Monday, January 24, 2011


Every time winter rolls around (Ha! See what I did there?), I resolve to bake more bread. It seems like such a cozy, domestically capable thing to do. Yet I only seem to manage it a few times per year. I’m not exactly afraid of it; although I’m not super-comfortable working with dough, it always seems to turn out fairly well. But the fact is that in daily life, we don’t actually eat very much bread, even though I adore it. Aside from grilled cheese, and BLTs in the summer, we rarely have sandwiches, and I’m so committed to eating cereal/granola/oatmeal each morning that I almost never get around to making toast (plus A doesn’t eat breakfast). The only time I consistently work bread into the menu is when we’re having soup. So what usually happens is that I make a huge batch of bumpy rolls and stick them in the freezer, and we eat a few every time we have soup until suddenly the weather turns hot and I don’t feel like baking anymore. Maybe I make biscuits a few times too, but that’s pretty much it.

What would really serve me better, baking-wise, would be to start making my own pizza dough, then find a good recipe for pita bread to wrap around my gyros and sandwich rolls on which to eat my BBQ chicken, then maybe develop a perfect sandwich bread. I do intend to do all those things, but first I indulged my dream of being a Bread Person and made these rolls from Annie’s Eats. I was craving something hearty and wholesome. I don’t like really dense hippie whole-grain breads, but I am a huge sucker for oats, honey, and seeds, so this seemed right up my alley. The oat bran-flax seed mixture at the beginning was a little weird (mine hardened into a cement-like sludge that I feared would weigh down my bread entirely, plus I almost forgot to put it into the dough until I was nearly done adding all the white flour), and I realized at the last minute that I didn’t have the right kind of yeast (luckily, I consulted Google and figured out I could substitute 1.25 times the amount of active dry for the instant, which worked just fine), and I’m still getting acquainted with the KitchenAid dough hook, and I wasn’t sure what size pans to use (my two 8-inch metal cake pans turned out to be perfect), but despite every apparent brush with disaster, the recipe was easy to follow (I liked that specific weights were given for the flour measurements, as well as the exact size the rolls should be—if you don’t have a digital kitchen scale, go get one! They’re invaluable, especially for spatially challenged people like me who have a hard time eyeballing what half a pound looks like or whether my eight equal portions are really equal). My dough rose like a champ and baked very obediently into fluffy, flavorful rolls that were delicious when dipped into carrot-fennel soup (recipe forthcoming), or eaten on their own with a little butter. Although they’re actually chock-full of fiber, they’re not heavy or dry or aggressively grainy, and I love the seed-and-salt topping. (In retrospect, this is a much more successful version of another oat-and-seed-roll recipe I tried almost exactly three years ago.) It was also nice that the recipe makes a modest quantity of rolls; we’ll finish them off with this week’s batch of soup, and I’ll have the space in my freezer to experiment with baking something else.

We’ll see if there’s a place in my life for two whole-wheat roll recipes (bumpy rolls are still nearest and dearest to my heart), but right now I’m pretty sure I’d make these again. Probably not soon enough, however, to use up the enormous bag of oat bran I had to buy especially for this purpose. This was my first experience with oat bran, and while it seems tasty, I’m not sure what else to do with it. Most of the recipes I’m seeing online are for muffins, which I don’t eat very often. I’m sure I could throw it into granola, but what else? If you have tips, send ’em my way!

½ cup oat bran
¼ cup flax seeds
½ cup boiling water
1 cup warm milk (105–110˚ F)
2¼ teaspoons instant (rapid rise) yeast or 2¾ teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup honey
2 large eggs
⅔ cup old-fashioned (not instant) oats
7 ounces (1¼ cups) whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
15 ounces (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
Oil, for greasing the bowl
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons mixed seeds (e.g., poppy, sesame, fennel, caraway—I used all four)
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

1. Combine the oat bran and flax seeds in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and mix to moisten. Let sit until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast, and honey; mix briefly to blend. Using the dough hook, with the mixer on low speed, mix in the 2 eggs, oats, wheat flour, pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, and oat bran mixture until combined.

3. Slowly add enough all-purpose flour, ½ cup at a time, to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to knead on medium-low speed, about 3 minutes.

4. Form the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ to 2 hours.

5. Brush baking dish(es) lightly with oil (I used two 8-inch round metal cake pans). On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and divide into 16 equal pieces, about 2½ ounces each. Form each portion into a ball and place the dough balls in the baking dish(es), spaced slightly apart so they have room to grow together. Cover and let rise until puffy and nearly doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water. Brush lightly over the rolls. Sprinkle rolls with the seed mixture and coarse salt. Bake until the tops are golden, about 26 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

Yields: 16 rolls
Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; rolls keep well in the freezer

No comments: