New York is not just a city of big buildings and people with big personalities, though it is both of those things. It is also a city of big sandwiches.
No delicate little tea sandwiches for New Yorkers. No, this is not London with its dainty tea sandwiches. New Yorkers like big sandwiches, piled high with meat or filling, just like they do it at the corner deli. It’s no wonder Kaiser rolls have become such an institution in such a place. A good Kaiser roll can handle anything you pile on it, which makes it surprising they haven’t caught on in more places.
Invented in Austria, hence the name “Kaiser roll” and sometimes called a “Vienna roll” for the same reason, they’re usually just called a roll, or a “hard roll” in New York.
The latter name, “hard roll,” is a bit of a misnomer, pointed out Yadkin County resident Robert Day, as a hard roll is not nearly as hard as that other famous New York baked good, the bagel. But a Kaiser roll should have a soft interior with a bit of a crusty bite to the exterior, thereby giving it the name “hard roll.” It still makes no sense to Mr. Day, and it doesn’t have to make sense to you either. He still enjoys them, and you can too.
A big pile of chopped barbecue slathered in sauce can reduce the store-bought hamburger bun it’s usually found on to a mushy pile of goo in way less time than it takes to eat it, leaving you with half the pork and barbecue sauce in your lap or on your plate, instead of in your mouth where it belongs.
This is where a Kaiser roll would come in handy. You could pile that pork on there til it wouldn’t hold any more, add some more sauce if you want, plop on slaw if that’s how you roll, and you can then leisurely enjoy that sandwich, savoring every bite, not at all worried you’re going to end up wearing most of it when your bun inevitably self-destructs.
Problem is, Kaiser rolls are not all that easy to find in this part of the world. Depending on where you shop, the bakery in your grocery store may have some. And they may not. But you can make them yourself. And it’s not that difficult. It takes a little time, as all yeasted breads do, but most of that time is not active time in the kitchen. You can be doing something else while the dough is rising.
Once you have some Kaiser rolls on hand, you’ll be amazed at their versatility. When the first batch you bake comes out of the oven, you’ll want to cut one open, swipe it with butter, and just eat it. This is called a “buttered roll” or a “buttered hard roll” at thousands of coffee carts all over New York when new Yorkers grab one for a quick breakfast on the run. You can call it the same thing.
Sometimes, they get cream cheese on a roll instead of on a bagel. You can do that too.
Sometimes, they want that roll toasted. Later, after your rolls are room-temperature, you can do the same. But right now, while they’re hot, go ahead and butter up and chow down.
If you want a heartier breakfast, you can have bacon, egg and cheese on a roll, known to New Yorkers in coffee shops as “baconeggandcheese,” all run together as if it’s one delicious word. There is no reason “baconeggandcheese” is not as scrumptious in a small town as it is in a big city, so go for it.
When lunch or dinner rolls around and you’re in the mood for a sandwich, Kaiser rolls really come into their own. Pile ‘em full, and pass ‘em around. Much like a chopped barbecue sandwich, a big, juicy burger is much better served by a roll than a bun, so try that.
The recipe below makes six rolls, and since you’re going to be eating a lot of these, you can easily double it to get 12. But if you use a bread machine to knead, better take it out and let it rise in a bowl, or most likely, it will overflow and make a mess, even with a large bread machine.
But fresh-baked rolls, unlike their store-bought counterparts, don’t have a bunch of preservatives keeping them artificially fresh indefinitely. They won’t taste the same on the second day. That’s where the term “day-old bread” comes from. They’ll still be good. Just not as good. Day three and you’re looking at bread pudding or bread crumbs. But you can freeze a few if you need to.
Also, if you want to make a big batch and then freeze some after the first rise, you can do that. You can freeze the rolls for an hour or so on a baking sheet, and once they’re frozen enough to no longer be malleable, pour them all into a big zip-lock bag, and pop them back in the freezer, ready to bring out and bake as you need them.
Then when you want them, pull them out of the freezer, place them on your greased baking sheet and they will thaw and then rise a second time. Just figure a two-hour rise instead of one hour before baking. Fresh-baked rolls whenever you want them can be yours. And an unending supply of great big sandwiches.
Makes six rolls. The recipe seems long, but it’s not difficult. Just super detailed.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 -1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 -1/2 tsp. sugar
1 -1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. poppy or sesame seeds
Mix, then knead together all of the dough ingredients. You can do it by hand if you have strong arms or use a stand mixer if you have one. A bread machine programmed for the dough cycle is the easiest option. Program it to knead for 20 minutes and then rise for one hour.
If not using a bread machine, transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl after kneading, cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until noticeably puffy, about 1 hour.
Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Divide the dough into six equal pieces. Shape the pieces into round balls, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
You have two options to shape the rolls.
Using a Kaiser stamp: Center your Kaiser stamp over one ball of dough. Press down firmly, cutting nearly to the bottom but not all the way through. If you don’t cut the unbaked rolls deeply enough, the shape disappears as they bake; if you cut too deeply (all the way through), the rolls will form “petals” as they rise and look like a daisy, not a kaiser roll. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Some recipes ask you to place the rolls cut-side down, helping them to retain their shape, while they rise a second time. But they’re likely to collapse when turned back over, so that’s risky. It’s better to let them rise eight-side up, just be careful not to cut all the way through.
Knotted rolls: If you don’t have a Kaiser stamp or prefer a knotted roll, it’s easy enough to do. And you don’t have to worry about cutting to deeply or turning upside down. Stretch each piece of dough into a long tube, a combination of rolling it like play-doh and stretching will get you there. Get them to about an 18 inch cylinder. Use as light a touch as possible. You don’t want to overwork the dough and perfection is not required. Once you have an 18-inch cylinder of dough, bring one end around and loop it over the other. Bring the looped end through to create the beginning of a knot. Leave the knot loose enough to tuck the ends. Bring the underneath end of the dough over and tuck it down from the top. Bring the end on top over and tuck it in from the bottom. This is a maneuver that is easy to do, but hard to describe. The photos will help you, or if you need more information, there are youtube videos online that demonstrate the technique.
Place the rolls onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet that you intend to bake them on. You don’t want to mess with them after they’ve risen. Cover the rolls, and allow them to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until they’ve almost doubled in volume. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Brush the tops of the rolls in milk, and coat with poppy or sesame seeds, if desired.
Bake the rolls for 15 to 17 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and feel light to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack.
Serve rolls warm, or at room temperature. Store leftover rolls, well wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days; freeze for longer storage.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.