When I set out to conquer the ins and outs of making the best pistachio ice cream, a dozen rounds of testing inadvertently blessed me with a near-lifetime supply of homemade pistachio paste, a thrifty byproduct of milk-soaked pistachios leftover from the ice cream's infusion process.
While this type of homemade pistachio paste isn't as intense as one made with virgin pistachios (for lack of a better term), it still has an unmistakably nutty flavor and pistachio aroma. This gives me the most bang for my pistachio buck, as I'll wind up with both pistachio ice cream and a delicious pistachio paste that can be put to good use in pistachio whipped cream and my pistachio frangipane tart.
But, without a doubt, my favorite application for this second-run pistachio paste would be a batch of these gooey, fluffy, tender, nutty, aromatic pistachio buns.
They use up an entire recipe's worth of pistachio paste, which goes on to flavor the dough, filling, and frosting, for a pistachio triple-whammy in every bite. Quadruple whammy, I guess, if you decide to twirl up the dough with toasted pistachios sprinkled over the filling—and why wouldn't you?
The biggest change to this dough is a reduction in sugar, fat, and moisture (via milk), to compensate for the addition of pistachio paste, which contains all three. The fat that’s included in the dough isn't butter, but roasted pistachio oil (an ingredient needed in the paste itself), to further boost the overall flavor.
I start by blending the liquid ingredients together, which include pistachio paste, Greek yogurt, milk, and pistachio oil.
I find it easiest to bring these together with an immersion blender, but it could also be done in a food processor or blender. These tools make quick work of the stiff paste, which can otherwise turn the mixture into something of a sloshy mess if whisked by hand with the liquid ingredients.
I add the mixture to the dry ingredients—all-purpose flour, salt, and instant dry yeast (not fast active or active dry styles; see our guide to different styles of dry yeast for more information).
At first, the dough will seem impossibly dry, but with patience it will come together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Here, the goal is to substantially develop the gluten—not to a perfect, glossy windowpane, but close. When the dough's ready, a ping-pong ball sized portion can be stretched fairly thin without tearing, although you'll notice it's not outrageously smooth.
In my experience, this take about 25 minutes on low-speed (setting 2 on my KitchenAid Pro), but the exact timing will vary depending on the mixer's power, as well as small details like the specific flour and Greek yogurt involved. Which is to say, don't put too much stock in the estimated time, but instead pay attention to the visual and textural cues; look for a dough that's supple and elastic, if not perfectly smooth.
Once the dough is properly developed, let it rise in a relatively warm place until roughly doubled in bulk. At cool room temperature, say 70°F (21°C), this can take about two hours. It's normal for the timing of this step to vary, and the dough's growth may slow to a crawl in cool conditions, while in warmer weather it may move along at a brisk pace.
Regardless of the exact timing, the idea is to produce a dough that's soft and light, resilient enough that a gentle poke won't send your finger through the middle, but not so springy that it bounces back at the touch. It should retain the trace of your fingerprint after poking, without leaving a crater behind.
After the first rise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a large square, then cover it with a layer of pistachio butter (this is a simple mixture of pistachio paste and unsalted butter, which can be made in advance of the dough, just like the cinnamon butter in the original recipe).
Then sprinkle more (blanched, peeled, toasted) pistachios on top, and roll the dough up in a tight log. To portion it into rolls, it's easiest to cut the log with butcher's twine, or a strand of unflavored dental floss, rather than with a knife, which can squish your rolls. Just slide it under the log of dough, cross the ends over the top, and pull tight.
Cut the log into 12 roughly equal pieces, then transfer them to a parchment-lined nine- by 13-inch anodized aluminum baking pan, or else two parchment-lined eight-inch anodized aluminum cake pans.
I cover the rolls with foil and refrigerate them overnight (or up to 48 hours); sometimes, I'll even stash the pan in the freezer, and then thaw the dough overnight in the fridge before baking the buns like normal in the morning. And honestly, that flexibility in cold storage is where this recipe shines, as it enables me to make fancy breakfast options for holidays and special occasions, without having to actually put in any work on those particular dates. Like my classic cinnamon rolls, these pistachio buns are best when given an overnight rise to help develop structure and loft. Ostensibly, the second rise can happen at room temperature, if you have an inexplicably urgent need for pistachio buns NOW, but their texture and flavor may be somewhat lacking.
When you’re ready to bake, pop the pistachio buns into a 350°F oven and bake, covered, until they're well puffed and fragrant with the aromas of pistachios, butter, and bread, but still a touch pale—about 35 minutes.
From there, I remove the foil and continue baking until the buns are lightly browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes more.
Any bread has the potential to feel gummy and dense while piping hot, since its crumb structure isn’t yet set, but the soft texture of the pistachio paste in the filling and dough makes that doubly true for these buns. So please, despite the temptation, let the buns cool before you dig in. Not all the way to room temperature by any means, but somewhere in the low 100s, please.
Besides, this mandatory waiting period will give you just enough time to whip up a bit of pistachio cream: a simple combo of pistachio paste and cream "whipped" with an immersion blender to create a thick and silky whipped cream.
The pistachio cream itself is quite stable, so it can be made in advance and stashed in the fridge to streamline the morning routine. At any rate, spoon it over the buns before they've completely cooled, while a touch of residual warmth can start melting the cream into a luscious goo.
If, for some reason, you're not inclined to make pistachio ice cream, these buns can certainly be made with "virgin" pistachio paste, but in that case, do pop over to the pistachio ice cream recipe for more details on blanching, peeling, and toasting the nuts, as raw pistachio paste doesn't do well in these buns.
But with toasted pistachio paste in literally every bite, this nutty twist on classic breakfast buns is a labor of love worth making for the pistachio lover in your life. Just don't tell anyone about their make-ahead convenience; that can be our little secret.