Saturday, May 4, 2013

Baker's Corner: Pesto Rolls

For the past few years now, my daily weekday breakfast has consisted of a single vegetable pau (steamed bun), a quarter portion of pink dragon fruit and half a cup of Old Town white coffee. I started this routine as a Master's student and even now, almost three years after graduating from my University, I have remained a loyal patron of the pau and fruit stall (which happen to be adjacent to one another). I do have popiah, a sandwich or a bowl of noodles every once in awhile to break the monotony but I always end up going back to my beloved pau. Yes, I am a creature of habit and old habits die hard. That being said, I was surprised to discover recently that I desperately wanted to take a break from my usual breakfast (yes, after 5 years I finally got sick of it!). 

I do not prefer eating sweet stuff for breakfast. This is the reason why I find it hard to make do with cereal, oatmeal/muesli, granola bars, pancakes, jam rolls, donuts, muffins and such. There are the rare instances when I grudgingly eat a bowl of muesli but I always feel that something is missing. Breakfast has to be a savoury affair for me and with having to rush off to work early in the morning in order to beat the peak hour madness, my options become limited. I need something that is simple, convenient, preferably finger-food and yes of course....savoury  

Last weekend, while rummaging in the fridge, I found an extra pack of basil which I didn't have any plans for. It also turned out that hubs was not at home and I had a lot of free time on my hands. Being home alone always gets my culinary juices flowing so a plan for the basil started to hatch in my mind. What I usually do with basil is make pesto for pasta/sandwich or a good old margarita pizza. This time, I decided to make some pesto flavored bread rolls so that I can take it to work and have it for breakfast. That way, I would get a week's break from my usual breakfast!

Believe me when I say that I came up with this recipe for pesto rolls myself - any resemblance to any existing recipe anywhere in the culinary world is purely coincidental! I took inspiration from two of my previous posts - potato bun and pesto pasta, modified the recipes slightly and came up with this recipe. I will be making these rolls again for sure. They were soft, nicely flavored and satisfying. The best part is that you can freeze the rolls and bake them whenever you want so you get bakery like warm and fresh tasting rolls within a few minutes! 

Pesto Rolls 

Preparation time: ~ 90 mins (includes dough rising time)
Baking time: 20 mins
Makes: 12 rolls
Recipe Category: Main course or Snack/Italian-inspired
Recipe Level: Easy


For the rolls:
3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
1 large egg
1 envelope of active dry yeast or 11/2 tsp instant yeast
Melted butter - for brushing on top of the rolls, Optional

For the pesto:
8-10 walnuts
¾ cup (30 gm) fresh basil leaves
3-4 cloves garlic
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste, Only if required

For garnish:
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
A handful of walnuts, chopped
1-2 tbsp parmesan cheese
1-2 tsp crushed dry red chillies


1. Heat the milk until lukewarm and dissolve 1 tsp of sugar. Add in the yeast (swirl the cup gently to dissolve) and keep closed for 10-15min until frothy. This step is important and is done to proof the yeast.

2. Take the flour is a large bowl. Add in the remaining sugar (2 tsp), salt and mix well. Make a dent in the middle, add the milk-yeast mixture, olive oil, a whisked egg, warm water and knead well (6-10 min) until you get a smooth, pliable dough. If the dough is too dry add in a few tsp of water or if it is sticky, add in more flour. Wrap the bowl with cling wrap or a tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour.

3. At the end of the hour, you will notice that the dough has doubled in volume. Punch the dough down and knead it again.

4. Prepare the pesto by blending the walnuts, garlic, basil leaves, parmesan cheese and olive oil. Taste and season with salt only if required. The consistency should be of a smooth, thick paste. Note that the pesto tends to discolor with time so don't prepare it too much in advance.

5. When you’re ready to make the rolls, roll the dough out on a well floured surface into a uniformly thick rectangular shape (see pic below). Smear the pesto all over the surface. Now sprinkle the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, chopped walnuts, parmesan cheese and red chill flakes over the surface. As you can see, I forgot the red chill flakes (which I had kept ready). Darn! 

6. Once you’ve covered the whole rectangle with the pesto sauce and the garnishes, roll the dough tightly from the side furthest away from you. Try to keep it in a neat line, and don’t roll loosely. Once you have a long tube/slug shape, seal the end by pinching the dough and use either dental floss or a sharp serrated knife and cut into 12 rolls measuring approx 3.5 cm.

7. Place the rolls on a greased baking dish. At this point, you can either cover the baking dish and pop it into the fridge to bake later (which I did) or else cover with a dampened tea towel, and let sit for another 30 mins while you preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

8. Bake the rolls in the oven for 18-25 mins, until golden brown and smelling heavenly!

9. Once done, you can brush them with melted butter.

10. Serve these rolls warm 

  • When you heat the milk, it should not not be scalding hot. When spooned over your wrist, it should feel warm
  • I would strongly recommend proofing the yeast because you wouldn't want to go through all that effort and not end up with good rolls
  • If you want perfectly round rolls, you can place each cut roll in the well of a greased muffin tin
  • If you decide to bake the rolls that you have frozen, keep them covered at room temperature or a few mins before you bake them
  • Be careful if you are adding salt in this recipe. The dough already contains salt, the pesto contains parmesan and the sun-dried tomatoes are salty by themselves. I didn't add any additional salt.
  • Some people may not take a liking to the tart and salty sun-dried tomatoes (my hubby is one of them) so you can chop them up real fine or use in moderation. I personally like the tangy bursts which I feel complements the creamy pesto.  
  • The pesto loses its green color during baking because of oxidation. The next time I make this recipe, my mission will be to find out how to retain the green color of the basil so watch this space!



  1. Looks really yummy! +1 for creativity for coming up with this recipe :D and dental floss!!

  2. These look so good! At first I thought they were cinnamon rolls! The green pesto in the prebaked pictures is so pretty

  3. We just tried this yesterday, was simply heavenly. Awesine snack, loved it. Thanks for introducing this to us :) :)


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