New England Buttermilk Rolls

These little rolls have quite the finest crumb imaginable: perfect for a dinner party, as light as air, and not difficult to make. Small wonder that they have become popular in Old England as well as in the original home, made again by cooks wanting a bread suitable to go with rich and elaborate food. The instructions for making up the rolls may seem complex, but once mastered, are easily repeated.

Ingredients

  • 15 g/½ oz fresh yeast
  • 200 ml/7 fl oz buttermilk, or plain yoghurt and water mixed half and half at 38°C/100°F
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 60 g/2 oz butter
  • 375 g/13 oz unbleached white bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Crumble the yeast into the buttermilk, dissolve the honey in the mixture and leave to ferment in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  2. Melt half the butter. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a bowl, and add the liquid and melted butter. Mix to a soft dough, then turn out on to a floured work surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until perfectly smooth and resilient. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm in a warm place (26°C/80°F) for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
  3. Turn out on to the lightly floured work surface, knock back and form a square cushion. Leave it to rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Roll the dough into an oblong, about 50 cm/20 inches long and 30 cm/12 inches wide. So as not to tear the dough, work slowly with breaks to give the gluten a chance to relax; otherwise, it will constantly be trying to spring back to its original size.
  4. Melt the rest of the butter and brush it over the surface of the dough. Slice the oblong of dough lengthwise into six 5 cm/2 inch strips. Lay these strips on top of each other, flipping the last one over so that the butter side contacts the one below.
  5. Cut this strip into eight squares. Pinch one edge of each square firmly together between work surface and thumb, then place each roll, pinched side down, in a greased cup of a Yorkshire pudding or bun tray. Leave them to prove in the warm for 1 hour, covering the tray with an inverted large bowl or something similar. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.
  6. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes, until golden brown, then cool them on a wire rack.

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