Ruhlman’s Buttermilk Cluster Rolls

7 02 2010

To answer the age-old question, “Why on Earth would you bother baking bread when you live in Paris?” I say, first, “Because I enjoy it,” and second, “Because it’s something I can’t buy here.” Like jalapeño-cheese bread, for example.  Or these dinner rolls.  Michael Ruhlman posted a recipe for soft, pull-apart, oh-so-American buttermilk dinner rolls a couple of days ago, and since I had just bought a carton of buttermilk for Saturday morning’s carrot cake pancakes, I figured it was a sign.  When I told Nick I would be baking some rolls for dinner on Saturday, and asked him what would go well with rolls, he immediately responded “hot ham water.”  Which is what we call Fergus Henderson‘s boiled ham with parsley sauce – a recipe that sounds horribly English in the worst way, but is actually so simple and so delicious (and you get leftover ham for sandwiches and the leftover stock for cooking beans!) that it became an instant classic in our kitchen.

But I was talking about rolls.  Ruhlman developed his recipe based on one from Saveur magazine, because he didn’t like the volume measurements and wanted to do it by weight.  I agree with him 100% – baking by weight is far more accurate and likely to produce consistent results than baking by volume, plus there’s the added bonus of not having to fuss around with measuring cups, the dipping and sweeping and getting flour all over the counter.

Scaling, scaling
1. Scaling 1, 2. Scaling 2

See?  Tidy as can be.  Flour, yeast, salt, and honey (I ran out of regular honey making a batch of granola and had to use chestnut honey – life’s rough) weighed straight into the bowl, followed by the buttermilk (which I actually measured out into a separate jug so I could microwave it for 30 seconds to take the chill off).

Seeing as my KitchenAid is tucked safely away in storage at the moment, I mix and knead all the breads I make in my Parisian kitchen by hand.  I start with a wooden spoon and proceed to finish mixing and kneading with my hands.

Kneading, kneading
1. Dough, pre-knead, 2. Kneading 1, 3. Kneading 2, 4. Sticky dough

I like to knead the dough right in the bowl for a couple of reasons: one, it keeps the counter clean and all the dough and flour in one place; and two, I can do it one-handed and take pictures with the other hand.  Ruhlman’s recipe, which uses a standing mixer, says it will take about 10 minutes of kneading.  By hand, it took a little over 15 minutes before I had a relatively smooth mass that passed the windowpane test.  I have one little quibble with Ruhlman, though.  One of his complaints about the original recipe he followed was that he didn’t know what the dough was supposed to be like when it was ready – soft, firm, sticky, dry?  And yet his modified recipe gives no indication, either.  While it’s true that using weight measures takes a lot of the guesswork out of baking, there are always the confounding factors of humidity and temperature.  I found the dough to be quite sticky, but didn’t add any additional flour because I figured we were going for a soft, airy finished product, and I know that the doughs for softer breads are usually sticky.  But then, I’m a pastry chef.  The average home baker might not have that knowledge.

Anyway, I transferred the kneaded dough to another bowl (I needed the big one to continue the granola project that I had going simultaneously), covered it with a towel, and set it aside to rise for a little over two hours.

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