I baked my first from-scratch yeast bread twenty-five years or so ago in that old Brooklyn apartment upstairs from my brother. Fragrant, golden loaves, heavenly manna, elegantly twisted Challah pulled out of my oven with all the pride and joy of a mother gazing upon her newborn infant. But the loaves were dense and hard, dry like the desert under the heat of day, heavy like my heart. So downhearted I felt that day that it was another ten years before I attempted a second time. Only to find yet another baking tray full of cannonballs in the guise of dinner rolls. But the siren’s call of bread baking tempted me all too often. Photographs of fluffy, light-as-air rolls and gorgeous, crusty loaves with soft yet satisfyingly chewy crumb teased and seduced, and I refused to give up. Try and try again (and I honestly will not say undaunted) I plunged on, kneading and shaping, experimenting, tasting until finally, finally one day….
Determination finally won out and one day I simply had a revelation and understood the secret! My stick-to-itiveness paid off and I began creating the loaves of bread that months and years before I had only dreamed about. Watching the yeast bubble and foam, plunging my fingers into soft, powdery, ethereal flour and smiling to myself as it puffed up and floated around me, pressing my hands into the soft, smooth, sensuous dough, caressing, stroking, coaxing until it responded to my touch, bounced back to me when pressed, convinced me that it was all that I had been longing for. Patience along with some good old-fashioned trial and error stirred up with a lot of love and the perfect (or near-perfect, but that is okay as well) bread arrives on our table warm and fragrant, delightfully light and tender on the inside and crusty on the outside.
Bread Baking Day has been inspiring me for just about one year. This monthly blogging event was created by Zorra of 1x umrühren bitte and has carried me through many a month, kept me going and gave me one more reason to bake bread. Cookbooks strewn across my desktop and sofa, my coffee table and kitchen table, my fingers slide down the index page as I make my choice and the baking begins. If one has a desire to learn a new skill, master a new technique, then baking alongside friends is the best way. Encouragement and support, that gentle nudge forward, a kind word, advice when needed and a smile at the end of the day no matter the results all make for the best baking experience. I have come to absolutely love baking bread; the measuring, stirring, kneading, it is all so therapeutic, a fabulous way to work out the stress, and watching such simple, basic, earthy ingredients, flour and water, yeast and salt, blend together and transform into something so perfect, so necessary as one beautiful loaf of bread is more than satisfying; it is magic.
And today is World Bread Day. Zorra opens up her virtual kitchen and hosts this 5th Annual World Bread Day event today, inviting one and all to talk about bread, bake bread, eat bread. So roll up your sleeves, pull the flour off the shelf and let’s bake!
Yes, baking bread with a friend is the best experience, the most fun and the most inspiring. This month I baked with Rosa. If you do not yet know Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums then…well, where have you been hiding? Rosa is a generous, warm and most humble person with an amazingly clever wit hiding behind her lovely exterior. Just peruse her blog and you will be amazed at her baking talent! One stunning creation after the next that still has the power to amaze me. Read any of her blog posts and her humor shines through carrying you along chuckling to each delectable recipe and gorgeous photograph. Now I am using mighty big words here, a string of superlatives, but I exaggerate not! But all of that aside – for just one visit to her blog and you can judge for yourself – Rosa has become a friend and for that I am satisfied. She truly is a kind person. And one thing that we two have in common other than our passion for baking is, well, we both participate regularly in blogging events and we both invariably wait to bake for any event until the very last minute. Which in turn makes us stress completely out. We worry and moan and look around every corner for that disaster that is surely waiting to sink our cake, curdle our cream or turn our bread into rocks. This month, knowing that I was pushing my luck and waiting until literally the last days to bake for World Bread Day, I happened to bump into Rosa and started chatting about it. And then I noticed her perfect healthy Bread Rolls and knew what I wanted to bake.
Well, it wasn’t all bright and rosy. I fairly followed her recipe and found that this first batch of rolls were too dense for my pleasure. Although not hard as rocks they were far from the light and fluffy dinner rolls that I had expected. And the flavor was too strong for me – most likely the quality of the whole wheat flour I used and the ground linseed and goji berries I added. I rolled half up in loganberry jam-filled spirals that I found tasty enough and husband enjoyed the plain rolls with his end-of-dinner cheese and wine. But back to the old drawing board. Second time the charm! I altered the ingredients and some of the quantities, I used only a combination of white and chestnut flours, added some gorgeous raw honey sent to me by my great friend Barbara, threw in a few tablespoons mixed seeds for some crunch and the rolls were wonderful! Dense yet light, chewy with the delightful crunch of the seeds, just perfect. And thanks to Rosa, with whom I was on twitter ceaselessly back and forth during this whole baking rigamarole, for her support, tips, suggestions and jokes.
Perfect, tasty, light yet chewy dinner rolls
I baked, I ate, I lived and did I ever talk about bread!
Also sending these wonderful Dinner Rolls to Susan, baker extraordinaire, of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting round up!
Adapted from Rosa’s recipe on Rosa’s Yummy Yums
1 1/3 cups (300 ml) warm water
2 ½ tsps (8 g) active dry yeast
2 tsps granulated brown sugar
3 ¼ cups (400 g) flour – I used French all-purpose white
4/5 cup (100 g) chestnut flour
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 tsps salt
3 Tbs mixed seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds) and more if you want to sprinkle the top of the rolls
Olive oil for brushing the tops of the rolls
In a small bowl, blend the active dry yeast and the brown sugar then add the warm (body temperature) water, stirring to dissolve the yeast and break up any clumps. Stir 1 to 2 cups of the white flour into the yeast mixture, stirring gently, adding just enough flour to make a smooth, thick paste. Cover the bowl with a towel and all the yeast to activate, from 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture should have risen some and the surface should be bubbly.
In a large mixing bowl, blend the rest of the white flour, the chestnut flour, the cardamom, salt and the mixed seeds. Add the yeast liquid and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and you have a scraggy dough. Scrape the dough together and push out onto a floured work surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, flouring the work surface as needed, until it is smooth, soft and springy. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap then a clean kitchen towel and leave in a warm, dry place until doubled in bulk, 1 ½ hours or so.
After the first rise, gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto the floured work surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape as you like: I rolled each out into a long snake, tied in a knot and the tucked the loose ends underneath. Place the shaped rolls onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet, cover once again with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise and double in size a second time, about 40 minutes.
About 20 minutes before baking the rolls, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
When the rolls have doubled, remove the kitchen towel and the plastic wrap and brush the tops of the rolls with olive oil. If you like, you can sprinkle the tops with more seeds. When the oven is preheated, bake the rolls for 20 – 25 minutes or until risen and a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove the rolls from the oven and brush the tops once again with olive oil. If you like, you can sprinkle the freshly brushed rolls with coarse sea salt. Serve hot, warm or room temperature.