WHAT YOU'LL NEED
FOR THE DOUGH
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup warm whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 Tbs butter, melted
2 Tbs pandan essence/extract*
1 tsp kosher salt
4.5 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
FOR THE FILLING
2/3 cup (roughly 100 grams) black sesame seeds (raw, untoasted)**
5 Tbs butter, softened at room temp
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup honey
FOR THE FROSTING
1/2 a package or 4 oz (roughly 115 grams) full-fat cream cheese, softened at room temp
6 Tbs butter, softened at room temp
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Tbs pandan extract (or more to taste)
1.5 - 2 cups powdered sugar
*You should be able to find Pandan Essence or Extract at your local Asian food store. It will most likely have a little green food coloring in it, as mine did, although I know there are some colorless brands out there.
**Raw/Untoasted because you will be toasting them fresh before you make the paste and for consistent results. You should be able to find Black sesame seeds at your local grocery store in the nut/dried fruit section or in bulk, but for sure online (there are dozens of options on Amazon) or also at an Asian food store.
WHAT YOU'LL DO
FOR THE DOUGH
Warm the milk (either in a microwave or in a jar in a warm water bath) and sprinkle yeast in. Set aside a few minutes to let it dissolve, 5 mins at least.
Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, pandan extract and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk the yeast lightly into the milk so that no large clumps of yeast remain.
Add one cup flour to the wet mixture, then a small pour of the yeast/milk mixture and mix to combine, alternating adding the flour and milk mixture to the large bowl. Knead with your hands or the hook attachment of a mixer for 3 or 4 mins. The dough should not be dry, but it should not stick to your fingers. Sprinkle more flour as necessary. Dust the same bowl with extra flour, drop the kneaded dough ball back in, and cover with saran wrap or a dampened kitchen towel and set in a warm place (outside, or in the oven with the light on) for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size. I have even done this just before bed and let it rise overnight to save time in the AM.
While the dough is rising, make the frosting and filling.
FOR THE FILLING
Black sesame seeds are harder to know when they are toasted because they are already dark, so you’ll go off sound and smell. Preheat a shallow skillet or sauté pan on medium heat. Pour in the black sesame seeds and lower the heat to med/low and pan toast, stirring occasionally for 5 or 6 minutes or until you hear a popping sound from the seeds. Once they start to pop, turn off the heat but keep stirring the seeds in the pan for another minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Reserve just 1 tsp of seeds from the mix and set aside to add to the frosting, if desired.
Add the toasted black sesame seeds to a food processor or blender along with all other ingredients—butter, brown sugar, salt, ginger and nutmeg—except for the honey. (The first time I was recipe testing, I added the honey at this stage and it made the mixture so sticky it was extremely difficult to spread across the dough later). Blend until a thick paste is formed. Keep at room temp/ warm so it spreads easily.
FOR THE FROSTING (Can also be made ahead):
Cream the butter and cream cheese together until well blended. Add the salt and pandas extract and mix again.
Add in the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition until no visible clumps remain and desired consistency is achieved.
Taste and adjust to add more pandan extract, if desired. I felt that right at about 1/2 Tablespoon was enough to be noticed but not overpower it.
Add the 1 tsp of reserved whole toasted black sesame seeds and mix to combine.
FOR ASSEMBLING THE ROLLS
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on a large, generously floured surface. Roll our the dough to anywhere from 1/4-1/2 inch thick, and in as rectangular (less round) a shape as possible. We aren’t measuring these with a ruler and don’t need perfection here.
Drop spoonfuls of the black sesame filling all over the dough, and spread as thin and evenly as possible. Leave a 1 inch border on three of the sides, but come all the way to the edge on one of the long sides (this will be the center and you want that gooooooey). Then, in a steady and thin stream, drizzle the honey over the paste as evenly as possible without trying to spread it once it’s down. To roll, start from the long side where you brought your filling to the edge. Roll as tightly as possible, tugging on the sides as you go along. Cut into whatever size rolls you desire (I usually cut them about 2 inches thick) and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
You can absolutely bake them straight away at this point if you are eager or short on time and they will still be delicious, but if you have the patience to wait for a second rise, you will have the fluffiest dough situation on your hands! I usually set the cut rolls aside in a warm place to rise again, for at least 30 mins while I clean up and preheat the oven. They grow another 30% in size in that time and I think it’s very worth the wait!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheight/ 200 degrees Celcius.
Bake rolls for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly golden brown on top, and centers have risen above the outer rings of the roll.
I like to remove from the oven, allow to cool for a minute or two, and frost while still very warm so the icing melts down into all the cracks and crannies.
Makes between 12-16 rolls, depending on how thick you slice them.