Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dinner Roll Saga

I'm trying to learn how to make bread. This is a process that has been going on for about a year now (***correction: Jeff reminds me it's been two, seeing as the picture below is from our apartment - that makes this story even more depressing). The upshot of this seems to be that yeast is not my friend. It's starting to come around and warm up to me, but the relationship can still be a bit rocky.

Last Christmas Two Christmases ago, after returning a duplicate gift, I treated myself to a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible. It's a great book. It explains the entire process and then gives very detailed instructions for each recipe. The problem is, when you start out knowing nothing, this sort of format can be a bit overwhelming.

I had problems. Lots of problems. The first recipe I tried was the butter-dipped dinner rolls. Big mistake. It took me a good twelve hours (seriously - I didn't finish until around 1 am after Jeff had gone to bed) and they were little golden-brown rocks. I think we ate them anyway, but it wasn't pretty. I then tried sweet potato bread, to slightly greater success, although it was still tough (nevertheless, I thought it was exciting enough to take a picture). I could not get my dough to rise. On my next attempt - regular white bread - I even let the rising dough sit on a high shelf near a heating vent. Still very little success.

Fast forward many months. I suddenly realized that I was using active dry yeast, rather than the instant yeast these recipes called for. Actually, I knew this all along, but I didn't know what it meant. I went to the grocery store looking for "instant yeast," but only found active dry yeast or bread machine yeast. Since I don't have a bread machine, I assumed active dry was correct (I told you I had no idea what I was doing). And it took me months to even realize that this might be the problem.

Now I understand how that active dry yeast needs proofing. I even remember that proofing involves sugar as well as warm water (yeah, left that out a few times). And since I have an oven with a proofing function, I have a nice, draft-free place to let my dough rise. I have made a few very successful batches of white bread. So the last time I made some, I figured that if I was going to spend most of the day baking, I might as well bake multiple things. So I chose the butter-dipped dinner rolls again.

Epic fail. I have no idea what happened. Truly. I think the dough just gave up. I made two beautiful loaves of white bread and a few dozen flat, tough little bread cookies. Seriously - look at the picture! I really wanted to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, to prove to my family that I have conquered bread-making (ok, that's a huge overstatement - I want to at least show them I'm not a total spas). Magic Eight Ball says: outlook not good.

Until, that is, I decided to give up on the Bread Bible (for dinner rolls, at least) and try a different recipe. I have bookmarked dozens of bread recipes from the food blogs I follow. These people seem to bake bread all the time and it works for them! I chose a no-knead dinner roll recipe from Baking Bites. This time I had great success with the rise. Unfortunately, I learned that too much success also equals epic fail. The dough rose like mad. "Let rise for one hour until doubled" ended up being around twenty-eight minutes. If I'd let it rise longer, it would have spilled over the sides of the mixing bowl. When I made the rolls, my bigger baking dish was in the dishwasher, so I went with a slightly smaller version. Obviously, this was not ok:

It looks a little tight but do-able in the first picture, but after the rise . . .  

. . . they totally spilled over the sides. I tried to tuck them back in. More than once, actually - I had preheated the top oven, but with the excessive rise they were too close to the heating element so I had to switch. While I was waiting for the bottom oven to preheat, they managed to rise some more and I had to do the makeshift tuck-in again. Of course, once they were in the oven the spillage continued. The end result is this icky-looking bread monster:

I don't think these are going to be pull-apart in the manner the recipe intended. Still, they taste pretty good. I am definitely encouraged by the result, ugly as it is. I may have to give this another go for Thanksgiving, but I don't think I'm going to tell my family to expect them. I don't want to get their hopes up.  

No-Knead Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

2 c warm water (100-110°)
5 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 c sugar
5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled + 1 tbsp for topping
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 c flour

Pour water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar and stir. Let stand for about 5 minutes until the yeast is activated (it will look foamy - you may be able to see it in the picture below).

Add in 5 tbsp cooled butter, eggs and salt and whisk to combine. Add 3 c flour to the bowl. Using a stand mixer with dough hook attachment, mix in the flour on medium speed. Slowly pour in the remaining flour. Once the dough has come together smoothly, continue to knead another 3-5 minutes at medium speed.

Cover the bowl with lightly-greased plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled (the recipe says an hour, but mine took less than half that, so keep an eye on it). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a dough scraper or pizza cutter, slice the dough into roughly fifteen equal-sized pieces. (Nicole from Baking Bites suggests slicing it into thirds, then fifths. Handy idea - it worked well for me.) Shape into rolls (I did this by pulling the four corners of each square piece to the bottom and pinching them) and place into three rows of five in a lightly-greased 9x13 baking dish. Cover with lightly-greased plastic wrap and let rise for another 40 minutes. (If your dish is too small, it may end up looking like the picture below!)

Preheat oven to 450°. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden-brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped. Brush the tops with the remaining tbsp of butter. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

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