First off don’t ask the host where they bought them. I mean, please, that is like rolling up a wet towel and smacking someone in the ass. It is the exact same insult as asking someone where they bought their meat after they have served you and you have eaten the best steak of your life. People do it to cooks all the time. I want to tell them it was road kill an hour ago. To those that do this do you understand what you are saying. Do I need to explain it is not a compliment to tell someone, “anyone could do what you just did as long as they know the right place to shop.” I know there was a time when this might have been a compliment but I still haven’t figured out when that was . And you say but Tom this is about dinner rolls not steak. Your right. OK. Dinner rolls. There is no such thing as a quick roll. No, be quiet. Let me finish, please, hear me out. My definition and understanding of quick rolls isn’t that they are any easier to make but just means a lack of prior planning. I don’t mean by you but by the person who called it a quick roll. It isn’t any easier to make a quick roll, you still have to mix the dough, let it rise, usually twice, but after the second rise you bake it. What a quick roll lacks is time, not less effort. This is what is important. This is the step that separates the baker from the apprentice, a quick roll from a great roll. After the first rise let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. You need to know that the amylase rest overnight in the refrigerator helps to convert more starch to sugar and this step is what gives bread a deeper taste and a beautiful crust color. When bread dough is in the right hands it goes from a bland communion biscuit to manna from heaven. Southern cooks, for example, have for centuries been more passionate about their bread products than most. Take Edna Lewis’s Yeast Rolls from Sponge Batter in her book A Taste of Country Cooking. It is a potato roll that is made over the course of two days. If you read the recipe it is more than “just a recipe.” This is a total act of submission, not to the dough, that is a huge gesture of respect for her dinner guests and a desire to serve them the best. Look how beautifully she writes her directions, “After setting overnight the sponge will be aromatic and light as sea foam..” Sea foam, what a perfect way to describe a starter, could it be any more visual. You can feel the love Edna Lewis has for her dinner guests in her recipes, without even tasting her food, you know it is going to be spectacular. On the other hand, the other day I was looking for a kids show on PBS for Vivian when I came across Cooks Country. I saw Christopher Kimball doing his test kitchen science and talking about rolls with one of the researchers on the show. They did an audience taste test of frozen store bought rolls and they snuck in a homemade roll that fell flat against the store bought. I wanted to know more about the home made roll. Who made it? How was it made? ( actually I was thinking if Kimball’s staff can’t bake a better roll than a store bought roll and this is the best Kimball can do then why on Gods green earth would I want to use his recipes.) Then I thought why would a show like Cooks Country do this? Hasn’t country cooking always stood for home made. Then it dawned on me, the reality is most people don’t care until they are actually eating a really good roll made by someone who cared enough to make it right. I don’t know, maybe I am weird, maybe I care to much, but I guess I look at the world of food and eating a little differently than most people. I guess I look at dinner rolls as part of the foreplay of passionate and great meals. Need I say more, or should I just finish with take your time, there is always room for improvement, it takes practice, and don’t let anyone tell you it is not worth the effort and if they do you might want to divorce them from your guest list. —thirschfeld
water, body temperature
dry active yeast
kosher salt, heaping, if you use a fine grind salt only use 1/2 teaspoon
raw wheat germ, toasted in a saute pan until nutty smelling
unbleached all purpose flour
stick of unsalted butter, softened, plus some for brushing the rolls
- In the bowl of a mixer add the water and sprinkle in the yeast and let it bloom.
- Once it has dissolved add the rest of the ingredients adding the butter last. Save the butter wrapper.
- Using a dough hook mix the dough until it becomes elastic. Sit tight on adding any water the dough looks dry but it takes some time for the butter and eggs to hydrate the flour.
- It should form a loose ball and pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and kneed it a few times until it is smooth and elastic.
- Grease the inside of the bowl wiping it with the reserved butter wrapper.
- Place the dough into the bowl and cover the bowl with a warm damp towel or plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. Just above room temp is fine. Set a timer for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough. Divide it into 9 equal pieces. Using the palm of your hand and rolling in a circular motion roll the pieces of dough into nine balls.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into a 9 x 9 inch cake pan and place it on the bottom of the pan. Place the rolls into the pan keeping a little space between them. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and put them into the fridge.
- The next day remove them from the fridge and let them slow rise until they get to room temperature or have doubled from the original size from the day before.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the rolls for 15 minutes and then brush them liberally with butter. bake them another 10 minutes until the tops are golden brown and delicious. Remove them from the oven and let them cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.