Traveling the world through cuisine

A Desire for Decent Rolls

Zuzana at a Tesco Supermarket in Slovakia
Zuzana at a Tesco Supermarket in Slovakia

It always amazes me how much travel will change my outlook on life, work, and especially food; even for the most simple things. An example is how I look at bread now compared to my past. In my leisurely exploration of Central Europe, I’ve marveled at the abundant variety of bread rolls offered literally at any food establishment I’ve been privy to.

If you happen to be in the region, walk into a local supermarket. Check out the local sandwich shops. Everywhere you will find such a variety of good quality rolls made from different flours, many mixed and/or topped with various seeds. An easy dinner for us in Slovakia was simply a small basket of these good rolls, some kind of spread, cold cuts, and a side of fresh tomatoes and/or pickled vegetables.

I’ll admit we were spoiled out there, because coming home to America I found much disappointment in my options. Plenty of factory-produced processed squishy bread, tons of bland white rolls, and some decent Artisan loaves. Outside of some multigrain rolls supplied by wholesaler Cuisine de France, I honestly could not find good rolls in America comparable to the ones found everywhere in Central Europe. Mind you we live in an area populated with many Central Europeans.

My disappointment evolved into determination. I decided if I can’t find good rolls, then I’ll make my own. I did my research, and found hope in the German Brötchen (“broot-chen”), which basically means “bread roll”. German Brötchen are known for their crusty exterior and soft chewy interior. Depending on the flour used and other ingredients added, the softness of that interior can vary.

Zuzana and I have a preference for the multigrain rolls covered or baked with various seeds such as flax, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower. I took a few recipes for Brötchen and experimented. I initially found that you have to be patient, and very careful with how much of any ingredient you add. I had one batch where the recipe called for two tablespoons of yeast...and that’s all you tasted in the end. I’ve had other batches end up too sweet, too salty, or tasteless, but now I think I have it down pat.

In the end, I think this recipe is quite versatile if you want classic white flour German Brötchen, or if you want to go beyond as I did. Give it a shot and let me know how you fared.

German Brötchen (bread rolls)

German Brötchen (bread rolls)

Ingredients

For basic rolls:

  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) of active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 1 tbsp of honey
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 tbsp (1/4 of a stick) or butter
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 7 cups of flour, plus extra if needed
  • 3 egg whites, beaten
  • Olive oil
  • 2 dozen ice cubes

Optional extras:

  • 1 cup of seeds (sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin, poppy)
  • 1 whole egg (for egg wash)
  • 2 tbsp of milk (for egg wash)

Instructions

  1. In a large mixing bowl (or your electric mixer bowl), mix the yeast with honey, sugar, and water.
  2. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add in salt, butter, and 3 cups of the flour.
  4. Mix the ingredients with a fork (or your dough hook attachment) for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the egg whites.
  6. While continuously mixing, add in the rest of the flour 1/4 of a cup at a time. If your dough is still very sticky, add in more flour beyond the four cups until the dough pulls away from the bowl.
  7. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface, and knead for 10 minutes. If using an electric mixer, just run at setting 2 with the dough hook for 10 minutes.
  8. Clean out your large mixing bowl and coat the inside with olive oil.
  9. Place your kneaded dough into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and allow it to sit and rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  10. Punch the dough down, and then leave it sit covered for 45 more minutes.
  11. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, and divide into 16-24 pieces.
  12. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  13. Form your pieces into oval-shaped, and lay on the sheet.
  14. Cover your formed rolls with the towel and allow it to sit (and rise) for another 40 minutes.
  15. Preheat your oven to 425º. Set up your shelves with one at the very bottom and one in the middle. Place a shallow pan on the bottom shelf.
  16. Lightly brush your rolls with the egg wash or olive oil.
  17. When you're ready to bake, place 12 ice cubes on that lower pan in the oven, then place your sheet of rolls in on the middle shelf.
  18. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, or until they gain a golden brown color.
  19. Place your hot rolls on a wire rack to cool.

For rolls with seeds in them:

  1. Mix your choice seeds into the four cups of flour that you have left before step 6.
  2. Place that combination into the mixture 1/4 of a cup at a time.

For rolls with seeds on top:

  1. Make your egg wash with the milk and egg as shown in the ingredients.
  2. Lightly brush the rolls with the wash as stated in step 16.
  3. Sprinkle your choice seeds on top and lightly press them in before baking.

Quick Notes

If you have access to a standalone mixer, I'd strongly urge you to use it. It'll save you a lot of work.

Be careful with the type of yeast you use. If you're using Rapid-Rise yeast, then use 2 tbsp of it.  If you're using Active Dry in the packets (as I do) then just use one packet or 2 1/4 tsp.

A damp towel over the rising dough will create moisture and allow the yeast to do it's work better.

If you add in the 4 cups of flour and still see your dough is still sticking to the sides, then add in more flour 1/8 of a cup at a time until you see it come loose.  It doesn't have to be completely non-sticky, but you shouldn't have loads of trouble handling it.

You'll notice the rolls pictured above are smoother on the surface, while many German Brötchen have a slit or other pattern cut into them.  It's entirely up to you if you wish to do that, as I've been experimenting with this as well.  Simply take a knife and cut a slit lengthwise, or do a criss-cross, or whatever you wish to try.

If you're not putting seeds on your rolls and do not want to use an egg wash, I'd strongly urge at least brushing them with oil before baking. Just to get that nice harder exterior.

Don't overlook the ice.  The steam generated in your hot oven is necessary for the rolls to bake perfectly, or else you end up with flour-based stones. Use about 10-12 ice cubes per batch you put in the oven, and don't use water as a substitute.

You can freeze these rolls (either as dough or fully baked), or even refrigerate them if you know you'll go through them fast enough.

Variations

I left the definition of "flour" up to you.  If you want wheat rolls, then go with 4 cups of wheat flour and 3 cups of all-purpose. You can try fully-wheat rolls, but I'd advise using a lighter flour so your rolls do not end up too dense. Feel free to mix up flours, or try something totally different, like using spelt flour.  I'll still advise if you're unsure if something will work, play it safe and use at least 3 cups of all-purpose flour.

Healthy It Up

Zuzana has been into spelt flour lately because of it's lower carb content.  She also has been staying away from sugars, so I'll make her rolls with only spelt flour, and substitute Stevia in the Raw for the sugar, and agave nectar for the honey. Works beautifully.

Tags: German, bread, rolls

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