"Bend me, shape me, any way you want me..."

If you now hear a long-forgotten rock tune wafting through your mind, keep it to yourself – lest you reveal yourself to your younger colleagues as a True Boomer.

Yes, that song, from the barely remembered group American Breed, hit the top of the rock charts in...


As in 43 years ago.

"No kidding!"

Yeah, that was my reaction, too.

But the 15-year-old who "grooved" to those lyrics so long ago (me), finds they still have meaning today.

When applied to yeast dough.

Especially the dough for these Herb & Onion Rolls, which is a joy to work with.

I've used this dough to make free-form rounds, "statuesque" rolls in a muffin tin, cloverleafs, and pull-apart buns.

I've also tried knots of various types, and even thought about fantans - before deciding they were just too much work. (Check 'em out: they're in The Joy of Cooking.)

Want to play with your food? These wonderfully tasty rolls are a great recipe for practicing your shaping techniques.

And when you're done practicing, bake up a batch for your Thanksgiving bread basket. They go perfectly with turkey.

Mix the following:

3 cups (361g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons (8g) salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (14g) minced dried onion
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, or your favorite combination of dried herbs
2 tablespoons (25g) olive oil
1 cup (227g) lukewarm potato cooking water (water in which potatoes have been boiled)*

*Reduce the salt in the recipe by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon if the potato water tastes salty.

No potato water? Mix 3 tablespoons potato flour or 1/2 cup dried potato flakes with the dry ingredients, and use 1 cup lukewarm water in place of the potato water.

Once the dough comes together, knead it for about 7 minutes in a stand mixer, or about 10 minutes by hand, until it's smooth and springy.

As you knead, you may notice the dough is quite sticky, and isn't quite clearing the sides of the bowl. That's OK. It'll firm up a bit as it rises.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or 8-cup measure, cover it, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it's just about doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough, and place it on a lightly greased countertop or rolling mat.

Decide what shape and quantity of rolls you want to make: divide the dough into 24 pieces (for small rolls); 16 pieces (for medium rolls); 12 pieces (for large rolls), or 36 pieces (for cloverleaf rolls).

First, let's make large stand-alone rolls.

Round the 12 pieces of dough into smooth balls...

...and space on a half-sheet (or similar size) pan.

Cover the pan, and let the rolls rise for about 90 minutes...

...until they're puffy.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350°F.

As long as I was playing with shapes, I decided to experiment with different toppings, too, ranging from whole egg to salt water to a cornstarch wash. I wanted to see how the rolls' crust color would change.

Verdict: color-wise, only a beaten whole egg makes a significantly different (darker) crust. The rest, the difference is so small as to be unappreciable.

Back to those rising rolls.

Brushing the rolls with milk or cream just before baking helps keep their crust soft, rather than crunchy.

Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes.

You can see the roll with the egg wash (back row, second from left) is browning more quickly.

Remove the rolls from the oven. The egg-washed roll definitely has a shinier, darker crust.

And the second darkest crust? Check out the roll at the upper right – which had no topping at all.

Now that's a nicely shaped roll, if I do say so myself.

Next, a different shape: taller, a bit more stately.

Into a lightly greased standard muffin pan go the 12 rounds of dough.

Let rise, brush with melted butter (for a soft, buttery crust), and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the pans as soon as you can, so their bottoms don't steam.

How about cloverleafs?

Divide the dough into 36 pieces, and round each piece into a rough ball.

Place 3 balls in each cup of a standard muffin pan, nestling them into the bottom.

Let rise, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 22 to 24 minutes, until they're golden brown.

Like this.

But wait! There's more...

How about making some pull-apart buns, and along the way adding 1/2 cup golden flax seeds to the dough?

Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Place 8 pieces in each of two lightly greased 8" round cake pans.

Let the buns rise until they're fairly puffy. They aren't over-the-top risers; this is good enough.

Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until they're a light golden brown. Remove the rolls from the oven, and turn them out onto a rack.

"Bend me, shape me, any way you want me, long as you love me..."

And yes, you'll find plenty to love with these rolls!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Herb & Onion 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.    ...
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