Saturday, May 1, 2021

Baker's Corner: Pesto, Mushroom and Tomato Stuffed Buns

Raise your hand if you had a lot of hope for 2021 and thought the worst was behind us? 🙋

I notice that I turn to cooking or baking when my mind is troubled. I did a lot of it during the 3 months of lockdown last year. These days, India is constantly on my mind. With the second wave of the pandemic ravaging my beloved home country, it is often difficult to stay positive and upbeat. We can only watch with despair and helplessness from afar. I know this dreadful time will pass and things will eventually get better but anxiety for the health and well-being of my family and friends simmers just below a normal public facade. On the other hand, it is heartening to read the genuine messages of concern from my local friends enquiring if all is well at home. 

The recent spike in community cases in Singapore has also been some cause for worry. We have been riding out the pandemic with relative ease since July last year and I don't think many of us have been worried about a second wave. Should we be now? I don't know. Only time will tell (please god no!). 

Anyway, back to the topic that gives me comfort - FOOD. You know, for as much cooking as I do and the amount of passion I have for it, I can't really call myself a creative or inventive cook. I tend to follow recipes with tweaks and substitutions here and there but it is quite a rare event when I come up with a recipe all by myself. 

I happened to have extra basil, some mini portobello mushrooms (that I had no plan for) and a whole lot of cherry tomatoes at home. One good habit I have gradually developed over the past several years is not to waste food/ produce. I did not want to go the pasta or pizza route since we had already made those in the past two days. I did not have any puff pastry at home and I was in no mood to go shopping (and end up with a bunch of other things I don't need!). So I just decided to make a variation of stuffed buns with the ingredients I had with me. 

I have made a few different kinds of stuffed buns over the years. You can check out recipes for Potato Bun, Pizza Bun and Paneer Masala Bun. I have had a lot of positive feedback from many readers who have tried these buns. For my latest variation, I first made a yeast-based dough, a filling of onions, garlic, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes and lastly whipped up a basil pesto. Then I put everything together, threw it in the oven and voila! - a unique recipe sprang to life 😄

These buns turned out pretty good. I served them for breakfast along with eggs sunny side up, extra dollops of basil pesto and a fruit bowl. My kids polished them off (always a good sign!). This recipe is highly customizable so feel free to make tweaks or substitutions based on the ingredients you have on hand. 

Stay strong India! And for the rest of the world, mask up and stay safe! 

Pesto, Mushroom and Tomato Stuffed Buns

Preparation time: ~ 90 mins (includes dough rising time)
Baking time: 20 mins
Makes: 8 buns
Recipe Category: Breakfast or Snack/Italian
Recipe Level: Intermediate


For the buns:
2 cups bread flour
1 cup plain flour 
2 tsp of baking powder 
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
1 egg
1 envelope of active dry yeast or 1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
Milk or egg wash for brushing on top of the buns
2 tsp white/black sesame seeds for sprinkling, Optional

For the mushroom-tomato filling:
1 medium onion chopped
3 pods of garlic, finely minced
4 mini portobello mushrooms (or 8 button mushrooms), chopped
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp dried Italian herbs
Salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly cracked (as needed)
1 tbsp olive oil

For the basil pesto:
30gm fresh basil leaves
2 garlic pods, chopped
6-8 walnuts, roughly pounded
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
a dash of lemon juice


1. Heat the milk until lukewarm and dissolve 1 tsp of sugar. Add in the yeast, mix to dissolve and keep closed for 10-15 min until frothy. This step is done to proof the yeast (always a good idea in my opinion!).

2. Take the flour is a large bowl. Add in the remaining 2 tsp sugar, salt and mix well. Make a well in the middle, add the milk-yeast mixture, oil, a whisked egg 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. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Heat oil in a pot and fry the onions, and garlic and sauté till the onions turn translucent. Add in the cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and fry till the tomatoes go a bit soft. Add in the chopped mushrooms, Italian herbs and black pepper. Cook for a few minutes. Make sure that all the moisture from the mixture has evaporated. Check seasonings and adjust accordingly. Keep aside to cool completely. 

4. To make the pesto, add all the ingredients to a small blender and food processor and blitz until it forms a thick paste. You want to avoid adding water because we don't want the pesto to be runny. Don't make the pesto too much in advance as it tends to discolour. 

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

6. Shape the dough into a log and cut into 8 even pieces. The pieces at the end might be a tad smaller so you can combine both to form one ball.

7. Make the dough into balls, flatten with a rolling pin, add a dollop of pesto in the middle and a tbsp of the filling over it. Pinch the edges of the dough to cover the filling. Make sure there are no gaps otherwise the filling will ooze out. This step can be quite tricky and it is imperative to make sure your pesto and filling are as dry/thick as possible! I'm still not very good at this step!

8. Place a sheet of parchment paper/aluminium foil over a baking tray. Place the buns on it leaving some distance between them. Leave to raise for another 20 min. While this is happening, preheat the oven to 190 deg C. Just before going into the oven, gently brush the buns with milk or egg wash and sprinkle white or black sesame seeds (I did a mixture) over the top. 

9. Bake in the middle of a preheated oven for 18-20 min until the buns turn golden brown. 

10. Serve warm or room temperature as a breakfast side or tea-time snack. 

  • If you don't have bread flour, you can just use plain flour instead. You can also use part or complete whole wheat flour if desired
  • When you heat the milk, it should not not be hot. When spooned over your wrist, it should feel warm.
  • You can add 1 tbsp of cream cheese to the filling to make it taste richer. Or else you can also add some crumbled feta. 
  • Don't thin out the dough ball too much when you are filling it otherwise the filling can leak out. Also make sure that the rolled out dough is of uniform thickness. 
  • Brushing the buns with milk before baking makes them softer and brushing them with egg wash, gives them a glossy surface and deeper color.  


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