orange blossom banana hot cross buns

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

Rolls on Easter are such a universal. While I didn’t grow up with hot cross buns, we usually had samoon on the table, and my grandmother always told us about the gubta mtumarta-stuffed samoon her mother would make every Easter. One roll was always filled with a little cheese, and the lucky kid who found the cheesy one got a special gift, like a new dress or new shoes. It just occurred to me while writing this post that I should really develop a savory cheese-stuffed hot cross bun recipe next year, but this year I’m sharing this classically sweet (but not too sweet) recipe: orange blossom banana hot cross buns!

The combination of orange blossom and banana is one of my favorites. If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll definitely notice that orange blossom lives up to its name—it’s floral and distinctively orangey. But at the same time, it’s not at all citrusy, and lacks the big brassy notes of orange juice and zest. So even though the fruit and the flower come from the same tree, I think the closest flavor to orange blossom is actually, surprisingly, banana. The two flavors complement each other perfectly—orange blossom brings out the fragrant floral notes in ripe banana, and banana brings the orange blossom down to earth a little, giving it substance.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns

The orange blossom water flavor here mostly comes from the glaze, while the banana flavor is concentrated in the dough. But working enough banana flavor into a yeasted bread dough is not an easy task. My first draft of this recipe contained a half cup of milk, but this limited how many bananas I could add and effectively watered down their flavor a lot. I eventually realized that the moisture needs to come almost entirely from the bananas themselves, and made some changes to the recipe to accommodate. I left the milk out entirely, and I added only egg yolks instead of whole eggs, which contribute richness without adding too much moisture. This gave the bread just the right balance—a strong banana and orange blossom flavor and a soft, buttery texture.

The one thing I’ve got to emphasize about this recipe is that the bananas absolutely must be old bananas. For this bread to have the right flavor, they really must be overripe, totally past their prime. Don’t settle for bananas with brown spots—really wait for them to start to develop brown splotches, and almost entirely change color. That’s when they’re ready to use. But the good news is that if you’re reading this on its post date, you totally have time to grab a bunch and wait for them to ripen, and then overripen. If you want to speed things along, you can place the bananas in a brown paper bag to make them ripen a day or two sooner.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

yield: 9 rolls
active time: 35 minutes
total time: 3 hours
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  • 70g raisins (1/2 cup)

  • 70g chopped pitted dates (1/2 cup)

  • 60g orange juice or water (1/4 cup)

  • 45g orange blossom water (3 tablespoons)*, divided into 1T and 2T

  • 2 large egg yolks (35-40g) (save the whites)

  • 230g mashed overripe bananas (from 2 to 3 bananas)

  • 85g softened butter (6 tablespoons)

  • 7g instant yeast (2 teaspoons)**

  • 50g light brown sugar (1/4 cup)

  • 2.5g cinnamon (1 teaspoon)

  • 0.5g cardamom (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 8g baking powder (2 teaspoons)

  • 12g salt (2 teaspoons)

  • 490g all purpose flour (3 3/4 cups)

  • egg whites beaten with a little water (for the egg wash)

  • glaze (below)

  • icing (below)

  1. Combine the raisins, dates, orange juice, and 1 tablespoon of the orange blossom water. Microwave for 1 minute, then let them soak and cool while you work on the dough (at least 10 minutes).

  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the egg yolks, mashed bananas, butter, yeast, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder, salt, flour***, and the other 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water. Stir together with the hook attachment at low speed until there’s only a little dry flour remaining at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead for about 5 to 10 minutes, until it becomes elastic and smooths out quite a bit. The dough should be a little on the wet side—it should pool a tiny bit in the bottom of the bowl, but should also pull away from the sides of the bowl.

  3. Once the dough is done kneading, strain the dried fruit and wring it out a little with your hands (discarding the liquid). Add the strained dried fruit to the dough and mix everything together until evenly distributed (you may need to switch to using your hands, folding the dough over itself a few times).

  4. Preheat the oven to 180°F (80°C), then turn the heat off and leave the door open for 30 seconds.

  5. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, smooth out into a ball by tucking the bottom under itself, cover with a plate, and move to the warm (but off!) oven for 50-60 minutes. While it’s proofing, butter a 8x8” pan (and optionally line the bottom with parchment).

  6. Once the dough is done rising, move to a lightly floured counter, and divide into 9 even pieces (about 120g each). Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. Space them evenly in the pan.

  7. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and move back to the still warm oven for about 40 minutes (again, make sure it’s still off), just until the gaps around them almost close up.

  8. Once the buns have finished their rise, remove from the oven, and preheat it to 350°F (177°C) convection.****

  9. Brush the buns with a light layer of egg wash, and then bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the internal temperature reads about 195°F (about 90°C). Remove from the pan to a cooling rack, and immediately brush the top and sides with the runny glaze.

  10. Wait for the glaze to set completely before piping the icing. Pipe the icing across the buns in 1 direction, and again in the other direction (see photos). Let the icing harden for a few minutes before covering.

Storage: Like most bread, it can be kept at room temperature for less than 1 day before starting to get stale, and it will stale fastest in the refrigerator. Bread keeps much better tightly wrapped in the freezer for longer term storage. If you want to make it ahead for company: Bake it (be extra careful not to over bake!), let it cool completely, wrap and freeze it as soon as it’s cool. The day you plan to serve it, thaw it in a 325°F (165°C) convection oven for about 10 minutes (until it’s thawed on the outside, and only frozen at its core) then let it coast the rest of the way and cool at room temperature, and then glaze and ice it before serving.

glaze

  • 45g icing sugar (1/3 cup)

  • 15g orange blossom water (1 tablespoon)

  • a tiny pinch salt

  1. Stir together into a runny and translucent glaze.

icing

  • 85g icing sugar (2/3 cup)

  • 12.5g orange blossom water (2 1/2 teaspoons)

  1. Stir together into a thick icing for piping.

  2. Place in a small pastry bag or ziplock bag.

* Most easy-to-find orange blossom water brands aren’t super strong, especially if they’ve been sitting on the shelf for a while. But proceed with a little bit of caution, taste some on a piece of fruit to see how strong it is, and make sure you don’t overdo it—you might only need 1 tablespoon for the dough. Likewise for the glaze, which may only need 1/2 tablespoon + some water to dilute it. Its flavor will come through more distinctly in the glaze than in the dough.
** If you’re using active dry instead of instant yeast, mix it in with the mashed banana first so it can dissolve.
*** Using weight instead of volume gives you more consistent results when following a baking recipe. But if you don’t have a scale and need to measure with volume, no worries—just make sure you don’t add all the flour at once. Add the first 75% of it, and then slowly add the last 25%. You may not need it all, or you may need a little bit more. With this recipe, most of the moisture and flavor comes from the bananas—if you add too much flour, you can add a little bit of milk to compensate, but it will be hard to recover the flavor and it might end up tasting bland.
**** If you don’t have convection, they should take a little longer to bake, or you can slightly increase the temperature.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

preserved lemon poppy seed labneh cheesecake

preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake

Yesterday I turned thirty-one! It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “thirty,” but so far, so good. For my birthday, we bought a big print of some figs for our living room wall, which makes me feel like we’re finally settling into our place. Since we moved to Hong Kong a year and a half ago, I’ve just been way too busy to spend any time thinking about decor. So our walls have been absurdly blank forever, and I have this tendency to blame it on minimalism, as if this particular look was an intentional design choice.

I mean, I’m definitely a minimalist, and I like that we’ve taken our time filling our tiny apartment with only a handful of things we absolutely love. But sometimes I use minimalism as an excuse to never make a decision, and never spend time (or money) on making our place feel like home. I’m so glad to have found a little balance. Next up, maybe a fig tree for our little balcony, or an area rug to add a little more warmth to the living room.

preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake
preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake

So yeah, fig art is definitely a highlight of my birthday week. But also, this cheesecake! I developed this recipe for my family a couple months ago, and it was a hit. It’s the perfect thing for a (shall we say…) more sophisticated birthday. It’s got that classic and familiar lemon poppy flavor, but with a little twist, since the flavor comes from preserved lemons. Lemons become much more fragrant as they ferment, and their harsh citrus notes gradually mellow as their acidity and saltiness intensify. While you usually see preserved lemons in savory recipes, I love using them in sweets, because they taste simultaneously familiar and unexpected. They’re super lemony, but not in the bright and sunny way you assume of a lemony dessert.

Preserved lemons are a little hard to track down in the US, but they’re somewhere out there, and easy enough to make at home. If you preserve your own lemons at home, be careful how much you add to this recipe, because homemade ones tend to be saltier and more flavorful than commercial ones. I had luck finding some good ones at World Market, and I know the Spice House sells them too (if you’re in Chicago, or don’t mind ordering them online). Upscale supermarkets with decent international sections often carry them (like Whole Foods). They’re not always available in Middle Eastern markets, because they’re not a staple in every region’s cuisine—they’re most commonly used in North African cuisines.

To make this recipe, it’s best not to go on a wild goose chase for the ingredients. Let the preserved lemons come to you. You’ll be walking through the supermarket one day, and—bam! You’ll see a big preserved lemon end-cap, and you’ll grab a jar, go home, and make this cheesecake, followed by lots of delicious tajine over the course of the next few weeks. But don’t be like me and the fig print—grab a bottle when you see them, and don’t let the year pass you by without this preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake in your life.

preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake
preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake

preserved lemon poppy seed labneh cheesecake

active time: 20 minutes
total time: 16 hours
download a
PDF to print
for another variation, try my
dried mint labneh cheesecake

graham cracker crust

  • 12 full graham crackers (180g, 2 cups)

  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted (71 g)

  • 2 tablespoons sugar (30g)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1g)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F convection (177° C).

  2. Finely grind the graham crackers in a food processor.

  3. Add the melted butter, sugar, and salt, and process until everything is well-blended.

  4. Lightly coat the sides of an 8 or 9-inch cheesecake round with oil or butter.

  5. Place the crumbly crust in the cheesecake round, and press it down into 1 even layer. Use a glass, measuring cup, or something else that has a flat bottom to press it compactly.

  6. Place the cheesecake round on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until it turns a little golden. Let it cool while you work on the filling.

filling

  • 1 1/2 pounds full-fat labneh (680g)*

  • 2 egg yolks (40g)

  • 3 large eggs (150g)

  • 1 cup sugar (200g)

  • 1/4 cup minced preserved lemon rind (35g)**

  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds (20g)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste (2.5g)

  1. Lower the oven to 300° F convection.***

  2. Place the labneh in a medium mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks and slowly whisk together to completely incorporate (use a whisk, but do not whip it together—you don't want to incorporate too much air into the filling).

  3. Add the remaining eggs one egg at a time, mixing everything together completely with each addition.

  4. Add the sugar and stir together until it all dissolves completely. Then stir in the preserved lemon rind and poppy seeds, and season with the salt (unless your lemons are super salty—see the note below).

  5. Pour into the (slightly cooled) crust and bake for about 55 minutes, just until the very center is a little jiggly. Don’t worry if it cracks a bit (it’ll get covered).

topping

  • 1/2 pound full-fat labneh (227g)

  • 2 tablespoons sugar (30g)

  • a little extra labneh or Greek yogurt for touch-ups (reserve about 1 tablespoon)

  • more preserved lemon rind and poppy seeds for decoration

  1. Once the cheesecake comes out of the oven, let it sit while you make the topping.

  2. Combine the labneh and sugar, and pour over the top. Carefully smooth it out, put it back in the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven, run a knife around the sides, and leave it at room temperature for about 2 hours before covering and refrigerating overnight. If you don't have all night, refrigerate it for at least 3 to 4 hours. Don't worry if the edges are a little rough—you will fix it later.

  3. Once it's chilled long enough, you can touch up the edges before removing from the pan.**** Simply add a tiny dab of labneh or Greek yogurt to any rough spots around the edges, and smooth it out a little with the back of a spoon. Wash your hands very well or wear gloves, wet your finger, and smooth out the dabs of labneh. Without running a knife around again, remove from the pan, place on a serving plate, and sprinkle with poppy seeds and sliced preserved lemons (don’t go too crazy with the preserved lemon decorations—they’re extremely flavorful, and you mostly just want them for decoration).

* I developed this recipe with store-bought labneh, but you can use homemade. Just be sure to strain it long enough (the full 12 hours, or longer) or the cheesecake might not set correctly. If you buy store-bought labneh, make sure it’s really good quality. It needs to be very thick and sour.
** See the notes above the recipe for where to find preserved lemon, and make sure there’s no garlic or savory spices in the brine (a little hot pepper’s just fine though). Commercially processed preserved lemons tend to have much less sodium than home preserved lemons, and brands vary. If you have particularly salty lemons, proceed with caution, and add them to taste instead of just adding the entire 1/4 cup. Don’t add the extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt until you’re sure your lemons aren’t too salty. This amount worked perfectly with the brand I chose, but you should use your judgment.
*** If you don’t have a convection oven, it will just take a little longer to bake all the way through. When I’ve used a conventional oven for this recipe, it’s taken about 15 to 20 minutes longer to bake through.
**** I feel like food stylists usually don’t tell you their secrets to getting a picture-perfect result, so I included my trick to getting clean edges on a cheesecake. Whenever I make cheesecake, the very top edges get all messed up when I run a knife around the sides. I’ve never found a way to avoid this. I think using parchment paper would prevent the problem, but I don’t like the crinkly look that gives the sides. But this is a super easy way to fix the problem, and it works like a charm. You can of course just serve it as is and not worry about it, but if you’re really going for it on Instagram, make sure you reserve an extra tablespoon or so of labneh for touch-ups.

preserved lemon poppy seed cheesecake