French Rolls

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Crispy and crackly on the outside, soft and tender on the inside…that, my fellow carb fiends, is a perfect French roll. Dip it in au jus, slather it with butter and pull it apart piece by piece, or make it into the perfect “Dagwood Sandwich”. Make large round balls of dough and bake your own bowls for chili or stew. Roll the dough out and cut it into strips for bread sticks. If you’re drooling right now, just think how I’m feeling; in five minutes my fragrant batch of rolls will be out of the oven.

The recipe is very simple and basic, but it does rise twice before you form the rolls, so you’ll want to start these rolls when you aren’t in a hurry. One of the things I love most about baking French rolls is the noise they make when they’re cooling on the rack. They crackle and snap – beautiful music to my ears!

To make them crispy you need to start preheating the oven (with a big pan of water on the bottom rack) while the formed rolls are rising. This moisture is what makes the flaky crusty goodness on the outside. Be very careful when you open the oven to put the rolls in. It’s unbelievably hot and steamy. WEAR OVEN MITTS!

We had these a lot when I was young, usually used for “Dunka Dunka” sandwiches (aka: French Dips) or to accompany a salad. We always had them on Christmas Eve with cracked crab and a salad. Of course, they came in a plastic bag from the grocery store, and I thought they were just wonderful. I also thought Oreos and Jiffy muffins were great, so obviously it took me some time to develop a more sophisticated palate!

Try making your own. I guarantee you will enjoy these much more than store bought, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of being able to pronounce all 6 ingredients used in the recipe!

French Rolls
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Ingredients
  • 2½ cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Cornmeal
Instructions
  1. In a large mixing bowl, stir sugar into warm water and then stir in the yeast. Let sit until bubbly (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add 5 cups flour and the salt and beat with electric mixer, using paddles, for 5 minutes.
  3. If you prefer to knead by hand, put the remaining cup of flour on the board and knead for 7-8 minutes. If you have a sturdy stand mixer and prefer to let the machine do the hard work, switch to your dough hook, add the remaining cup of flour, and let it knead for 5 minutes. Your finished dough should be smooth and elastic.
  4. Place the dough into a large greased bowl. Turn to coat. Cover and let rise until doubled. Depending on room temperature, this could take anywhere from 1-3 hours. (A slow rise makes more flavorful bread, so don't rush it!)
  5. Punch down the dough, turn it over, and let it rise again until doubled, about 1½ hours.
  6. Punch down the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 16 pieces.
  7. Sprinkle cornmeal generously on two baking sheets.
  8. Shape each piece into a ball or oblong and place on prepared baking sheets, at least an inch apart (2 inches is better.) Cover lightly with a clean dishtowel and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
  9. While the rolls are rising, place a large pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven, and preheat to 450 F.
  10. When the rolls have risen, dust them with flour and, with a very sharp knife or razor blade, cut a ¼" deep line down the middle of each oblong roll, or an "x" on round rolls.
  11. Carefully (it will be HOT) open the oven door and quickly put the rolls in, trying to let as little steam escape as possible.
  12. Bake until light brown, about 20-25 minutes, and cool on a rack. Listen to them crackle!

 

To form rolls, first pull up all the sides like a steamed dumpling!

To form rolls, first pull up all the sides like a steamed dumpling!

Turn the dough over and pull gently towards you, tucking under as you go.

Turn the dough over and pull gently towards you, tucking under as you go.

Place dough on baking sheets covered with cornmeal. (Mine may look funny because I grow and grind my own corn.

Place dough on baking sheets covered with cornmeal. (Mine may look funny because I grow and grind my own corn.)

Hot from the oven, crackling noisily!

Hot from the oven, crackling noisily!

Oh, HELL yes!

Oh, HELL yes!

2 thoughts on “French Rolls

    • You can do it! Very, very simple. And kneading by hand is good exercise. Works the abs and builds the boobs. Okay…that was something I heard, and probably is what got me interested in baking, but it actually doesn’t work too well.

      P.S. How can you live without a stand mixer? Triple batches of cookies, kneading, meatloaf…I would be lost.

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