Ah, there you are at last – the rolls I've been dreaming of lo, these many years.

My lost buns.

My... oh, never mind the superlatives. Let's cut right to the chase.

Years ago Sue Gray, a long-time colleague here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, developed a recipe for light-textured, crisp-crusted, wonderfully flavorful, and truly elegant-looking hard rolls. They were featured on the cover of one of our catalogues; I remember the picture well, as it was one of those “I want that bread RIGHT NOW” shots.

Now, this was before online recipe boxes, or similar virtual storage methods. So I tore the recipe out of the paper catalogue and filed it... somewhere. Out of sight, out of mind. I made the rolls a few times, then forgot about them.

Until recently. In the process of having our office painted, the King Arthur Web team had to relocate for a few weeks; which entailed moving a whole bunch of stuff, including my collection of catalogues stretching back to the very first one, in September, 1990.

While trundling my catalogues down the hall to our temporary new home, I came across this one, from February, 2000:

There they are! Those rolls. The ones I loved so much.

But where's the recipe? I'd already torn the page out of the catalogue, and my days of keeping manila folders stuffed with paper recipes is long gone.

Luckily, I found it online. With over 2,000 recipes on our Web site, it took a bit of searching; but the word “crusty” turned up 8 recipes, and I was quickly able to identify the one for these rolls.

Eureka! Made ’em. Loved ’em. They're everything I remember.

And now, before I forget – I'm bookmarking this blog post!

Join me as I make Crusty European-Style Hard Rolls.

First, we'll make a starter. Put the ingredients below in a bowl. The same bowl you'll use the next day to make the dough is a good choice.

1/2 cup cool water
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Mix until well combined. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight.

Next day – see those bubbles? Yeast, flour, water, and time, hard at work!

Add the following ingredients to the starter in the bowl:

3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Mix everything together until cohesive.

Then knead for about 7 minutes (at medium speed in a stand mixer). Knead about 10 minutes by hand.

Your goal is a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. It may also stick to the bowl just the tiniest bit.

Of course, you can also do this whole process (including the first rise) in the bread machine set on its dough setting.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or in an 8-cup measure, as I've done here. The measuring cup makes it easy to track the dough's rise.

After 1 hour, it will have barely risen – the 3/8 teaspoon yeast in the recipe is working slowly. But that's OK, we want it to, because we're giving this dough a long rise.

Gently deflate the dough, and return it to the cup or bowl.

Wait another hour; ah, that's better.

Deflate the dough again, and return it to the cup or bowl.

Wait 1 more hour (for a total of 3 hours since you started).

Better still. See those air pockets? Yeast at work.

Did you know that yeast doesn't reproduce in a low-oxygen environment – e.g., when it's in rising dough? It simply eats and releases CO2 (which makes the dough rise), and organic acids and alcohol (which give the bread flavor).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into 12 pieces. Shape the pieces into balls, firming them up by rolling them under your lightly cupped fingers.

Place the rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover them, and let them rise for 1 to 2 hours, until they're puffy, though not doubled in size.

I was doing an experiment here, so divided the rolls between two baking sheets. You could crowd them onto one; but for best shape, six on a sheet is a good choice.

The rolls will flatten out a bit as they rise; that's OK.

Very gently cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap, and refrigerate them for 2 to 3 hours.

This “cool rise” will increase the dough's output of acetic acid, which will give them the merest tang; their flavor won't be even close to that of sourdough, but will simply seem rich and more complex than that of the typical white roll.

Towards the end of the rolls’ chill, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Whisk together 1 large egg white and 1/2 cup cool water until frothy. Remove the rolls from the refrigerator, and brush them with the wash; you won't use it all up.

Again, don't be discouraged if the rolls seem a bit flat; they'll pick up when they hit the oven's heat.

Quickly and decisively slash the top of each roll.

Make the cut fairly deep; about 1/2” is good.

Immediately put the rolls into the oven.

Within minutes, they'll start to puff up. WHEW. It's always a scary moment when you slash risen bread dough and it starts to deflate...

Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're a deep golden brown.

Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack. Or, for best crunch, open the oven door, and allow the rolls to cool in the turned-off, open-door oven.

Is this not a thing of beauty?

As well as a joy forever.

Nice interior. And notice the thin crust – which by the way is crisp, not leathery.

What a difference a day makes... On the left, a roll baked after a 2 1/2-hour rest in the refrigerator. On the right, baked after an overnight (16-hour) rest in the fridge.

You may be tempted to think “more is better,” but my experimenting tells me that 2 to 3 hours in the fridge is just right.

A dip in flavored olive oil is a delicious final touch.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Crusty European-Style Hard Rolls.

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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