YEMEN HONEYCOMB BREAD (KHALIAT NAHAL)
For the last few months, I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the political climate and a tenor of hate that's been seeping into conversations, news, social media, everywhere. It feels like the floodgates have opened, and bigotry has been given a safe space to be expressed.
A bit heavy, I know, but I can't deny how I've been feeling.
Though for sure, everyone is welcome at my table (it's my go to hashtag :) and that's plain to see in all of the recipes and stories I have here on my blog, as of late, I’ve been cooking food from the (now) 6 banned Muslim countries. Some dishes are as familiar as an old friend; others are a tentative handshake with someone new. From Irani Javaher Polow, a jeweled rice which comingles in my memory with Pakistani rice dishes from my childhood, to Yemeni Khaliat Nahal, honeycomb bread rolls filled with cheese and glazed with a sweet, orange blossom-scented syrup (recipe here!), each dish is a bit of resistance. I’m doing it in part to raise awareness, but it's truly my way through: my personal means of processing this concerted exclusion. Of my parents. Of me. Of my daughter. Of so many others.
Yields 32 rolls
For the bread:
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 (¾) ounce packet yeast (active dry or instant)
¾ cup milk
7 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, beaten
3 ¾ to 4 cups all purpose flour
1 (8 oz) package of cream cheese, cut into 32 squares
1 tablespoon black and white sesame seeds, for garnish
For the glaze:
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
For the rolls: I make this recipe in a stand mixer, but you can easily do this by hand. Start with the lukewarm water in the bowl of the stand mixer and sprinkle the packet of yeast over. Mix gently to combine and let sit 5 minutes or so while you prepare the other ingredients.
In a medium pot, bring the milk up to a simmer and add 5 tablespoons of the butter, the sugar and salt. Simmer for a minute, just until the butter melts and remove from the heat. This should not be scalding, so let it cool for a bit before adding to the mixture.
Add the egg and 3 ¾ cups of flour to the yeast mixture and mix together with a fork. Slowly pour in the milk mixture, using the fork to make a shaggy dough. Using the dough hook attachment (or your hands), knead for about 3-4 minutes. The dough should be soft and a bit tacky but should NOT stick to your hands. If it's sticky, keep adding flour in tablespoon increments until you have a non-sticky consistency. When you pull up the dough hook, the dough should slide right off.
Grease a 12 inch pie pan or cast iron skillet. Divide the dough into 32 even-sized pieces. Flatten each piece and place a cream cheese square in the middle. Form in to ball and place in the greased pan. Once all the balls have been rolled, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375˚ F.
After the rise, brush the rolls generously with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
For the glaze: Add the water and sugar to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-heat (until the sugar has dissolved). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey and orange blossom water. Let cool while the rolls are baking.
Once the rolls are done, pour the glaze over the rolls while they are hot. Enjoy!