I've been experimenting with rolls, lately. I never really used to pay much attention to them, except in restaurants. Mostly, I've made bread that can be sliced and toasted.
I like toast. My wife likes toast. I know that it's an abomination to some people; too bad. I suppose I'l rhapsodise in a later post.
Anyway, rolls -- we used to just pick up a packet of ciabatta rolls at Sainsbury's or Waitrose or even Costco, but as a baker that niggles at me. Why should we pay 25 or 30 p apiece for something I can make for much less, and with any luck, at a higher standard? So, rather than just jump into ciabatta, which I know I can make, I thought I'd go for something different.
Lately I have been trying to adapt the recipes in one of my favourite (and most stained and spotted) books, The Italian Baker by Carol Field. I have the 1985 edition. Someday I may buy the revised edition, but we just don't have the shelf space in the kitchen for all the books I'd like. In fact, we don't have the shelf space in the house: we like books.
Fortunately, several things make it easy to use these recipes with sourdough: on page 41 of my copy, Carol Field says that you can substitute starter for about 20-35 percent of the weight of the flour. However, she appears to mean that you should add it for the flavour, rather than the raising power. I find that a lot in recipes purporting to be for sourdough bread. Most of them want you to add yeast to boost the dough. Well, that's not my way. It's yeast OR sourdough, but not both!
My starter is 100%, bakers' percentage. That means I refresh it with equal amounts, by weight, of water and flour. I mostly do that because I'm too lazy to calculate percentages each time I change a recipe, so I just subtract half the weight of the starter used from the weights of the flour and liquid, respectively.
In this case:
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. The dough will be very wet, so if you want to use a mixer, that would be fine. Use a low speed, though. I used my hands, and worked the dough with the method described by Richard Bertinet in his books. It's an excellent method for wet doughs. Work the dough until it's smooth and very elastic. It will be very sticky, but don't worry. Return it to the bowl, cover and let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. My kitchen was cold, because I didn't turn the heat on yet, so I let it go the full 2 hours. After that, I folded it a few times on a lightly floured counter and returned it to the bowl to rise for another hour.
Flour the work surface heavily and turn the dough out. If you want small dinner rolls, divide it into 16 pieces of about 125g each. I wanted sandwich sized rolls, so I made 4 250g and 8 125g rolls, to test the results. Form these into balls, turn them over and press them through the centre with the floured handle of a wooden spoon to make a deep cleft. Put them on a heavily floured piece of parchment paper, cleft side down, cover and allow to rise for another hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Oil some baking sheets and lay the rolls out, cleft side up. Press the spoon handle into the rolls again, to emphasise the cleft. Put some water in a pan at the bottom of the oven, or have a spray bottle handy, and bake them for 20-25 minutes, spraying three times in the first ten minutes. Cool on a rack.
*I used half plain flour and half bread flour. The plain flour is about 9% protein and the bread flour is about 12%; I wanted to get it down to 10.5 or so. I'm going to experiment with 00 flour and with just bread flour to see what happens.
These rolls are chewy, with an open crumb, and really very nice.