French Rolls


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes



Appears in

Making Bread at Home

Making Bread at Home

By Tom Jaine

Published 2005

  • About

Professor Calvel, the greatest French teacher of baking this century, regarded pistolets as one of the finest bread recipes in the war-chest of the journeyman baker. Somehow, it had survived the onslaught of mechanization - which changed so much about French, and every other, bread - and craftsmen were still seen hand rolling the little forms, splitting them with a broom handle, or the edge of the hand, and carefully nurturing them into perfect dinner rolls.

Rolls are the fancy side of baking. They are not usually made with wholemeal or coarse flours, and the wheat has to be the best to give them maximum lightness. They are made with a slightly enriched dough: the extract of malt gives zip to the yeast and a burnished bronze crust, and the milk powder gives tenderness of crumb.


  • 300 ml/10 fl oz water
  • 1 tablespoon dried milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon malt extract
  • 10 g/ oz fresh yeast
  • 500 g/1 lb 2 oz unbleached white bread flour (for preference, 100% American or Canadian)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • rye or rice flour for dusting


  1. Mix the water, milk powder, malt extract and yeast together. Mix the bread flour with the salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the liquid and mix to a dough. Turn on to a floured work surface and knead for 8 minutes. The dough will be moist, keep the work surface floured (but not too much) and your hands clean. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with clingfilm at room temperature (21°C/70°F) for 3 hours. Turn out on to the work surface and knock back. Leave to rise once more for about 1 hour.
  2. Return the dough to the work surface and divide it into 16 pieces. Roll these into tight little balls by flattening them with your palm on to the table and describing circles with your hand. Gradually lessen the pressure to make a cup of your palm, fingers and thumb. The dough will turn and lift into a ball. Leave these to rest under a cloth for 5 minutes.
  3. Split each of these balls nearly into two by pressing down with a smooth piece of wood (like a large wooden spoon handle) nearly to the table. Dust the tops with rye flour or rice flour to stop the dough sticking to the splitting stick. Split each one in turn, then leave to rest again.

    Split each ball of dough nearly into two by pressing down with a smooth piece of wood, such as a wooden spoon handle, nearly to the table.

  4. Returning to the first roll, pick it up between fingers and thumbs and gently stretch it 2.5-5 cm/1-2 inches along the line of crease. Place the rolls on a warmed, oiled baking sheet. Leave to prove, well covered with oiled clingfilm, at 26°C/80°F, until doubled in size. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.
  5. Bake the rolls on the upper shelf in the oven, spraying water into the oven twice in the first 3 minutes. The rolls should be cooked within 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.