You’ve probably heard of cheesecake or blintzes as traditional foods to enjoy for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, but get ready to fall in love with a cheese-filled carb treat you have never heard of: Bessarabian cheese buns.
This family recipes come to us from the Jewish community of Bessarabia — today’s Moldova, which is situated between Ukraine and Romania and close to the Black Sea — by way of Woonsocket, Rhode Island where the author of the recipe moved upon her arrival to the United States in 1902. They are light and fragrant, buttery and rich, and filled with a variety of white cheeses, sugar, and butter. They taste a little bit like a dairy noodle kugel but instead of noodles, they are bound by brioche-like pastry dough.
They look like a bun or a muffin, but they taste unlike either: America meets the old world in a baked treat. Alisa Doctoroff, whose grandmother, Nancy Robbins, learned to make them from her mother, kindly shared the recipe with us.
I suggest serving these sweet buns with a dollop of sour cream and sliced strawberries.
For the dough:
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 packets dry yeast
- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 1 lb farmer cheese
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- Pinch salt
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 lb cream cheese
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- To make the dough: Proof the yeast in the warm milk, with sugar and salt. While yeast is proofing, cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, and sour cream.
- Make a well in the flour. Add the yeast mixture and mix a bit with spatula or spoon. Then add the egg mixture. When dough starts to come together, place on floured surface and knead until smooth, 5-7 minutes.
- Put in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- Mix filling ingredients together in mixer. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- When dough is ready, cut off small pieces (about 2 oz) and flatten into rounds (approximately 5 inches wide). Make sure that the center of the rounds is not too thin, or the filling will burst through the top. Put 1 heaping Tbsp of filling in the center and gather the ends together, crimping shut so the filling doesn’t come out. Place upside down (with crimped end facing down) in greased muffin tin. Let buns rise at room temperature in a warm spot for 4 hours.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them after 15 minutes to make sure they don’t get too brown, too quickly. Depending on your oven, you may need to turn down the temperature.
- Brush with 1 beaten egg mixed with a little water 10 minutes before the end.