot sauna, your alliums should be golden and a tiny bit crispy. Set them aside to cool.
Now let’s talk about making the bread. And this particular bread starts with mashed potatoes. If you happen to have leftover mashed potatoes so much the better. But if you’re not lucky enough to have them tucked away in your fridge, you are going to have to make your own from scratch. It’s admittedly a bit of a pain because you only need half a cup. But mashed potatoes are also dead simple to make, so it isn’t that big a tragedy. Plus, make extra and whip up some fish cakes or croquettes. Potatoes are included in so many perfect foods.
With the potatoes out of the way, let’s tackle the dough. Start by whisking the whole wheat flour, white flour, yeast, sugar, and salt together. Set the dry ingredients aside and move on to the wet. Place the mashed potatoes, shallots, honey, and warm water in a bowl and whisk to combine. Now, it’s time to bring a stand mixer into this. While it’s true you can make this bread by hand, it does require a lot more patience and forearm strength. A stand mixer just makes breadmaking more attainable.
Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and half of the dry ingredients. Mix on low until a loose dough forms. Add the remaining dry ingredients and once again mix on low until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and is tacky to the touch. Start adding softened butter to the dough, a couple of cubes at a time. Wait for each addition of butter to be worked into the dough before adding more. Once the butter is fully integrated, transfer the dough to a well-floured surface. Knead the dough by hand for 5-7 minutes.
I like to finish my bread dough by hand because it allows me to interact with it directly. I know by feel whether they have enough hydration and/or they are elastic enough to rise and bake up well. Unfortunately, this is something you have to learn by doing. But it’s worth starting to clock those hours now. Once the dough is where you want it, form it into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise for two hours. Word to the wise, this is a very dense dough. It has both whole wheat flour and potato, so don’t expect it to dome like a milk bread would or focaccia. It will get bigger but it won’t be enormous or deflate in as dramatic a fashion.
While the dough is rising, you can prep all the remaining components. Let’s start with the pesto. Pesto is my favorite way to use up herbs that are a little past their prime. And you can use whatever tender herb you have on hand. This version features flat-leaf parsley and raw pepitas. Feel free to use the more traditional pine nuts. I’m unfortunately allergic, so I always have to substitute them. And in my many pesto adventures, I have found that walnuts, pepitas, and pistachios tend to be my favorites. But again, use whatever you have on hand that needs to be used up.
To make the pesto, you essentially pile all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and let it rip. Slowly stream in the olive oil while it blends. You may want to trim back the amount of oil you use but I wouldn’t recommend it. A pesto that is too light on oil won’t coat much of anything properly. And don’t worry, you won’t consume all that much in a single serving. A little pesto goes a long way.
Finally, make the gooey cheese centers. These only take two ingredients, softened goat cheese and shredded mozzarella. Work the two ingredients together and form the mixture into balls using a tablespoon measure as a guide. Chill until you’re ready to form the buns.
When you’re ready to form the Pesto Shallot Cheese Buns, divide the dough into 100g pieces. Flatten each piece into a disc and spread a little pesto in the center. Place one of the cheese centers in the middle and fold the dough around the cheese. Pinch to close. And when I say “pinch” I mean it. Make sure you leave a border of naked dough around the edges when applying the pesto. The oil in the pesto will prevent the dough from forming a good seal, which will result in cheese leakage. I did have a few buns that sprung a leak but honestly, they still tasted pretty fantastic.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Pesto Shallot Cheese buns. These bad boys are cozy, indulgent, and over-the-top. Just what you need to survive the last leg of winter.
Pesto Shallot Cheese Buns
- 1 small skillet
- 1 Stand mixer
- 1 Small Baking Sheet
- 1 blender or food processor
Potato Shallot Buns
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 shallots sliced into half moons
- 1½ cups whole wheat flour
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2½ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp instant yeast
- ½ cup mashed potatoes
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 cup warm water
- ¼ cup unsalted butter softened and cut into cubes
Parsley Pepita Pesto
- 1½ cups fresh parsley tightly packed
- 1 cup raw pepitas
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 orange zested
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano shredded
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- 140g (5oz) goat cheese softened
- 1¼ cup mozzarella shredded
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- Pour the olive oil into the skillet and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and sweat the shallots. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Take them off of the heat.1 tbsp olive oil, 3 shallots
- In a large bowl, whisk to combine the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Set it aside.1½ cups whole wheat flour, 1½ cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup granulated sugar, 2½ tsp salt, 1½ tsp instant yeast
- In another bowl, whisk to combine the mashed potatoes, the cooked shallots, honey, and warm water. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Mix on low until a loose dough forms.½ cup mashed potatoes, 2 tbsp honey, 1 cup warm water
- Add the remaining flour mixture and continue to mix until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and feels tacky to the touch. Add the butter to the dough, a cube or two at a time. Make sure each addition is fully integrated before adding more.¼ cup unsalted butter
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for 5-7 minutes or until the dough feels silky and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
For the Pesto
- While the dough is rising make the pesto.** Place the parsley, pepitas, garlic, orange zest, salt, and parm in a blender or a food processor. Set the blender to low and stream in the olive oil. Blend until very smooth.1½ cups fresh parsley, 1 cup raw pepitas, 1 clove garlic, 1 orange, ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, 1 tsp salt, ½ cup olive oil
- Transfer the pesto to a bowl and chill until ready to use.
For the Cheese Centers
- Place the mozzarella and goat cheese in a bowl. Using a rubber spatula, mix the two together until a cohesive mixture forms.140g (5oz) goat cheese, 1¼ cup mozzarella
- Using a tablespoon measure as a guide, form the cheese mixture into a series of balls. Transfer the finished centers to a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill until ready to use.
To Form the Buns
- Punch the dough down and divide it into 100g pieces. *** Working with a piece at a time, from the dough into a disc. Spread a little pesto in the center leaving a 1/2-inch border of naked dough all the way around. Place one of the cheese centers on top of the pesto and wrap the dough around. Pinch the dough closed forcefully and refine the shape.
- Place the finished buns on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the buns and let them rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Once an hour has passed crack the egg into a bowl. Add the water and whisk to combine. Brush the mixture on each of the buns and top them with the shredded Parmigiano Reggiano. Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, turning once halfway through. ****1 large egg, 1 tbsp water, 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano