Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crusty Hard Sandwich Rolls

The simplest of breads are often the tastiest and most satisfying. Sometimes they are also the most difficult to get exactly right. It's true that we all love the rich, soft breads like brioche and its cousin the challah. The addition of eggs, sugar and some type of fat (oil, butter, margarine, shortening, even lard) enriches and softens the bread. But sometimes what we really want, what will really satisfy us, is a good hard roll. I mean the kind with an extra crunchy crust and a soft interior just perfect for meat or cheese sandwiches especially those with condiments slathered all over. Those sandwiches with lots of mayo, ketchup, mustard etc. and fresh, juicy veggies like tomatoes that just cry out for a roll that will soak up the liquid, hold it without getting soggy and then transfer all that goodness, intact to our hungry mouths. Yum!

For that kind of goodness, challah just won't do. Brioche is just too soft. Pile up some excellent thin-sliced roast beef with a nice sharp mustard, and they become mushy and just fall apart. Sometimes the simplest is exactly what we need. Classic French bread, also used for baguettes, is as simple as it comes, almost. When divided into small roll-sized portions it is unbeatable for snack time. The following recipe for hard crusty rolls is an adaptation of a classic recipe for French bread but adapted to make rolls. Note there is no sugar or eggs. Like the ciabatta from the previous posting, it uses a starter (called a poolish) that is allowed to ferment overnight. The actual baking takes place the next day. A word of warning that may be irrelevant... Because there is no sugar or eggs they dry out quickly and rarely last more than two days. I say this is irrelevant because they will almost certainly be gone in one sitting. If you need to store them, use a paper bag, it will keep the crust nice and crunchy (but they dry out more quickly). Enjoy!!

Here what you'll need:

For the starter (poolish)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
Mix all these ingredients together until smooth and then let it sit, at room temperature overnight.

For the dough you'll need:
the poolish
3 1/2 cups (approx.) bread flour
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Mix the poolish with the dough ingredients and knead until you have a cohesive dough. It should not be completely smooth. Then, cover and let it rise for about 3 hours. De-gas the rising dough about once every hour.

After three hours or so, divide the dough into 12 about equal pieces then roll them on a flat, un-floured surface, cupped in your hand into a round smooth ball. Place the rolls onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper) and let them rise for another 1 to 2 hours until double. If you want (and this really improves the flavor) you can let them rise very slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, if you do this they must be covered. Also, if you refrigerate them, then let them come to room temperature before baking (about 45 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Brush egg white and water mixed over the rolls just before placing them in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown. If you want an extra crunchy crust, you can let them cool in the oven (just like the ciabatta). Now, load them up with lots of goodies! Bon Appetit!

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