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Best Bulkas – South African Cinnamon Buns (Rolls) aka Boolkes

Orna's Signature Bake!

These heavenly cinnamon buns are soft and chewy, and oh-so buttery… but not too sweet. Perfect for breakfast or any time with a cup of tea or coffee. Mmmmm.

Watch my NEW, easy method on YouTube (only 15 minutes!)
Or my even easier “Quick Bulkas” on YouTube (only 2 minutes!)

Try my “Bulka Twists” recipe—inspired by my Paris trip. 

Since my original blogpost/recipe and YouTube video in 2013, I’ve made them dozens of times and have simplified (and halved) the recipe so that anyone, anywhere can make them. You don’t even need a mixer.

Best Bulkas - OrnaBakes

If you’ve never used yeast, don’t be afraid! This is the perfect recipe to get you started. All you need is one packet (2 teaspoons) of Active Dry Yeast—or I like using SAF GOLD Instant Yeast which is great for sweet “enriched” doughs like this one. I purchase it on Amazon and store in the freezer.

But Orna… where did these mysterious yeast buns come from?

In South Africa, where I grew up, it was traditional to break the fast on Yom Kippur on a warm bulka. I’ve since heard from peeps in Australia, Canada, and Israel that have used my recipe to carry on their family tradition. (I’d love to hear from you too!)

Bulka or boolke means “bread” or “roll” in Russian. (I just learned that my friend’s mom called them milchike buns.) These special treats were passed down by Jewish grandmothers in Eastern Europe. My recipe was adapted from Bobba Skuy’s Bulkas in Es Mein Kind – recipes from the Liebenthal and Silber families. Thank you, dear Rita Blogg, for inspiring me and sharing your family recipe with me.

If you’re pressed for time you can form them into the more ubiquitous Cinnamon Rolls (see below), and even add raisins or sultanas (golden raisins), but to me this unique shape is way more special and fun to make—especially with kids.

This is my Signature Bake and my family’s favorite thing I make. I bet that if you start making them, they too will become your Signature Bake and everyone will beg you to make them again and again. ? (It’s a shame to only make them once a year!)

Please share this recipe and YouTube video with friends far and wide! (Especially South Africans who will get a taste of home ?)

As always, I would love to hear from you! Was the video helpful? Do you prefer my new method? Did they become your signature bake? ? ?

Happy Baking!

With love,


Join my Bulka Banter Facebook Group and show us your bakes!

How to make easy Cinnamon Rolls/ Quick Bulkas by rolling up the dough jelly-roll style:

NEW 2-minute YouTube video (9/22/20):


Best Bulkas (Boolkes) Recipe - South African Cinnamon Buns

Traditional for breaking the fast on Yom Kippur. Soft and buttery, and not too sweet. Delicious for breakfast or any time! And perfect for making ahead.
5 from 2 votes
Servings 16 buns


  • 2 x half sheet pans (18 inches x 13 inches)
  • Parchment paper/foil
  • Instant Read Thermometer (I love my Thermapen)
  • Dough scraper/flexible spatula
  • Rolling pin
  • 4 1/2 inch (11 cm) round cookie/pastry cutter
  • Pastry brush


  • ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, cubed (I like Kerrygold Irish Butter from grass-fed cows)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (reduce to 1/2 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • cup (63g) granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup (183g) whole milk or low fat milk
  • 4 ½ cups (540g) unbleached or bleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (1/4 oz package) active dry yeast or instant yeast, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • vegetable spray or oil or melted butter for bowl
  • ¼ - ½ cup (113g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into rough tablespoon pieces
  • Cinnamon Sugar (you will have extra):
  • cup (126g) granulated sugar Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • salted butter for serving, room temperature


  • Line two half sheet pans (18 inches x 13 inches) with parchment paper.


  • Place butter, salt, sugar and milk in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring often, just until warm and the butter is almost melted. If you see it start to bubble remove it from the heat. It should be lukewarm (100 - 110 degrees F/37 - 43 degrees C) when you add it to the flour mixture. If the milk is too hot (over 140 degrees F/60 degrees C) it will kill the yeast. Transfer to a large measuring cup to make it easier to pour. If it’s too hot, set aside to cool to lukewarm. If it’s too cool it will just take longer for the dough to rise, but it will still work.


  • Remove half a cup of the flour to a small bowl and cover; reserve for shaping.
  • Place 3 cups (360 g) of flour and the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl and mix with the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until combined.
  • With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the milk mixture and mix until combined.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until well incorporated; you will have a pudding-like mixture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.


  • Scrape and remove the paddle. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for ten minutes. This is to give the dough more character and it will then need less flour overall; if you forget this step it’s not serious (I’ve done it).


  • Switch to the dough hook. Add 1/2 cup (60 g) flour and knead on low (speed #2) for about 5 minutes. Dust in the remaining 1/2 cup (60 g) of flour as needed. The dough will start off very sticky but will get less sticky as you knead it. It’s okay if the dough doesn’t pull away from the sides completely. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl about half way through. Only add an additional 1/2 cup (60 g) a little at a time if the dough is still very sticky, or the dough will be dry and heavy.The dough should be silky, supple, elastic, and manageable, but not sticky or dry.
  • Use a dough scraper or spatula lightly sprayed with cooking spray to remove the dough from the bowl. Place it on a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for just a minute or two.


  • Dust in the fourth cup of flour (1/2 a cup at a time) as you start kneading the dough in the bowl, holding the bowl with your left hand and kneading with your right. (Use a dough scraper or a lightly sprayed flexible spatula to scrape up the sticky dough). When the dough becomes more manageable transfer it (with the dough scraper or a lightly sprayed flexible spatula) to a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes until smooth and supple, adding more flour only if necessary. The dough should be silky, supple, and elastic, but not sticky. 


  • Form it into a ball and place it in a large bowl that has been sprayed with vegetable spray or brushed lightly with oil or melted butter. Lightly spray the top of the dough or turn the dough over to coat it. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Helpful Tip: Use a piece of tape to mark the top of the dough and another piece for where it would be at double its height.
  • Place in a warmish spot (73 - 75 degrees F/23 - 24 degrees C is ideal) to rise for about 1 - 2 hours until puffy and almost doubled in size.  It might take longer, depending on the temperature of your house. (Do NOT place outside in the sun!) Or let it rise on the counter for 30 - 60 minutes and then refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours and then allow to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. A slower rise is preferable as it develops more flavor. This “enriched dough” (with butter, sugar, eggs) might take longer than you think to rise. Be patient. Active Dry Yeast can take longer to rise than Instant Yeast.


  • “Punch down” the dough by gently placing your hand in the middle and pushing out the bubbles and then turning up the sides into the middle all the way around. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes.


  • On a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough with a lightly floured rolling pin into a rough rectangle that’s 1/4 - 3/8 inch (about 1 cm) thick. Dip a 4 1/2 inch (11 cm) pastry cutter into flour and cut as many circles as you can. (For smaller bulkas for a crowd use a slightly smaller pastry cutter and/or roll the dough a little thinner.) Combine the scraps, cover with plastic, and rest for about ten minutes so it’s easier to work with.


  • Carefully place about 6 rounds on each prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap as you add them so they don’t dry out. Melt about 2 tablespoons butter. (Microwave about 25 seconds; melt more as you need it so it doesn't get cold/harden) Brush each round with melted butter and sprinkle with about one teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. 


  • With a sharp, serrated knife, make a slit from the middle to the edge. Fold one piece over and the other piece on top of it to make three layers. (SEE MY YOUTUBE VIDEO FOR HOW TO DO THIS) Gently combine all the bulkas on the first baking sheet, leaving 1 - 2 inches between them as they will rise and grow. Keep them loosely covered while you work. Clean the other baking sheet so it’s ready to use if the bottoms are getting over-baked. 


  • Brush the tops generously with more melted butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar.


  • Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 30 - 40 minutes until quite puffy (they won’t be doubled in size). Or refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours and then set on the counter for 30 minutes to come to room temperature. (This will develop the flavor even more)


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F Convection (160 degrees C) or 350 F (180 degrees C) regular. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 12 - 18 minutes (depending on how big they are) until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. If the bottoms are getting done too quickly, carefully place on a second baking sheet after about 10 minutes and rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Keep an eye on them and cover loosely with foil if the tops are getting too brown. Do not over-bake or they will be dry. An instant read thermometer should register 188 - 190 degrees F (87 degrees C)


  • A few minutes before they’re done, remove from the oven and brush any exposed spots with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.


  • Transfer immediately to a wire cooling rack covered with parchment paper to cool.


  • Serve warm with salted butter. Reheat at 325 degrees F/160 degrees C on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, covered loosely with foil, for 3 - 5 minutes. 


  • Freeze in freezer ziplock bags removing as much air as possible. Thaw completely and reheat as above. 


To bake as Cinnamon Rolls:

  • Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick. Brush generously with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar; scatter 1/2 cup raisins or sultanas (golden raisins) over if desired.
    Roll up lengthwise (not too tightly)—starting on the long end of the rectangle.
    Cut the roll in half and then cut those in half and so on to form 16 pieces.
    Set cut side down in a 13 x 9 x 2 inch (33 x 23 x 5 cm) baking pan that has been sprayed and then lined with parchment paper with a slight overhang, leaving room between for them to grow. Or place in sprayed cups of large muffin pans. (If baking in muffin cups, brush the tops with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before proofing and omit any cream.)
    Brush the tops lightly with half and half or heavy cream or milk before proofing. 
    Cover loosely with plastic wrap that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray and set aside to rise (proof) for 45 - 60 minutes or refrigerate 2 - 24 hours until almost doubled in size. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.
    Set the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Cover loosely with foil if the tops are getting too brown.
    Brush with half and half/cream/milk when they come out of the oven and remove from pan to cool. 

Check out my other Signature Bake: Crunchies—traditional South African Oatmeal Cookie Bars

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4 Responses

  1. 5 stars
    Make these often! They are soft and delish. Tried both instant and active dry yeast. Quick and overnight proofing. Results are great with both. I do prefer the quick rise however. Have made Orna’s folded shape and rolled up and cut into muffin tins. Both results are great. This recipe cannot fail.

  2. 5 stars
    Orna, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find this recipe! I’m also Saffer with parents and in-laws from Lithuania and Russia and had given up hope of ever finding a traditional recipe. Going to bake these as a treat for the family tomorrow at will let you know how it goes;). Again, thank you.

    1. I’m so excited for you Sarah! Thanks for taking the time to write. ? Send me pics! Make sure to watch my YouTube video (above) for how to make them. ❤️

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