Friday, March 27, 2009

DAILY BREAD: Rolls

Fifth in a series for Lent.
I learned to cook because I wanted to create great dinner parties for my friends. My curiosity, and the good will of my hungry college friends, allowed me to experiment with new menus and new guest lists. Though I was decent at cooking generally, and on the bakng side, my cakes and pies were good, I had no experience with yeast and breads. But I recognized that the well-set table always needs a good bread basket so I set out to bake dinner rolls. Most of my efforts yielded under-risen and over-baked pucks of dough and I surrendered to bakery rolls for years. Once my bread baking skills advanced and I was able to move back to rolls, I learned two tricks: 1) allow the dough to have lots of time to rise in the bowl and again to rise in the balls and 2) do NOT overbake them. They're done when they're golden browned though they may seem too soft in the middle. Trust me-- they'll be pull-apart perfect and great for your guests.

Dinner Rolls
15 ounces bread flour
1 package instant dry yeast (about 2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened or melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk or water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, salt, eggs and water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine using a wooden spoon (or by hand). After a few minutes, the mixture should become a shaggy ball. Remove the dough from the bowl (along with any scraps) and knead for ten minutes. Place the dough into a buttered bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise until doubled in bulk, which could take anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 hours.
When it has doubled in bulk, punch it down and divide the dough into equally-sized balls. This recipe will make 8 hamburger buns, 12 dinner rolls, or 24 small rolls (perfect for appetizers like mini burgers or mini lobster rolls). Use your hands to form them into rolls in the following way: force the dough through the circle formed by pinching the tip of your thumb and index finger together. When most of the dough has passed through, capture the end close to your palm and pinch it tight to close it off.
Place the balls, pinched side down, into a buttered 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the rolls with melted butter or a beaten egg. Cover them with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to rise again for about one hour. Bake until golden, about 14-18 minutes.