I love it when restaurants bring out freshly baked soft rolls with butter to your table shortly after you’ve sat down. These pillowy bread rolls, made with milk, and often served in “leaves” that you peel off to slather with butter, trace their roots back to a restaurant in a Bostonian hotel in the mid to late-1800’s. I used to bake them from a recipe in “The Joy of Cooking” for many years, but recently read an article in Saveur Magazine’s November 2010 issue that detailed a recipe that Tom Colicchio uses at his well-regarded Manhattan restaurant, Craft. This is my first attempt at baking the recipe… and I was very happy with the outcome. :)
Mr. Colicchio describes using small cast iron pans to bake the rolls in, so that they can bring a pan to each table, fresh out of the oven. We happened to have 5 such pans waiting for a use so I decided to do the same as Mr. Colicchio. The photos say it all. If anything, the rolls were a bit lighter than I would have liked, but had I left them in the oven longer, they would have dried out a bit more… So while they don’t look exactly like the photos in the magazine, they looked pretty good nonetheless.
Notice the nice colored crust “below” the surface of the pan’s edge… that’s the advantage of using the cast iron. So there was a little bit of crispness and caramelized bread flavor on top of the milky soft rolls within. Way too much butter, and if you like, more salt is the perfect accompaniment. To make, (this is a double recipe of Mr. Colicchio’s, I trebled it for the batch I made) stir together 1.5 cups of milk, (heated to 115F or just warm, not scalding) with 2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 2 teaspoons barley malt syrup (I didn’t have this, so I used maple syrup, you can use honey instead) and let it sit until the yeast blooms (it’s alive for sure…). In another bowl, whisk together 4 cups flour, 3 teaspoons of kosher salt and prepare 5 tablespoons of butter cut into cubes and softened. Add the flour into the milk mixture, along with the butter and mix until you have a dough. Place this on a floured counter and knead the dough until smooth, say 5-7 minutes of kneading. Don’t overwork the dough.
Transfer the dough to bowl that has been lightly oiled, and cover with plastic wrap and place it in a quiet corner of your kitchen to double in size, say an hour or just under that. Punch the dough down, re-cover, and let it rise for another hour. Portion the dough into little balls (I used 40 grams each, which turned out a bit big, so I would use say 30-35 grams each) and place them with some space between them, in little cast iron pans. Cover with plastic wrap and let this rise to double in size, say 1.5-2 hours more.
Pre-heat your oven to 325F. Brush the dough with clarified or melted butter and place the pans in the oven. Bake for roughly 23-25 minutes until lightly golden and cooked. Brush with more butter and sprinkle with salt. I used Fleur de Sel de Guerand, as noted in the recipe, but I found the grains too large and a bit off-puttingly grey. So I switched to pink Himalayan salt for the remainder of the rolls, and that worked really nicely. The smell, texture and taste of freshly made bread is so incredibly appetizing. I can see why this is a real crowd pleaser at Craft. Thank you Mr. Colicchio for the recipe; will be making this again soon.