One of my old age obsessions is to discover how to make my own delicious bread – and I think I’ve made some slow, painful progress in that regard, especially with my sourdough breads. But strangely, one of the breads that most motivates my efforts and imagination is the common hot dog roll.
Why is this true? I think perhaps it’s because of my love for all kinds of sausages, and the associated love for anything which might make the experience of eating an especially delicious one that much more pleasurable.
What it is about a hot dog roll that I love? Well, in my own defense, I certainly don’t like every hot dog roll I’ve ever bitten into – and perhaps, the hot dog roll of my dreams may exist in my brain as a composite creation. This being true, that idea of hot dog perfection has long driven my own personal efforts to create a perfect homemade hot dog roll – and the characteristics I seek are as follows:
* it must have a soft, but chewy crust
* the crumb should be light and silky
* the shape is important (I have a lot of trouble making a hot dog roll that is shaped like a proper hot dog roll)
* it should taste like something, and that something shouldn’t be yeast!
I’m a practical baker. I’ve probably made more rolls since my serious baking odyssey started some ten years ago than any other type of bread. And with all that practice, Yes, I’ve made some progress down the road of roll improvement, and I’ve learned some important baking lessons. And before giving you my current favorite recipe for hot dog rolls, I’d like to discuss the above criteria, and how to achieve them in your rolls.
I like my sandwich rolls to have a more delicate crust than, say, a sourdough boule – but how do we go about assuring that in the rolls we bake at home? Well, if our dough is “enriched” (milk, eggs, butter, etc.), all of those will soften our crust a bit – the addition of potato, either in the form of mashed potato or a few tablespoons of dry potato flakes, will also contribute to a softer crust, as will “painting” the rolls with butter or oil before and/or after baking. Put all the above together and your rolls will be well on the way to being nice and soft.
But I also like chewiness in my rolls, and it’s quite possible to have a roll that has a wonderful soft crust, but at the same time, has a nice chewy texture – the chewiness in a bread is created by the development of the gluten in it, and gluten development is triggered by moisture (it starts when you add liquids) and action (kneading especially affects the development of gluten). There’s really nothing you can do to control the gluten development by moisture, but keep in mind that the more you knead a bread, the more gluten will be created, and the chewier the bread’s texture will be.
An additional consideration regarding chewiness is the choice of flour you use – keep in mind that gluten development is strongly affected by the protein level of a flour, ie., the higher the protein, the more gluten development in your bread – so if you want a tender texture, like for a biscuit, use a low protein flour (pastry flour, >10% protein) but if you want more chewiness, use a bread flour, >12% protein). Yes, when you are making a soft sandwich roll that needs a soft crust, but a chewy texture, there’s a definite trade-off, so an All Purpose flour may be in order, since it has a protein level generally between 10 and 12%. That’s a safe choice.
And while we’re discussing gluten and kneading, if we want our rolls to have a nice silky, light texture, we’ll need to give our dough a good kneading – this of course will give us a higher gluten level, but since our dough will be quite enriched and low in hydration, the texture will be finer (small holes) and softer than that of a baguette – that’s good. Whenever my breads require a healthy kneading, I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which saves a goodly amount of time and effort – there are some purists who contend that hand kneading gives a better loaf – maybe – take your choice. I’ll use the KA.
Shaping a hot dog roll -for whatever reason- took me a long time to master. Early on in my roll baking, I determined that consistency demanded that each roll get weighed out – save yourself a lot of grief and weigh your portions, if you don’t now. And the shaping of a hamburger roll is easy – just roll the weighed dough into a ball before proofing – no problem! But my hot dog rolls would always come out misshapen, until I learned this simple process (where did I miss this?) – if you take a round piece of dough and flatten it out, and then roll it into a tube shape, you will have a consistently well shaped hot dog roll – and the fact that your dough is not as wet as are many other bread doughs means that as it proofs, it holds its form and shape better than a wet dough would.
OK, that leaves us with taste – an admittedly important element. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to baking, if you can ferment your dough, you can increase the flavor of your bread. Almost no commercially baked rolls are ever fermented, because fermenting takes time, and time is money! Simple. But for we home bakers, this is not a concern – so why not subject our breads to a fermentation? It’s as simple as an overnight rest in the fridge – and although I’ll be giving you a basic recipe for a sourdough hot dog roll, there is no reason why a yeast based roll can’t be fermented as well – and if you don’t have a sourdough starter, just leave it out and proceed with the recipe.
And speaking of sourdough, those of us who are into sourdough know that there are two basic uses for a sourdough starter, one is to provide the rise that a good loaf needs, but a less obvious use is to improve the flavor of a loaf. I mention this because the recipe I’ll be giving you here basically ignores the use of our sourdough starter for its rising ability -we’ll use regular yeast for that- and instead calls on the sourdough starter to ramp up the flavor of our rolls – and it will do that during the overnight fermenting that we give our dough.
So there you have my criteria for good hot dog rolls – and here’s the recipe:
Soft and Chewy Hot Dog Rolls
(This makes about 16, 3.5 oz rolls)
The evening before you intend to bake – mix your dough.
2 cups of filtered or spring water
5-6 cups of AP flour (start with 5 cups, add more if needed)
1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk (Yeast does not like the fat in milk)
1 Tbs of instant yeast (The kind you can add right to the flour!)
1 Tbs salt
1 beaten egg
2 tsp of white sugar
6 Tbs (3/4 of a stick) of melted butter
2 Tbs of dry potato flakes or mashed potatoes (Amazing what this little bit of potato can do!)
1/2 cup of sourdough starter (For those of you without a starter, simply leave it out!)
Mix all the above together (I use the KA stand mixer with the paddle) and once mixed, let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-6 minutes – this is a relatively dry dough and should easily clear the bowl. Continue to knead until the dough begins to get silky and smooth. If you wish, do a window-pane test (you know, pull off a small piece, and stretch it with your fingers until it gets thinner and thinner – when it gets so thin that you can see through it, your bread has passed the test – that shows that the gluten has truly developed.). Now put the dough in an oiled grocery bag, roll it up, and put it in your fridge for the next 8-12 hours.
Some may have noticed that I’m not using my usual weights as measurements – that’s because hot dog rolls are more simplistic than are most of the sourdough breads I’m usually pushing here, and I didn’t want to scare anyone away – so, cups and teaspoons it is today. Besides, as I’ve preached all along, if we’re to become competent bakers, we need to learn how the dough looks and feels when it’s right – and if we depend on the proportions of a recipe to do that for us, we’ll never become good bakers. Please trust me on this, my friends, this is one thing I truly know.
So, when you make these hot dog rolls, know that you want a fairly dry dough -one that kneads nicely on your stand mixer- but not so dry that your mixer has trouble doing its job – if you think it’s too wet, go ahead and add a little more flour. If you add too much, you can adjust by adding a Tbs of water at a time until it’s fixed. This is the only way you’ll learn how to judge a dough – we learn by our mistakes.
The next day – take your dough out of the fridge.
Allow the dough to come to room temp in a nice warm area (about an hour should do it). Weigh your dough into separate pieces – I like 3.5 oz as this makes a medium sized roll – 4 oz is getting into a large roll, and 3 oz is on the small size. Once your dough is sized, allow the balls of dough to rest, covered, a few more minutes – now you’re ready to shape the hot dog rolls.
Working on your board, take each ball and flatten into a disk about 5-6 inches across – now, beginning at the top farthest away from you, roll each disk of dough into a tight tube, pinching against the board as you roll the dough toward yourself – once the tube is fully rolled, pinch the edge of the dough tightly closed, and place on an oiled flat pan seam down (you may use baker’s parchment if you wish) – place the rolls as close as a half inch apart – actually, you want them to touch as they bake – not only will this help keep their shape, but it looks good in the finished roll and assists in keeping the roll soft.
Turn your oven on to 400F to preheat. Cover the pan of rolls with a moist towel and return it to your warm proofing area – it should only take 60-90 minutes for the rolls to double in size, at which time they are ready for baking. If you too like your rolls to have a nice soft crust, you can brush them now and/or after baking with melted butter – additionally, if you like a shiny, bronze finish on your rolls (it really does make them beautiful), you can brush them with a beaten egg glaze, or simply with warm milk – yes, you can use both butter, and egg or milk glaze on your rolls. If you’d like to sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on the rolls, do that now too.
Slip your pan(s) of risen rolls into the oven and bake for 20 minutes – it’s a good idea to turn your pans around 180 degrees at the 10 minute mark – this will assure a more consistent color on your rolls – DO NOT spray with water or introduce steam into the oven as the rolls bake, as this is the route to crunchy, crisp crust – unless that’s what you want. In fact, if you desire a soft, chewy crust, as soon as you pull your baked rolls out of the oven, give them a last painting of melted butter.
Admire their beauty as they cool.
I realized as I was using this new shaping process for these rolls that it lends itself to slipping something inside the rolls. I’ve got a garden full of scallions and am sensitive always trying to use them in any way I can – so I chopped some and gave them a quick saute in a little butter before dropping a Tbs on half of my rolls as I rolled them – they came out nicely! You may want to consider doing the same with other delicious “stuffings” such as grated cheese, diced pepperoni, or with chopped fresh herbs. No reason why hot dog rolls need to be served plain – Try it.