Fluffy bread rolls stuffed with cream cheese, arranged in a honeycomb pattern and drizzled with honey. Honeycomb bread is such an easy way to impress.
What is honeycomb bread?
Khaliat Nahl or Khaliat Nahal is the Arabic translation of a “bees honeycomb”. Also known as beehive bread, honeycomb bread is a classic Middle Eastern dish. This is a very popular appetizer served before a meal, for breakfast, or as a snack with coffee/tea. There are different ways of making this, some recipes call for the bread rolls to be doused with a simple syrup or a saffron syrup. There are a lot of different dough iterations too.
Although the classic version is stuffed with cream cheese, you can stuff this with anything you like! I added some options in a section below.
Why should I make this honeycomb bread?
I used a Japanese milk bread method which gives the most unbelievably fluffy bread, the perfect thing to encase that creamy center. The dough recipe is so easy- everything gets added to a stand mixer and mixed together, no need to proof the yeast before adding.
The contrast between the fluffy bread and the soft, mild cheese filling, with a little crunch from the sesame seeds and nigella seeds and sweetness from the honey is a taste sensation.
The iterations are endless, you can switch up the filling and toppings. You can make the dough the night in advance, or freeze the finished rolls.
What’s so special about the dough?
The dough is barely adapted from King Arthur flour, a method to make Japanese milk bread, also known as hokkaido bread, in which a flour starter or roux is added to the dough. The starter is known as tangzhong, and its function is to make the bread fluffier, and keep it fresh and soft for longer. I definitely think it accomplished that with these rolls- leftovers were great!
The roux is really easy to make, just requires a few minutes of whisking over low heat.
Ingredients you need to make these:
For the dough:
Small amounts of water, milk, and flour for the starter, then more flour and milk, sugar, salt, instant yeast, an egg, and melted butter for the dough. The original recipe calls for 2 tbsp of milk powder, but I left it out since I didn’t have any at home. If you do have some you can add it, but just know it came out great without!
Note: The original recipe calls for bread flour, which has a higher protein content and usually leads to a stronger, chewier bread. I wanted to try this out with all purpose flour, since that’s what I always have on hand, and it worked out perfectly. Feel free to use either flour!
I used cream cheese blocks (like Kiri), which is cream cheese in a slightly less spreadable form. It makes it easier to work with and stuff the bread with. You could definitely use a scoop of regular cream cheese, preferably not softened.
Other options for filling beehive bread:
You can use anything you like to eat with bread! Feta cheese, Halloumi cheese, Akkawi cheese, cheddar cheese, any cheese of choice. Try a labneh and zaatar mix, or sprinkle the top with zaatar instead of sesame seeds.
You can also fill this with sweet options, like Nutella or Lotus spread. I bet peanut butter and jelly ones would be amazing!
An egg wash, just one egg whisked with a tbsp of water. Also, sesame seeds and nigella seeds to sprinkle on top before baking. These are optional but recommended for that authentic khaliat nahl experience.
How to make the bread dough:
Start off by making your tangzhong by whisking together the water, milk and flour in a small saucepan over low heat until thickened. Set aside and cool to room temperature, then add it to the rest of the dough ingredients.
Combine the dough ingredients either by mixing, or in the bowl of a stand mixer- the easier method for me! Just keep mixing, using the dough hook if possible, until dough is elastic and smooth and well combined.
The dough needs to rest two times. The first time for 60-90 minutes until puffy and well risen, then after you shape your stuffed bread balls, for a further 40-50 minutes.
Serving the honeycomb bread:
Serve warm, drizzled with honey, preferably alongside a cup of coffee or tea, or an ice cold glass of milk.
Storing leftover rolls:
Leftover rolls would store well in the fridge for a few days, or at cool room temperature. I recommend reheating briefly before enjoying, either in the microwave or in the oven at a low temperature.
Tips and tricks for bread success:
Try and find a warm place for the dough to rise. I like using my laundry room, or even placing the dough bowl inside a closed oven.
Knead long enough for the dough to become elastic and smooth, this means you’ve fully developed the gluten.
Be creative and use whatever fillings and toppings you like- feel free to experiment!
To get uniform sized balls that’ll bake at the same time, I recommend using a kitchen scale to weight out your dough balls.
If you liked this recipe, you might like:
For the tangzhong (starter)
- 3 tbsp water 43g
- 3 tbsp whole milk 43g
- 2 tbsp all purpose or bread flour 14g
For the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour 300g
- 1/4 cup sugar 50g
- 1 tsp salt 5g
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
- 1/2 cup whole milk 113g
- 1 egg
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 57g
To stuff and assemble the bread:
- 4 oz cream cheese- cubes or spreadable 120g
- 1 egg mixed with 1 tbsp water for the egg wash
- sprinkle sesame seeds
- sprinkle nigella seeds
- honey for drizzling after baking
Make the tangzhong:
- Combine all the ingredients for the tangzhong together in a small saucepan, and heat on low heat, whisking constantly for 3-5 minutes until thick and glue like, and clinging to the whisk. Transfer to a small bowl or measuring cup and let cool to room temperature.
Make the dough:
- Add all the dough ingredients, along with the tangzhong to a bowl and either knead by hand or mix on medium low speed on a stand mixer until a smooth elastic dough forms, that can be shaped into a ball. Mine took about 3-4 minutes in the mixer.
- Shape the dough into a ball, and transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place for about 60-90 minutes until puffy. If you poke the dough, your finger should leave indentations that won't fill back up.
- Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 14 equal sized balls, mine were 43 grams each. Pat each dough ball to flatten it out, then place a small square or scoop of cream cheese in the center. Wrap the dough around the cream cheese, and place seam side down in a lightly greased 9 inch circle cake pan or springform pan. Repeat with all the remaining dough balls and cream cheese. Watch the video to see how I arranged them.
- Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel and rest again for 40-50 minutes until puffy. Midway through this second rise, you can heat the oven to 350F (180C).
- After the doughs are puffy and expanded, brush thoroughly with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and nigella seeds. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until deep golden brown on top.
- Enjoy warm or room temperature, drizzled with honey. So good!