Last weekend, I made a stew and wanted to make bread rolls to go with it. My favourite rolls have always been the rolls that my mother-in-law makes for holiday meals. They are from a recipe that was her mother’s (I’ll refer to her as Mrs. Brant for the rest of this post) and they are wonderful! They are soft and have great flavour and they are excellent for mopping up gravy!
Back when my husband and I were first married, we copied down the recipe that had been dictated out by Mrs. Brant. I made them once, but they weren’t as good as what my mother-in-law made and I didn’t make them again. I still had the recipe so I decided to give them another go this weekend since I have much more experience with bread making now.
The recipe was a true passed-down recipe from someone who was confident with her craft and was so proficient that she probably didn’t bake from a recipe herself! It didn’t have all that many directions, just things like “mix in enough flour so that it doesn’t stick.” Luckily I know what I’m doing now, so that wasn’t a big hurdle for me.
The recipe did list an overall flour measurement of 8 cups, so I knew that, although it didn’t specify how many rolls it would make, it would be a lot! I compared the recipe to other ones and found that they used 3 cups for 12 to 16 rolls. We called my mother-in-law and she said it made at least 24 but probably more rolls than that. I didn’t want that many rolls, so I decided to experiment and try to modify the recipe to do between 12 – 16 rolls.
Modifying the Recipe
This effort took a bit of baker’s math. For those of you that aren’t familiar with this, basically, you measure everything by weight and put those into percentages of the overall dough so that you can easily scale the recipe up or down with the same results. When I did the baker’s weights for this recipe, I noticed that the percentage of liquid to flour was about 50%, which is quite low. Most roll recipes have a 65% hydration level so I decided to play with the recipe and see if I could up the hydration level and still make a roll as good as my mother-in-law. I’m betting that the percentage of flour to liquid was one of the reasons my original attempt didn’t turn out as well. Mrs. Brant would be working more on feel and I would have just added in all the flour that it said, not know ing how the dough should feel!
One thing that did strike me with Mrs. Brant’s recipe was that she added boiling water to a bit of flour, essentially making a roux with it before adding the rest of the ingredients. This is a method that is known a making a tangzhong that I’ve seen talked about over the past couple of years. It is popular in some Asian bread recipes and particularly in Japanese milk bread, which I see posted all over Reddit these days. I’m sure Mrs. Brant never knew her recipe had anything in common with some Asian recipes!
I definitely wanted to keep the tangzhong in the recipe, because it is known for making supremely soft bread and would have been the secret to these soft buns. I did some reading about it in this article on the King Arthur Flour website and found that when using a tangzhong, you should up the hydration from 65% to 75% because some of the liquid is trapped in the pre-cooked slurry. So, I upped the liquid even more.
I did decide to make one change to the ingredients of the recipe. Instead of using water, I used whole milk. Using milk in bread gives the bread a richer, more velvety texture. I also upped the egg quantity. Mrs. Brant’s recipe used 2 eggs for eight cups of flour and I used 2 eggs for 3 cups of flour.
Testing the Modified Recipe
With my baker’s percentages figured out, I set about making the rolls. The dough was a bit stickier than I think Mrs. Brant would have made, but I find stickier doughs make softer bread. I wasn’t sure how many to make from this amount of dough, but knowing that in my burger buns, I use 80-100 grams of dough per bun, I decided to do 12 buns which worked out to roughly 71 grams of dough per bun. These baked up into large muffin-sized buns. I think if you were using them for a large holiday meal, you could divide them into 16 and you would end up with medium-sized buns that weren’t too filling on top of the rest of the meal.
After baking, I brushed them with butter and we got to try them warm from the oven with our meal. Wow! These were the softest, fluffiest rolls I’d ever had and they tasted great! I got an enthusiastic thumbs up from my husband, who had grown up eating both his mother’s and his grandmother’s rolls, so it was quite the compliment. I daresay that these buns rivaled what my mother-in-law makes. I’ll have to make them for her someday and see what she thinks!
The Softest Pull Apart Bread RollsI tinkered with an already delicious recipe for Bread Rolls of my husband’s grandmother’s and came up with a recipe for the softest most pillowy bread rolls I’ve ever had! This recipe uses a method of cooking a small portion of the flour in some of the milk called tangzhong, which along with a couple of eggs, makes for a soft and velvety textured roll. This recipe makes 12 large-sized rolls or 16 medium-sized ones. I use a stand mixer for preparation but the bread rolls could be kneaded by hand. For the most accurate results, I recommend measuring by weight, but I have included volume measurements as well.
- Combine 23 grams (3 tbsp) flour and 113 grams (1/2 cup) milk in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and let cool to warm to the touch, but not hot.
- Add the rest of the milk along with the melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, remaining flour and yeast. Mix well to combine.
- Using the dough hook, mix on speed 2 until the dough is smooth and elastic. When you stretch the dough, you should be able to stretch it thin enough to be able to see through it without the dough tearing. This step could take up to 10 minutes. The dough will still be a bit sticky at this point but should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl as you mix it.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and let proof in a warm environment (24-25 C) for until doubled in size and the dough doesn't stick to your finger when gently poked, about 2 hours.
- Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
- Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide it into 12 equal portions of about 70-71 grams each.
- 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400F/205 C
- Bake the rolls until golden on top, about 10-12 minutes. While the rolls are baking, melt 2 tbsp butter.
- Remove the pan from the oven and immediately brush the tops liberally with the melted butter. Let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, until cool enough to handle then move to a rack to cool completely or serve warm.