caraway rolls

Caraway rolls with Greek lentil soup. (Soup recipe coming soon.)

I have been baking bread for several years now, and it’s something I find both calming and rewarding.  I don’t know if it’s the air here, the yeast here, or just plain luck, but in four years of regular breadmaking, I’ve never had a bread recipe fail.  I think there’s something magic about bread.  The way such simple ingredients can be put together in such a myriad of ways, and how the addition of a tiny bit of something special can yield a completely different result.

I don’t use anything electric in my breadmaking, aside from my oven.  Someday I want a proper bread oven like my mother in law has, but until then, I’ll use the electricity-powered oven in my kitchen.

We eat a lot of bread, so to keep it healthy, I like to use whole wheat – not always, mind you, I love the texture of a good simple bread made with plain all purpose flour and a lot of salt – but for everyday.  I prefer to grind my own wheat at home, because the taste is far superior to that of the whole wheat flour you buy at the supermarket.

I use a hand-powered grinder, rather than an electric one, and while it takes a little bit of muscle, I find it very rewarding.  It just feels good to take a handful of wheat, and using my own power, create a lovely, soft, perfect flour.

This is yet another bread recipe that I made up off the top of my head.  That’s usually how I do it.  Most of my breadmaking is based on the experience of baking several really good basic recipes, and then altering them as I go, exchanging flours, adding in an extra flavoring, and so on.

The first thing I do is weigh out my wheat.  I always prefer to work in gram weight for anything over a few tablespoons, because it’s so much more consistent, and because it saves me having to do a whole bunch of dishes.   In this recipe, I’m using half whole wheat and half all purpose flour.  I put the wheat in the grinder, and eleven minutes later:

Half and half reduces the cost of the bread, because I pay just about twice as much for wheat as for all purpose flour.  The cheapest whole wheat flour is significantly more than the price of wheat, so grinding my own does save money.

One of my favorite flavors in bread is caraway seed – the taste of seeded rye bread.  (For the longest time I didn’t realize that the reason I liked rye bread was the caraway, not the rye flour, which is very expensive here.)  Unfortunately, caraway seeds are very difficult to find in Greece.  My mother brought me a pound of them when she visited last spring.  I’m sure they’re available in Athens, but where we live it’s closer to go to Istanbul; if I run out, that will be my best chance to replace them.

I think caraway and cumin must be related; despite a very different flavor, they look identical.

Like many home cooks, I use dry yeast.  Fresh yeast is more expensive, and I always have good results with dry.

A little sugar to activate the yeast…

I always proof my yeast.  In four years, I’ve never had to throw out a batch, but I feel compelled to do it nonetheless.

It’s fun, really… I feel like I’m bringing them back to life.

Only to zap them in the oven later, of course.

I mix in about half of each kind of flour first, aiming for a pancake-batter consistency.

A humble wooden spoon is all I need.  Someday I might have a stand mixer with a dough hook and all that but I don’t feel that I need it.

Pancake-batter stage successfully achieved, it’s time to add salt.

When people tell me that they’re unhappy with their bread, the first thing I ask is “how much salt did you use?”

If you are on a low-sodium diet, you probably don’t want to eat my bread.

This is also the right time to add the caraway seeds.  When the dough is still a batter, it’s much easier to mix things in so that they combine well and are distributed evenly.

And then the rest of the flour goes in.

When the wooden spoon can’t handle it anymore, it’s time to put it on a well-floured surface and knead.

When I started making bread, I thought all doughs should be kneaded for about 8 minutes.  Since then, I’ve found that it’s best to let the dough tell you when it’s ready; but anywhere from 5-8 minutes is a good guide.  After about 2 minutes of kneading, it looked like this:

This dough only needed about 5-6 minutes.

A little olive oil in the bowl (I always rise dough in the same bowl I used to mix it; one fewer dish to wash, and the size is right) and on the dough to keep it from sticking, and it’s ready to rise.

I like to make bread the same day that I serve it, so I don’t do overnight rises.

But I also don’t like to rush my dough.  In the winter, I let it rise for 90 minutes.  In the summer, 45 outside.  I don’t get too antsy about it being in a warm room or putting it on top of the oven.  I just let it sit at room temperature and I’ve never had a problem.  But I am lucky, as I said before!

90 minutes later, and:

Doubled in size is the goal.

I turn it out onto some sort of surface, usually my baking sheet though it doesn’t really matter, then press the air out gently.  There’s no need to “punch” dough.  Gently pressing does the job.

Slice into the number of rolls you want.  I went with 8.  You could do fewer or more, depending on what you want to use them for, but larger rolls will need to bake longer and smaller rolls less time.

Pull the pieces apart and form them into rolls, gently pulling the dough around from the top and pressing it under the bottom.

Although I always have great luck with my dough, I don’t always have good luck with my bread not sticking.  I use a very heavy dusting of cornmeal to prevent sticking and it works really well.  Then they get to rest, uncovered, for 45 minutes (whatever half the first rise was).

45 minutes later, and they are ready to go in the oven.  I like to brush them with something; this time I just used a few drops of water to get the caraway seeds to stick.

And into the oven at a high heat.  I used 240 C (460 F).  After about 12-15 minutes (these rolls are pretty small), they were done.

Caraway Rolls

Makes 8 rolls

250g wheat
375mL warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
250g all purpose flour
2.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp caraway seeds + a few more for sprinkling
a few drops of olive oil
cornmeal for dusting

1.  Grind wheat on a fine setting.  Set aside.

2.  Sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water.  Let sit for several minutes.  If it does not foam, throw it out and start over with a different batch of yeast.  If it does foam, move on to step 3.

3.  Stir in half of each flour with a wooden spoon.  Sprinkle salt and caraway seeds on top.  Stir to combine evenly.  Stir in remaining flour.

4.  Flour surface; turn out dough onto surface and knead for 5-7 minutes until dough is elastic; form into a ball.  Lightly oil mixing bowl and top of dough and place in bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.  Let sit for 90 minutes.

5.   Place dough ball on a cutting surface.  Gently press out air and slice into 8 even slices.  Dust baking sheet with cornmeal.  Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet.  Let sit for 45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 240 C (460 F) with the air setting if you have it; do this in time to be ready when rolls are ready; it should not be necessary to preheat for the entire 45 minutes.

6.  Brush each roll with a few drops of water and sprinkle extra caraway seeds on top.   Bake at 240 C (460 F) for 12-15 minutes.  Test a roll by tapping on the bottom; if it sounds hollow, they are done.  Set on a drying rack for about half an hour before serving.

Nutritional Information
per roll, assuming you made 8 rolls

229  calories
1g fat
47g carbohydrate
8g protein
1g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
729mg sodium (30% DV)
202mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, food folate, manganese, and copper.

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