Even if you have never made bread before, you can make these rolls, known as petits pains in French. It is a simple and straightforward dough, even indestructible as long as you don’t kill the yeast. In recent years I have come to use doughs that are much more wet and sticky than this one, but I always come back to this basic recipe that was originally patterned after James Beard’s Cuban Bread. But since you are forming freestanding rolls, it is best to have a firm dough that is not too gloppy or else you won’t have pretty rolls. Originally published in my first book, Bread (Chronicle Books, 1998) and the recipe I developed and served at the restaurant for years, this recipe lends itself to a great variety of beautifully shaped dinner rolls with a surprisingly soft, tender crumb. This spindle shape is my all time favorite shaped roll. Best eaten the day they are baked. The dough can be made, risen, and left in the refrigerator overnight before shaping and baking. It is very flexible to your schedule. The aroma of this bread baking is intoxicating. Be sure to use fresh unbleached bread flour.
To make this dough in the bread machine, divide the ingredients in half and mix on the Dough Only cycle. Divide the risen dough in Step 5 into two equal portions to shape 1 dozen rolls and bake as directed.
Makes 24 rolls
- 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups warm water (105º to 115º)
- 3 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- About 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the water. Stir until combined. Let stand until dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of the bread flour and salt. Beat hard with a whisk for 3 minutes, or until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup bread flour and most of the unbleached flour 1/2 cup at a time with a wooden spoon. The dough will form a shaggy mass and clear the sides of the bowl. This dough may also be mixed in a heavy-duty electric mixer or in the bread machine.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough becomes soft, silky, and resilient, about 5 minutes, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. The dough should not be sticky.
- Place the dough in a deep plastic rising bucket brushed with some olive oil and turn once to coat the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a cool area until tripled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours. If you have time, punch the dough down and allow it to rise again, 1 to 2 hours. The dough can also rise overnight in the refrigerator.
- Turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide it into 4 equal portions, then further divided each portion into 6 equal parts; you will have 24 small pieces of dough. Form each roll into an oval. Pinch each end to form a spindle shape. Place the rolls a little bit apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkled with some flour.
- Directly after forming the rolls, slash the tops of each one right down the middle with a small sharp knife no deeper than 1/4 inch. Let rest at room temperature 15 minutes. Place in a cold oven on the middle or lower third rack. Turn the oven temperature to 400º and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crusty and hollow sounding when tapped. Cool on the pans or eat warm. Eat the same day they are made or freeze in plastic freezer bags.