European-style dinner rolls are different from their rich, tender American cousins. The dough for these rustic rolls is lean and the crumb is open, with a yeasty, savory flavour. But the best part might be their crust—so crisp it practically shatters when you bite into it, yet chewy enough to offer satisfying resistance.
It is this crust that keeps European-style dinner rolls in the domain of professionals, who use steam-injected ovens to expose the developing crust to moisture. We wanted a reliable recipe for rolls as good as any from a European bakery.
Unfortunately, when we tasted our first batch, we found a dense, bland crumb beneath a leathery crust. The flavour was easy enough to improve: We added whole-wheat flour for earthiness (just 3 tablespoons did the trick) and honey for sweetness. Extra yeast opened the crumb slightly, but it wasn’t enough.
The crumb structure of artisan-style loaves is achieved with a wet dough, so we ultimately found success when we upped the hydration of our roll dough. The water created steam during baking, opening up the crumb and making it airier.
For an ultracrisp crust, we came up with a two-step process that mimicked a steam-injected oven: First, we misted the rolls with water before starting them in a cake pan at a high temperature to help set their shape (since the dough was soft, individually baked rolls turned out squat).
Next, we lowered the temperature, pulled the rolls apart, and returned them to the oven on a baking sheet until they were golden on all sides. We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand.
RUSTIC DINNER ROLLS
Start to finish: Total time 5 hours (Active time: 30 minutes)
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour
3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water, room temperature
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Whisk bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk water and honey together in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until honey has dissolved.
Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add water mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl and hook as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
Add salt to dough and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and slightly sticky, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Using greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees and fold dough again; repeat turning bowl and folding dough 2 more times (total of 4 folds). Cover tightly with plastic and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, then cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Press down on dough to deflate. Transfer dough to well-floured counter, sprinkle lightly with flour, and divide in half. Stretch each half into even 16-inch log and cut into 8 equal pieces (about 2 ounces each). Using your well-floured hands, gently pick up each piece and roll in your palms to coat with flour, shaking off excess. Arrange rolls in prepared pans, placing one in centre and seven around edges, with cut side facing up and long side of each piece running from centre to edge of pan. Cover loosely with greased plastic.
Let rolls rise until nearly doubled in size and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, about 30 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 F. Mist rolls with water and bake until tops are brown, about 10 minutes. Remove rolls from oven and reduce oven temperature to 400 F.
Carefully invert rolls out of pans onto baking sheet and let cool slightly. Turn rolls right side up, pull apart, and arrange evenly on sheet. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer rolls to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour, before serving.