Christmas is round the corner. This year it will be different. Different for everyone. No holiday events, no office parties, no celebrations, no mass, no church gatherings, no nativity scenes, no family events or maybe some on a very small scale (I would really hope so!). Everyone is trying their best, to keep the spirits high with virtual holiday events, virtual baking events, virtual office holiday parties. Whatever little we can do to stay connected, stay sane is good. These are really hard times for everyone. It is cold outside, the sun sets early, malls are not really accessible, online shopping is the word, and eating out is not possible because of the lockdown restrictions. We have to make our own traditions, to brighten up the spirits of those around us. Do our own little part to keep the mojo going.
We put up the Christmas tree during the Thanksgiving week. That was a fun little couple of days, when we put on Christmas music, the classics, some jazz, and ofcourse we have to listen to Mariah sing her famous song – which by the way is my absolute favorite! And let’s not forget Michael Buble, who has THE most amazing vocals! We had hot chocolate, decorated the mantle, with stockings, pictures and deers. We created a Winter Wonderland scene, and it was lovely. We have been shopping online for presents for us. I sent a few good friends, presents online as well. I really wish we could go to the mall, and listen to the holiday music, the decorations, dress up in winter coats and boots, with the cold wind blowing against our face. It is a lovely atmosphere. Alas, all this will have to wait yet another year.
I have been planning what to make for Christmas. I wanted to make it special considering the circumstances. Mostly during Christmas time, we are in LA visiting my inlaws, but we decided not to go this year with the covid cases increasing significantly. Also, I have to submit my book manuscript by the first week of Jan, so I am going to be very busy putting everything together, and getting it ready to dispatch! There will be a special dessert for sure. I am still thinking about the Mains. There will be a cheeseboard as well. The rest I will have to figure it out. It is fun having the family participate in the cooking and baking, and getting ready upto the day of Christmas, and enjoying a wonderful sit down meal. The kids will be in charge of setting the table which they enjoy!
I recently did a project for Filippo Berio. It was a holiday appetizer, using their pestos and olive oils. I love their products. They are clean and really tasty in whatever I use them in. I made Savory Chelsea Buns, in the form and shape of a Christmas Tree. It is a Tear and Share recipe, and would be perfect for a small gathering. I adapted my absolute hero Paul Hollywood’s Sweet Chelsea Bun Recipe, where he uses mincemeat and other dried fruits and jams to fill the buns. The recipe is really perfect, and I converted them into Savory Chelsea Buns!
MAKING THE DOUGH:
The dough is not difficult at all. It is a yeasted dough, so there are rise times involved for yeasted dough. You have the first rise after the dough is made, for about an hour. The double doubles in size pretty quick in the oven with the oven light on, as per my experiments. The dough is flavored with coarse black pepper, dried thyme and dried basil. It gives really good flavor to the dough.
ROLLING OUT THE DOUGH AND FILLING:
The idea behind these Savory Chelsea Buns was basically using all the ingredients of a cheese board in a bun, like sweet peppers, olives, fontina cheese, sundried tomatoes, along with a generous spread of 2 kinds of pestos.
The dough is rolled out into the size large enough to give 16 buns, because that is how many you will require to form your Christmas tree. Use additional flour such that when you are rolling the dough, it does not stick to the board. That is a very important step. You want the dough to roll out easily, such that you can work with it quicker, and uniformly to spread the pestos and sprinkle the fillings too.
Next step is to fill out the pestos generously. A mini spatula or a small offset spatula works well when applying pestos, or jams onto the rolled dough. Sprinkle with the toppings such as olives, sundried tomatoes, sweet peppers, cheeses.
Rolling is a bit tricky. Start rolling from the long edge nearest to you, and go upward, but making sure that you are rolling it tight and securely. You do not want any gaps in the rolls. You have to keep nudging it from all the sides of the long edge. Once you reach the top, seal it by rolling, stretching and patting the dough. You can trim the edges slightly. Divide the dough into 2 equal logs. It helps with cutting them into 8 neat equal sized pieces per log.
It is important to use a serrated knife only, since it will cut through easily and give perfect and neat pieces without any filling oozing out of the dough. Parchment paper is required on the baking sheet. If you have a flat baking sheet it is better, allowing the buns to spread. I did not have a flat baking sheet, but it was not a problem for me.
Lay out the buns like a Christmas tree, cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise for another 30 minutes. Then they are baked off to a golden brown color.
Decoration is optional, but if you know me, I want to decorate every thing possible. So I decorated with the pestos, and used the olives and bell peppers as lights. You could use different colored bell peppers to give it pops of color representing the lights.
This is a very fun recipe, and one that you can make it with your kids too! They would have fun filling and assembling the buns, and also decorating them after they come out of the oven! I had my kids help me with these buns!
I hope you find this recipe fun and helpful and you get a chance to make it! If you do make it, please do not forget to tag #thejamlab on Instagram and/or leave a comment on this blog post! I would so appreciate it!
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Be safe, be merry, we will get through this together! Limit your gatherings, wear your mask and enjoy your family.
Love and PEACE,
- 800g bread flour
- 2 tsp (12g) salt
- 2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 70g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 400 ml whole milk warmed
- 2 (14g) sachets fast acting yeast
- 2 large eggs
- Additional flour for rolling
- ½ to ¾ cup basil pesto
- ½ to ¾ cup sundried tomato pesto
- 80g sweet peppers, finely chopped
- 100g Castelvetrano olives, sliced thin (about 10)
- 60g chopped sundried tomatoes
- 160g grated fontina cheese
- 160 g grated mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Pastry brush
- 2 pipping bags
- ¼ inch pipping tip x2
- Olive oil spray
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- ½ cup sundried tomato pesto
- 10 Castelvetrano olives cut into half
- 10-12 Kalamata olives
- Red bell pepper cut into 1 inch rounds, using pipping tip
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, with a dough attachment, add the bread flour, salt, pepper, dried thyme and basil and yeast. Whisk to combine.
- In a pourable bowl, whisk together the melted butter, while milk, eggs, until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Start off slow, and increase the speed to high. The dough is initially sticky. The gluten works it’s magic and the dough comes together, pulling off the sides of the bowl. The process takes about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Oil a large bowl. Wrap the dough and tuck it underneath. Place it in the oiled bowl, cover with a plastic wrap or kitchen towel, and place it in a warm area for an hour, until it doubles in size. I leave it in the oven with the light on. It rises really well.
Rolling out and filling:
- On a work surface, sprinkle flour all over. Punch the dough to deflate it. Remove it onto the work surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 22x20 inches. The dough should be even in thickness throughout, and rectangular in shape. Use a bench scraper to straighten out the sides to form as neat a rectangle as possible.
- Using the Basil Pesto and Sundried Tomato Pesto, spread it into strips width wise, across the entire length of the dough. I did 3 basil pesto strips and 2 sundried tomato pesto strips. You can change it up to use only one kind of pesto if you would like.
- Sprinkle evenly with the fontina cheese and then mozzarella cheese.
- Sprinkle evenly, the olives, sundried tomatoes and sweet peppers all over the dough.
- Finally sprinkle the parmesan cheese all over as well.
- From the long end of the dough, towards you, start rolling tightly in an upward direction, making sure to roll out evenly throughout the length of the dough. Trim off the ends slightly. Stretch the long dough with your hands by patting and rolling slightly, thus smoothening and evening it out throughout. Measure the length to be around 24 inches(because of the stretching).
- Using a sharp serrated knife, measure the length and cut into half. Cut each half into 8 equal 1 ½ inch pieces. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
- On a baking sheet, with parchment paper, arrange the rolls with the cut side up in a Christmas tree pattern. Place 1, then 2, then 3, then 4 and finally 5 rolls, in a line, such that the buns are touching each other. Place the loose end of each roll inside. The 16th piece forms the trunk of the tree. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise in the oven for half an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheet. The buns should have slightly risen. Using the extra olive oil, and a pastry brush, apply olive oil all over the buns.
- Place it in the middle rack of the oven, for about 45 minutes, or until the buns are lightly browned in color.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Spray olive oil all over the buns to keep them moist.
- Prepare 2 pastry bags with the piping tips.
- To put the pesto into the pastry bag efficiently, open up the bag, place it in a tall glass, so that the bag stays put. Put in the pesto with a mini spatula. Seal the top. Repeat with the sundried tomato pesto in the pastry bag.
- Pipe string lights across the Christmas Tree Buns. Place the olives (both kinds) and the cut bell pepper, such that they are slightly overlapping the lights.
- Your appetizer is ready! Serve with some wine!