Nobody in Germany thinks of baking regular, plain white rolls at home. You get them freshly baked everywhere, in bakeries, supermarkets, and even in gas stations.
Every German region has them, called "Rundstück" in Hamburg, "Schrippe" in Berlin, "Semmel" in Munich, or simply "Brötchen" (= little bread).
The typical Brötchen has a crackly crisp crust and a fluffy, soft, easy to pull out crumb. It has nothing in common with its soft, sweet and chewy US cousin, the dinner roll. And American Kaiser Rolls are just Kaisersemmel wannabes, they share only the pretty star cut with their Bavarian or Austrian ancestors.
One of the greatest woes of German expats is the total lack of this everyday staple in the US. No Brötchen to be found anywhere - perhaps bad imitations, but never the real thing. No cookbook would even list the recipe, no website provides it, the deceptively simple, but oh so elusive good old German Brötchen!
In those days I had no clue about the differences between European and American flours. I only knew they were categorized in a different way, European flours by their ash content (meaning what is left if you burn it) and American ones by their protein level.
One day we were shopping at our favorite Italian grocery, "Micucci", in Portland. I saw Italian flour Tipo 00 on their shelves, and bought it, more out of curiosity then anything else. I remembered it listed as an ingredient in one of my most favorite bread baking books from a bakery in South Tyrol, Italy.
In Richard Ploner's "Brot aus Südtirol" I had finally found a recipe for Brötchen, and tried to bake them several times, just assuming "Tipo 00" would be the same as bread or all-purpose flour. Every time the result was lean and chewy, more reminiscent of French bread than of its cousin east of the Rhine.
But when I used the Italian flour, I finally nailed it: my rolls had the soft, fluffy, "pull-out" crumb typical for Brötchen.
Wikipedia told me why: US wheat has much more protein compared with European wheat. Protein rich flour develops a strong gluten structure, so that the crumb is airy and chewy. Soft, low protein flours, like German Typ 405 or Italian Tipo 00 have much less gluten and bake into breads with a denser, fluffier crumb.
For more information about flour "translation", click here.
GERMAN BRÖTCHEN (12 Rolls):
Ingredients (12 Rolls):
500 g Italian Tipo 00 or pastry flour
8 g instant yeast
4 g sugar (1 tsp.)
270 g water, lukewarm
40 g olive oil
10 g salt
1 egg, slightly beaten, for brushing
6 g sesame seeds, for topping
4 g poppy seeds, for topping
14 g sunflower seeds, for topping
In the evening, stir yeast into lukewarm water until dissolved. Mix all ingredients for 1 minute at lowest speed (mixer or wooden spoon). Let dough sit for 5 minutes.
Knead on medium-low speed (or with hands) for 2 minutes. Dough should be supple and still a little bit sticky (adjust with water if needed). Continue kneading for 4 more minutes, increasing speed to medium-high for last 30 sec. Dough should be very tacky, bordering on sticky.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. With wet or oiled hands, stretch and fold dough like a business envelope in thirds, then turn it around 90 degrees, and fold from short sides the same way.
Gather dough ball, sides tucked underneath, and place it in lightly oiled bowl. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat these stretches and folds 3 more times, every 10 minutes (40 min. total time)*. Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.
*This technique is described in detail in Peter Reinhart's "Artisan Bread Every Day".
Remove dough from refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Prepare egg wash and three bowls with sesame, poppy and sunflower seeds for topping. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Divide dough into 12 equal pieces, and shape them into rolls. Place dough balls seam side down on baking sheet. Brush with egg wash, then dip in seeds. Let rolls rise ca 2 - 2 1/4 hours, or until grown 2 times their original size (remember to preheat oven after 1 3/4 hours.)
Preheat oven to 428º F/220º C, including steam pan. Place rolls in oven, pouring 1/2 cup boiling water in steam pan. Bake for 9 min., rotate baking sheet for even browning, and continue baking for another 9 - 10 min., until golden brown (internal temperature at least 200º F/92º C). Leave rolls in switched off oven for 10 minutes (leave door a crack open), before taking them out to cool on a rack.
Freerk of BreadLab made a very nice video clip of how to make these rolls - check it out at YouTube: