Michael Ruhlman recently posted a dinner roll recipe on his blog that he invited readers to test since he had just converted it from volume to weight measurements. (The recipe was first published in Saveur magazine.) Since I have often railed on my blog about weighing ingredients to ensure accuracy and consistency in baking, I decided to test the recipe. Of course, Donna Ruhlman's food photographs always leaves me drooling so I did not need much convincing. And of course baking bread is a wonderful way to spend a snowy Sunday afternoon.
I began by weighing the ingredients (well, duh).
I'm using the myWeigh7001, which is capable of weighing up to 11 kilograms with (alleged) 1 gram accuracy. I have my doubts about the accuracy (I think the resolution is closer to 2 grams) but that's still pretty good for a scale that only cost $35. Somewhere in the dark, cold recesses of the garage I have a scale that resolves to hundredths of a gram, but it will only weigh up to 200 grams. (I got it in the trunk of a BMW that I bought at a sheriff's auction of seized vehicles. I'll give you one guess as to what the scale was likely used for.)
Next my trusty old Kenwood mixer kneaded the dough for several minutes:
I let the dough rise for about 2 hours, until it was doubled in size and when I poked the dough with my finger it didn't spring back. I divided the dough into 12 pieces (using the scale to divide them equally), and, as the recipe directed, formed them into boules (balls). (I wonder why many people insist on using French terms when they cook or bake. Sometimes the French terms are more descriptive, but more often they are just French and, IMO, pretentious.)
Here is a video on how to form the dough balls. I must apologize for the audio quality - I used the video setting on my cheap digital camera and the microphone is apparently shot. What I am attempting to say is that I am keeping pressure on the back side of the ball as I am rolling it away from me, thereby pulling the dough taut. My goal is to have a smooth ball that has a tiny "belly button" on the underside (always an "innie"), meaning that it is evenly taut all the way around. If the belly button is too large, I will pinch it shut because otherwise the dough might shrink back up and leave a large gap in he underside of your roll.
In addition to rolling the dough in my cupped hand, I turn it several degrees after each roll to help it become evenly smooth.
Also, note that I am using my stovetop instead of a cutting board to make the balls. This is because I need a little resistance or stickiness to help in pulling the dough taut, and my cutting board is too slick (and my countertops are too ugly).
I hope the video demonstrates the technique well enough for you to replicate it.
Once I formed the balls, I put them in a parchment-lined pan to rise a second time.
After they had risen, I brushed them with melted butter (eek - I screwed up. I was supposed to brush them with egg!), sprinkled them with sesame seeds and popped them into the oven. They baked for about 40 minutes until the interior of the outside rolls registered 195 degrees F. I removed them from the oven and brushed them again with butter. The end result is the photo at the top of this post.
My husband and I each devoured a roll as soon as I finished photographing them, without waiting for them to cool for 10 minutes. Who can wait when you have such a lovely aroma wafting through the air? The rolls were light and tasty and I believe this is a pretty solid recipe.
However, I do recommend a few minor changes. I think dividing the dough into more pieces (say 16) and using a bigger pan would help since these puppies rose like a skyscraper and the rolls in the interior were slightly doughy. Ruhlman's recipe directs you to use a springform pan, but since I now have none (because they leaked every time I used them in a water bath no matter how diligently I wrapped them), I used a 9-inch cake pan. Since the rolls were so large and threatened to spill out over the edges, a 10-inch round or 9-inch square pan may be a better choice. The more I think about it, making 16 rolls in a 9-inch square pan would be perfect. So here is my take on Ruhlman's take on Saveur's recipe:
Buttermilk Cluster Rolls
28 ounces/800 grams AP flour
20 ounces/570 grams buttermilk, room temp or microwaved for 40 to 60 seconds to take the chill off it
1/4 ounce/7 grams (1 package) active dry yeast (I used instant yeast)
1/2 ounce/14 grams kosher salt (1 tablespoon) (I used Diamond crystal)
1.5 ounces/40 grams honey (2 tablespoons)
vegetable spray or butter for greasing a 9-inch square pan
1 teaspoon sesame seeds (or poppy seeds)
1 tablespoon melted butter, optional (good for photos!)
Combine the flour, buttermilk, yeast, salt and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix on medium till the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Cover and let rise till doubled in volume (dough shouldn’t spring back when you poke it with your finger). This will take at least two hours or more depending on the temperature of your dough and the temperature of your kitchen.
Turn the dough out onto your counter and give it a good knead. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions (about 3 ounces each). Form each into a tight ball by rolling it on the counter (see video). Spray or butter a 9-inch square pan and line with parchment. Fit the balls into it, cover it with a damp towel and let the dough rise for an hour.
Whisk the egg until it’s uniformly yellow. When the rolls have risen again, brush them with the egg wash, sprinkle them with the seeds and bake them for 40 minutes (to an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees F). Let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving, if you can wait that long.