There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh-baked bread (or fresh-baked anything, for that matter.) I don’t make yeast breads very often (except for pizza), but once in a blue moon (like this week) I do enjoy getting my hands dirty with sticky, yeast-y dough. So the first thing I did was read up about bread in Shirley Corriher’s fantastic book BakeWise – lots of great info there. Then I read up about bread on the King Arthur Flour website – lots of great info there, too. And then there was James Beard, and Julia, and…well, you get the picture. And lastly, I emailed my friend Bob Ubaldo, a great local bread baker who just opened a new restaurant, The Farmer’s Table, in New Canaan, CT, for some tips. He’s really nice. And smart. And a great chef. And a chemist! So he knows his way around the magic that is bread. And his restaurant is lovely, so if you have the chance, go! I'm using my pizza dough for this recipe, since I like things uncomplicated [read: I am lazy.] The techniques I use are a combination of what I’ve been doing forever with pizza dough, plus the bread baking research I’ve done. I’ve always heard steam is a good tool to use when baking bread, but wasn’t sure why. Bob said the steam “helps the bread expand in the beginning because the crust is soft enough for a good oven "kick" or rise. Steam is good in the beginning of the bake, first ten minutes or so, after that it inhibits caramelization because things just don’t caramelize in a wet environment.” So ten minutes into the baking, don’t forget to open your oven door and let out the steam. I'd forgotten how gratifying it is to make your own bread, so thanks A&M for picking a really fun theme for this week. - mrslarkin —mrslarkin
Test Kitchen Notes
Mrslarkin's Crusty Peasant Rolls definitely live up to their name. The golden crust makes a fresh cracking sound when broken into and the insides are very much like pizza dough, as the recipe suggests. I did not use a baking stone, but I think the roll still came out well, and amply crusty. Hot out of the oven with butter or olive oil, these were really good.– Jennifer —The Editors
- Makes about 10 rolls
2 1/2 cups
all-purpose flour (about 11 oz., I use King Arthur Unbleached)
*when measuring flour, fluff it first with a whisk, sprinkle it into measuring cup, and sweep the top with the flat edge of a knife or offset spatula
1 1/2 teaspoons
active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
lukewarm water, like around 80 degrees or so
a sprig of fresh rosemary
coarse sea salt
- Place flour in large bowl. Stir in salt.
- Dissolve yeast into water. Pour into flour and stir with a beautiful wooden spoon if you have one, or a dinner fork, until it comes together. Dough will ball up onto the spoon/fork. Remove spoon/fork.
- Place a few tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and set it near your work area. This way, you don’t have to grab the bottle of olive oil with your dough-y hands like I usually do. Drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over the dough and along the sides of the bowl. I use an oiled plastic bowl scraper to help knead the dough, scraping, folding and pressing as you would for any kind of kneading. Do this for a couple minutes.
- At this point, lift the dough ball up with your lightly oiled hands and hold along one edge of dough, letting the rest of the dough hang down and stretch out. Move along the entire edge of the dough, turning it in more or less a circular steering wheel motion. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. Do this 5 or 6 times, folding the dough back up into a ball each time. Total turning and stretching: a few minutes.
- Fold the dough up over itself, gather it into a ball and place back in the oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, lay a dish towel over it and place in a warm spot. I always stick my bowl of dough in the microwave, a warm and out of the way place. Sometimes, before putting it in, I heat a mug-full of water, to get the microwave nice and warm.
- Let rise for 1 hour. Then deflate dough with your fingers, and let rise for another hour.
- When the second rise is done, place baking stone on center rack of oven. Place a large cast iron skillet on bottom rack. Preheat oven to 435 degrees F. You want the oven good and hot.
- Pinch off dough into small, 2 ounce pieces (I use a kitchen scale for this; my scale is flat and fits into a gallon zipper bag. I oil the top of the bag so the dough doesn’t stick. Or you can go ahead and lay the dough on your naked scale, swipe it with oil, and clean it when you are done.) I like to roll the dough with my very lightly oiled hands on my marble pastry board that I’ve swiped with a lightly oiled paper towel, so the dough has a little tackiness and resistance to roll smooth, but doesn’t stick like crazy. Now, don’t squish the balls. Form your hand over it like a cage and start rolling in a circle and roll into a smooth, firm ball.
- Place dough balls on a parchment-lined heavy-duty sheet pan, at least 1 inch apart. Take a long sheet of plastic wrap and brush it lightly with olive oil, or spray it with Pam. Lay the oiled plastic over the buns. Let rise for 30 minutes.
- Remove the plastic from the buns. Sprinkle some coarse sea salt over and lay a few leaves of rosemary over each.
- Just before placing the sheet pan in the oven, very carefully, and using oven mitts, pour ½ cup very hot tap water into the cast iron pan that you already set on the bottom rack. Keep your face averted, as the hot steam will billow up, and I do not want you to burn yourself. Immediately place the sheet pan on the baking stone and quickly close oven. After 10 minutes, open the oven door to let the steam out. Total bake time is around 25 – 30 minutes, until tops are a deep golden brown. The bottoms will sound hollow when tapped. Slide rolls, parchment and all, onto a cooling rack. Serve warm.
- When completely cool, store leftovers in a freezer zip top bag for up to one day. Freeze for longer keeping. These rolls reheat and crisp up very nicely in a 350 degree F oven.
- Oh, and one last thing. I know I've harped on this before, but seriously, get yourself an oven thermometer. It's really important that you have an accurate read on your oven temperature, regardless of what you are cooking in it.