OUR DAILY BREAD
I have bread coming out of my ears. Everywhere I turn, I stumble upon a boulangerie: baguettes, ciabattas, pain de campagne, rustiques, white, whole wheat, multi-grain, dense and chewy, light and fluffy, the good, the bad and the ugly. Makes perfect sense. I mean, I live in the Land of Bread, Le Pays du Pain.
Yet, as the old saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, absence makes the heart grow fonder, Bob’s your uncle (no, sorry, not that last one. I just like the sound of it…). I am bored of baguettes, fatigued of flûtes, miches are monotonous, blasé of boules and simply tired of pain de campagne.
Now, I love good bread. I know which boulangerie has the best bread in the neighborhood and which stall at the market has the pain levain that I love. Bread and cheese to round off a meal with a glass of wine is one of this country’s true pleasures, or a hunk of cheese and a good baguette as the basis for an improvised picnic is a must. But as good as the bread is here, and don’t get me wrong it is very good, sometimes I crave what I just can’t get. A square of warm cornbread drizzled with honey, a dense, chewy bagel studded with sweet raisins, a slice of cinnamon-raisin swirl toast with butter melted on it, Jewish rye piled high with roast beef and slices of thick, ripe, juicy tomatoes or smeared with cream cheese and loaded with lox, and soft, light as air, warm-from-the-oven, big, squishy dinner rolls.
Big, huge white dinner rolls topped with salty butter were a restaurant treat for me as a kid: pulled apart and dipped into succulent, garlicky scampi sauce after an oh-so-adult meal at Peg Leg’s down at the end of De Soto Parkway, sopping up barbecue sauce from among the bones as we sit squashed together on long wooden benches at the bbq joint, piled high in cloth-lined baskets like clouds in the summertime at The Lobster Shanty snuggled up all cozy next to the golden delicious hushpuppies, high school cafeteria rolls that were lunch along with a carton of chocolate milk and occasionally a handful of fries for this 17 year old… I loved them. They were so fancy schmancy and somehow quite elegant, nothing that we ever had at home, so, oh, white bread, something to be served with roast beef and green beans or home-fried chicken, food that never saw the day at our house. We were more the rye bread and bagel type, bread that really served a purpose, bread that stayed with you, bread with substance and heft, not something as ephemeral, something as cloud-like as soft, airy dinner rolls.
They were always, truly, something otherworldly, like nectar of the gods.
The first time I tried making homemade dinner rolls I was a young, inexperienced bride (inexperienced in the art of bread making, that is), flipping through the pages of our brand new Paul Prudhomme cookbook. The photograph of his Mama’s dinner rolls blinded me with its beauty, made me yearn for something so magical and lovely, so ethereal that I knew I had to make the attempt. Sadly, and for lack of understanding, they came out hard. I had utterly failed. I felt that I just didn’t have the talent to make something so wonderful. I doubted my own capabilities. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. And for years after I stuck to cake and cookies, quick breads and muffins.
Years later, I tentatively returned to the task, determined to beat it, overcome the fear of yeast bread, conquer the mastery of bread baking. Trial and error, lots of reading, staring time and time again at bowls of frothing yeast, trying to break through the mystery. And, finally, here I am today, making Challah and pizza dough, whipping up bagels and bread sticks, focaccia rich with olive oil and sweet with cherry tomatoes, cinnamon buns the size of saucers, studded with chocolate chips and drizzled with glaze, everything I yearn for, anything I crave.
And last night I decided to attempt the heretofore unattainable, climb my own personal Everest, face my own private Waterloo, reach for the stars. And I was determined to conquer.
And, of course, this gorgeous success, this amazing triumph of breadly goodness, this story of small town girl done good goes to Susan at Wild Yeast for this week’s Yeastspotting, a showcase of all things yeast.
The desire to produce a fragrant pan of soft dinner rolls, the poke in the back, the encouraging whisper in the ear came from La Table de Nana on whose wonderful blog I saw them, the most amazing vision of light and fluffy. I ended up reworking the recipe to use what I had on hand, so instead of using yogurt and milk I used buttermilk and cream. And the rest, as they say, is history. Thank you Nana for inspiring me.
Soft Buttermilk Dinner Rolls is a very easy recipe perfect for those of you who are afraid of making yeast breads. It is extremely straightforward, no trying to figure out yeast required. Dry + wet + kneading pretty much sums it up to give you the most delicious, light-as-air dinner rolls. The next time I make them, I’ll let the shaped rolls rise and bake in a slightly smaller tin so they rise up rather than out, giving taller, narrower buns; more fluffy center and less top. I will also brush the tops of the rolls with melted salted butter as soon as I pull them out of the oven to give them the restaurant flavor that I remember from my childhood.
SOFT BUTTERMILK DINNER ROLLS
For 12 dinner rolls. Halve the recipe to make 6.
1 lb (500 g) bread flour
2 Tbs (30 g) sugar (I used light brown)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ heaping (6 g) tsps dry active yeast
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
¼ cup (60 ml) light cream
4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter, preferably at room temperature
1 large egg + 1 egg for wash
Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, lightly beat 1 egg.
In a medium-sized saucepan, gently heat the buttermilk, the cream and the butter together until just warm. Remove from the heat and stir the warmed liquid until the butter is completely melted.
Quickly stir the beaten egg into the warm liquid ingredients then pour over the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet into the dry ingredients until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and form a sticky dough.
Scrape out onto a floured work surface and, adding more flour as needed, knead the dough for 6 – 8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic and no longer sticky (though not dry!).
Place the dough in a large, clean, oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour until doubled in bulk.
Once doubled, scrape the dough back out onto the floured work surface and punch down. Divide into 12 equal pieces and shape each into a ball (or roughly). Place the balls of dough in parchment-lined cake tins or baking pan, spacing them about 1 to ½ inches apart. Cover once more with plastic and allow to rise a second time until doubled, another hour.
Preheat oven to 325°F (170°C).
Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash (an egg lightly beaten) and pop into the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes until the tops are a deep golden brown.
Eat warm, preferably with butter. I reheated some the following day and, although not as perfect as fresh out of the oven, they were wonderfully delicious. I froze some, too.