A cinnamon bun that’s well-made, warm, the dough tender and yeasty, the filling spicy and gooey, the icing gobbed and drooping down the sides—that’s a truly beautiful thing. If you like sweet breakfasts, that is. If however you are in the savory breakfast camp—the realm of bacon and eggs, huevos rancheros, and cheese grits—you may have felt left out of the morning pastry scene. Where are the knishes?, you’ve demanded. The burekas! Where! Even cheese danishes are too sweet for you. Take matters into your own hands, savory breakfast lovers. Adopt the cinnamon roll model but hold the cinnamon to make savory breakfast rolls.
Fill a buttery, not-so-sweet brioche dough with savory flavors inspired by your favorite dishes. Swipe the dough with cream cheese and layer on thin slices of lox and chopped capers for bagel-but-not-a-bagel vibes. Roll up a thick, spicy tomato sauce with cilantro and feta and call it shakshuka-ish (and serve with an egg, of course).
But don’t stop there! Take the following recipes as a guide and make rolls filled with butter, Parmesan, and a nutty amount of freshly ground black pepper for something cacio e pepe-esque. In fact, use butter as a vehicle for anything: herbs, cheeses, ground spices like paprika, a big scoop of grainy mustard. Just mash it into the butter and spread—but not too liberally, or your rolls might be soggy or bloated. Cardinal rule: You have to distribute your filling thinly, so it should be super flavorful.
Two more things you should know before you race to the kitchen: First, feel free to substitute up to 1 ½ cups of the flour in the dough recipe for whole wheat flour if you like something a little toastier and heartier. Secondly, you might be thinking, Hey, sounds nice, lady, but there’s no way these would work for brunch because, hi, I’m not getting up at 6 a.m. to make brioche dough—which, fair. Me neither.
Instead, make these the night before. Follow the recipe through the assembly and the rolling, nestle the rolls into the greased pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, when you roll blearily out of bed, pull the rolls out of the fridge and let them warm up on the counter for about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven and make coffee. Brush them with melted butter, sprinkle on any toppings you want, and savor away.
Simple Brioche Dough
- Yields: Makes 12 good-sized rolls
For the dough
For Thanksgiving at any time of year:
Spread the butter in a thin layer over the dough. Sprinkle generously with Bell’s seasoning, roll up the dough, and proceed with the recipe. After brushing the rolls with butter, sprinkle with flaky salt.
Stir the yeast into the warm milk with a pinch of sugar, and set aside about 5 minutes while you get all your ingredients together and set up your workstation.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the milk mixture, then crack in the eggs and add the butter cubes.
Now is a good time to take off your rings if you’re wearing any, because you’re about to do some kneading. Start to gently stir together the ingredients with a fork or a wooden spoon, just until it becomes sort of shaggy. Switch to your hands: Turn the dough around and around in the bowl, sweeping the bowl’s sides and bottom with your hands to pick up any extra flour, and folding the dough onto itself over and over until it forms a tidy ball. If it seems very sticky, sprinkle a bit more flour in. Do this about 8 minutes, or until the dough seems self-contained, not too sticky, and springs back slowly when you poke your finger into it.
Drizzle a little oil over the dough and turn the dough so that it’s lightly oiled all over; sweep the sides of the bowl with the oiled dough so that the bowl is lightly oiled, too. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dishtowel and leave in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Grease a 9x13-inch pan (or two 9-inch cake pans), line the bottom with parchment paper, and set aside.
When the dough has risen, uncover the dough and gently punch it down, folding it over onto itself two or three times until it’s back to its original size. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. (If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle or a drinking glass or a smooth-sided jar.)
Spread a (very) thin layer of filling all over the dough, leaving a thin border of dough around the edges of the rectangle (to prevent seepage).
Then, starting with a long end, gently roll the rectangle up. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 12 rolls (each a little less than 2 inches wide). Place the rolls in the pan so that they’re close but not touching each other. Cover with a dishtowel and let rise again about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400° F.
Melt the 4 tablespoons butter. Just before sliding the rolls into the oven, brush or drizzle them with it.
Bake the rolls uncovered for about 20 minutes, turning the pan halfway through; they should golden brown and fragrant.
For a shakshuka-esque roll:
Soften the garlic in the olive oil for 2 minutes over medium-low heat; it should be fragrant but not browned. Add the red pepper flakes and cumin and stir, sautéing 1 minute more. Add the diced tomatoes and raise heat to a gentle simmer; cook 10 or so minutes, until the tomatoes have reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro leaves. Allow to cool completely.
To assemble, spread a thin layer of the sauce over the rolled-out dough; you may have a bit of sauce leftover—lucky you! Eat it with a fried or poached egg. Sprinkle the saucy dough with the crumbled feta, roll up, and proceed with the recipe. Serve the finished rolls with poached or fried eggs.
For Indian-ish buns:
A good use for any leftover takeout you might have, or a good reason to order (or make!) some saag. Spread the saag in a thin layer over the dough, distributing pieces of paneer evenly about. Roll up the dough and proceed with the recipe.
For the next best thing to bagels and lox:
Spread the softened cream cheese over the dough, layer on thin slices of smoked salmon, and top with the chopped capers. Roll up and proceed with the recipe. After brushing the rolls with butter, sprinkle with everything bagel seasoning.
For Italian-ish buns:
Use a fork to blend the ricotta thoroughly with the pesto. Spread the ricotta mixture over the dough in a thin layer, roll up the dough, and proceed with the recipe. After brushing with butter, sprinkle the rolls with white sesame seeds.