It’s my opinion that it’s near impossible to find a really good hard roll (I call it a Kaiser roll) anywhere in DC and I imagine in many other places. Sure, I know you can find them in New York and honestly there might be a few bakeries in DC that can make them correctly, but I’m not in the mood for a scavenger hunt.
On Memorial Day weekend, I was making something delicious that needed a good hard roll. One that was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I looked at a few places and wasn’t impressed so I just decided to make some myself. It was a really good idea.
Without a doubt, if you take the time to make some great hard Kaiser rolls, I guarantee it will elevate your burger or sandwich to another level of deliciousness.
1) Mix all dry ingredients for the starter in a medium bowl and then add the water. Mix it together until it forms a firm ball. Err on the side of sticky on this. It's easier to add more flour than more water.
2) Knead the starter on a clean surface for about 5 minutes until smooth and soft, but not sticky. Coat the ball lightly with oil and put it in a covered bowl.
3) Ferment this at room temperature for 90 minutes and then in the fridge overnight.
4) When you're ready to make the rolls, take your starter out of the fridge and cut it into a dozen small pieces. Put the pieces in a bowl and let them come back to room temperature (probably take an hour).
5) Add all your dry ingredients for the dough to a seperate large bowl and mix them together. Then stir in all your wet ingredients and the chopped up starter pieces. Mix this either with a spoon or on low with dough hook until it comes together in a ball. You might need to add more flour if it's too sticky.
6) Knead the dough for 10-12 minutes or mix it on low speed with a dough hook for 6-8 minutes. The final version should pass the windowpane test and be soft but not too sticky.
7) Lightly coat the dough in oil and let ferment at room temperature until it doubles in size (90-120 minutes).
8) Form the rolls by sectioning off a 3.5-4 ounce piece of dough. Roll the piece of dough out into a long strand about 18 inches long. Then take the left end and put it over the right end forming a loop. Next, loop the right end through the center. Do the same thing with the left end but in the reverse direction. Then roll both ends through another time and they should basically meet in the center, filling the hole.
9) As you finish each roll, add them upside-down to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each roll with a bit of semolina flour or cornmeal.
10) Let the rolls rise for 30 minutes, then flip them and let them rise for another 30 minutes.
11) Spritz the rolls really well with water until they are sticky and top each roll with poppy or sesame seeds.
12) Bake the rolls starting in a 425 degree oven. Spritz the sides of the oven with water to create steam. Cook for 10 minutes then lower the temperature to 400 degrees and cook for another 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown.
13) Cool the rolls for at least 30 minutes before slicing into them.
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice.
Note: This is a two day recipe so plan accordingly! It’s not actually that much work… just a lot of waiting.
Making the Pâte Fermentée
This is a fancy name for a dough starter basically. In fact, I’m just going to call it the starter from now on because I’m sick of looking up the special characters. This is similar to the sponge you make when making bagels, but it’s a firmer final product.
To make it, just stir together all your dry ingredients in a bowl and then add your water. Stir it together until it forms a firm ball. It shouldn’t be sticky or stiff, but if you’re worried, err on the side of sticky. It’s easier to add flour than water.
Then roll your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes until it’s smooth. It should be soft and smooth but not sticky at all.
Then lightly oil a bowl and turn the ball around in the oil so it’s coated.
Fermenting the Starter
Cover this and let this rise at room temperature for about 90 minutes. Then put it in your fridge overnight! This will keep in the fridge for 3 days if it’s covered well or you can freeze it for up to 3 months.
Making the Kaiser dough
The first thing about this dough is that you need to bring the cold starter up to room temperature. To make this a bit easier (and to make the mixing easier) just chop it up into a bunch of smaller pieces in a large bowl. You can use kitchen sheers, a dough cutter, or even a serrated knife for this.
Let this sit out at room temperature for about an hour to warm up.
Next, add all your dry ingredients for the dough (flour, salt, yeast) to a large bowl. Mix your wet ingredients separately (malt syrup, eggs, oil, water). Then add your chopped up starter to your dry ingredients along with your wet ingredients.
Stir it together with a large spoon or if you’re using a mixer then mix it on low speed with the paddle until it starts to come together. Mine ended up a bit too wet which isn’t a big deal.
I just kept adding flour until the dough formed a ball which was about another 1/2 Cup for me.
Then you can either mix this on medium with the dough hook (6-8 minutes) or if you’re doing it by hand, roll it out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10-12 minutes until the dough is soft and tacky but not sticky at all. If it’s too sticky, keep kneading in extra flour until it’s not sticky.
The final dough whether you use the mixer or by hand should pass the windowpane test.
Once your dough is ready, oil a large bowl and roll the dough ball in the oil to coat. Then cover it and let it ferment at room temperature until it doubles in size which should take about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Shaping the rolls
To make really even rolls, it’s almost essential to have a kitchen scale so you can weigh each roll before shaping it. You can of course eyeball it, but your rolls are probably going to be a bit uneven.
I went with a 3.5 ounce roll. I wouldn’t go larger than 4 ounces.
Once you have your dough weighed, shaping these guys isn’t too hard. Just try not to freak out if they aren’t all perfect because they probably won’t be. This is how I shaped mine.
I rolled my dough out into a long strand about 18 inches long. Try to keep it as even as possible. It should roll really evenly. Just use your hands.
Then take the left end and put it over the right end forming a loop (top left). Next, loop the right end through the center (top right). Do the same thing with the left end but in the reverse direction (bottom left). Then roll both ends through another time and they should basically meet in the center, filling the hole (bottom right).
Once you finish one, add it upside down to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with some cornmeal or semolina flour. If you look at mine carefully you can see that I messed some up, meaning that there are a few ends that don’t meet in the middle. They all baked up fine though so don’t stress out about it too much.
Once you get them all shaped, let them rise for 30 minutes, then flip them so the top of the roll is up and let them rise for another 30 minutes.
Topping the rolls
Before baking the rolls, it’s important to spritz them all with water. This gives them that crunchy texture after they get done baking. Since you’re going to spritz them all with water, you might as well sprinkle on some delicious toppings. I went with poppy seeds.
Baking the Rolls
To bake these right, preheat the oven to 425. When you put the rolls in the oven, spritz the sides of the oven with water also to create some steam in the oven. Bake them for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and bake them for another 20-25 minutes, depending on how large you make them.
They should be golden brown and sound kind of hollow if you thump them.
These were perfect.
Cooling the rolls. As with most baked things, these need to cool for a while before you eat them. Cool them for at least 30 minutes. It gives the crust a chance to form and also lets the center of the rolls set up a bit. It’s really important to cool these on a rack if at all possible.
Then you can slice into them!
These were my exact definition of a good hard roll. They were worth the extra work.
Want to know what I did with them? Here ya go!