I’ve been spoiled…by my bread machine. Freshly baked bread – cinnamon raisin swirl, cheddar onion, honey herb, pizza dough and even focaccia – all without getting my hands doughy. It’s easy and without the fuss and mess. But yes, if you want to get into the details of it all, there are slight textural changes to the bread depending on how it’s kneaded. The science of it, gluten develops no matter how you knead the dough. But machine-kneading is rougher than hand-kneading. So glutens strands get linked together only to be torn apart. This leads to a slightly denser bread; when you slice the loaf, the holes are smaller and compact. Hand kneading is a gentler process where gluten once formed stays together. This leads to a chewier texture and larger holes. Both methods are fine; and of course there are ways of making bread machine bread less dense (type of flour used, flat beer instead of water, etc.).
But for these rolls, I went back to the roots and made them by hand. I wanted to make them right, especially since they’ve been requested for a long time. I’ve just been (lazily) putting it off. This recipe calls for walnut oil, which probably won’t be found in your basic corner store. I bought mine (Roland brand Walnut Oil, 8.5oz for $6) from New Kam Man in Chinatown. You can also get it on Amazon and (I assume) Whole Foods. Just remember to refrigerate it after opening so the flavor lasts.
These walnut rolls are very soft, chewy and impart a deliciously nutty flavor, which is perfect for Fall. The addition of cracked black pepper adds a hint of spice and zing. As with all hand-made bread, it takes patience and time since you need to wait for the dough to rise, a few times actually. But if you have a free afternoon, give these a shot.
-To make the Sponge-
- In a large bowl, mix together the water, yeast and sugar.
- Let stand until it looks creamy and the yeast is activated, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for about 1 hour.
-To make the Rolls-
- Stir in the walnuts, water, yeast, salt, honey, walnut oil and black pepper into the sponge.
- Add in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon.
- If needed, add in up to 1/2 cup more flour to make a slightly sticky dough.
- On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Add in additional flour only if dough is sticky.
- Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with pastic wrap.
- Let rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours.
- Deflate the dough and cut it in half so it is more manageable.
- For each half, roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick, using as little additional flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or rolling pin.
- Cut the dough into 12 pieces and shape each one into a ball.
- Place the balls onto a foil or parchment lined baking sheet.
- Cover with an oiled plastic wrap and let rise for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450F.
- Use a sharp knife for scissors and cut a 2 inch long slash into the top of each roll.
- Place the rolls in the oven and toss 6 ice cubes onto the oven floor and quickly close the door.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until nicely browned.
Microwaving the water for about 40 seconds will get it lukewarm.
The dough will initially turn out quite sticky; it did when I made it. I added in about 1/2 cup extra flour, a little bit at a time. When kneading the dough, it’s fine if it is a little bit sticky, just as long as it is not overwhelmingly sticking to your fingers. The dough will smooth out as it rises. You don’t want to add too much additional flour; otherwise the rolls will become tough and not soft.
I like to keep our apartment pretty cool, which means it’s hard to find a warm place to let the sponge and dough rise. I preheat the oven for about 20 seconds, turn it off and then place the bowl in there to let the contents rise.
To reheat these rolls, cover with a slightly damp towel and microwave for about 10-20 seconds depending on how many you’re heating.