Regular readers will know that I swear by my sourdough and make all my own bread. Last year, on a recommendation from a baker, I bought Carol Field’s magisterial The Italian Baker. Some of the recipes use a biga (overnight starter) but most are straight yeast-based doughs. I’ve baked quite a few recipes from it now, and apart from a slightly disappointing ciabatta, they’ve all been superb. So sometimes, if I don’t have ripe starter handy, or I just want to make some bread quickly, I make my current favourite recipe from this book: pane integrale con miele. It’s a brilliant recipe: quick, easy, foolproof. In the book, the recipe makes one large loaf, but I always shape it into about a dozen small rolls instead. These freeze nicely and can be quickly defrosted. Though they are of course best while still slightly warm, spread with butter and honey. Note: although they do have honey in them, they are not over-sweet and are fine with savoury food.
You can take this as the warmest recommendation of this book — if you are a keen bread baker, you need it! Baking this lovely recipe should be enough to convince you.
This is my adapted version of the recipe. A couple of notes:
1) She has you make 200g of slightly modified biga and then discard all but 50g. Why? If I have some biga in the fridge I use that, but if not I take 50g from my jar of sourdough starter. It doesn’t need to be ripe, as it’s used for flavour rather than rising. In fact if you don’t have biga or starter, you can simply leave it out — the rolls will still be good.
2) The recipe specifies wholemeal flour (type 110 in France). I sometimes vary this; today I used 150 g of wholemeal spelt flour and made it up to 500 g with type 85 (bise) as that’s what I had on hand. I suggest making it according to the recipe the first time, then decide how you want to vary it once you know how the dough feels.
3) I make this in my stand mixer, but it’s not impossibly sticky — you can work it by hand if you want.
50g biga or sourdough starter (optional)
5g instant yeast
360g lukewarm water
500g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
In the bowl of your stand mixer, lightly whisk together starter/biga, yeast, water, and honey till the starter is blended in. Add the flour and salt, then use the dough hook to mix on medium speed for around 4 minutes. The dough should be fairly smooth but will still be slightly sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface to finish kneading.
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film, or put in a plastic bag. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours — it should double in size.
Turn out onto a floured surface and use a dough scraper or knife to cut into about 12 pieces, around 85g each (I use the scales to make sure they are roughly equal, without getting obsessive about a few grams here and there). Form each piece into a ball and rotate it in your cupped hand on the worktop, smoothing and tensioning the surface. Dust with flour as needed. Put each roll on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Cover the tray with a damp teacloth and leave in a warm place for around 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. If you have a spray bottle, you can spray the rolls when you put them in the oven. Otherwise, put a large shallow roasting tin in the bottom of the oven while it’s heating, boil the kettle, and pour the boiling water into the tray immediately after putting the rolls in. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the tray round after 10 minutes so that the rolls bake evenly. If using water spray, you can spray them again at this point.
Test by tapping the bottoms of the rolls. When cooked, put on a rack to cool.