By Nick Thomas
Photography by Grace Schrater
I’d be lying if I said baking bread wasn’t my “white whale” of the kitchen. Many, many frustrating and tireless hours were spent trying to unlock the mysteries of something that seemed so fundamentally simple with such a small ingredient list and directions that consisted of mostly mix-and-wait that it was irritating I wasn’t seeing a finished product I could honestly call “bread.” You name a bread-related problem and I’ve experienced it, from dough not rising, to dough rising too much and deflating, to dough cementing itself to the countertop, to burnt crusts with uncooked centers. However, about two years ago, something clicked and I finally started to see an end result I could be proud of. Bottom line: if you’ve had problems baking bread before or the thought of homemade bread makes you anxious, don’t give up hope! It just takes a little practice—for some, like myself, a little more than others it would seem.
For this recipe I went with Spire Mountain Dark and Dry Apple cider. It had just the right amount of sugar and apple flavor to make the bread sweet and flavorful, and the natural molasses notes in this cider gave the rolls a very rustic feel. The Dark and Dry Apple is also a little tart, which gave the rolls an almost sourdough-like pucker. They are irresistible when fresh from the oven, and with such a unique flavor profile, you’ll find yourself wondering, “Why on earth do most bread recipes just use water or milk?” Blasphemy, says I.
Yields: 15 rolls
Prep time: 4 ½ hours
Cook time: 12-15 minutes
3 ¼ cups bread flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided, plus more for greasing
1 cup and 1 tablespoon Spire Mountain Dark and Dry Apple cider, divided
1 egg, room temperature and beaten
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Whisk together flour, salt and white sugar in a large bowl, then incorporate 2 tbsp butter with a pastry blender.
Heat cider to approximately 110 degrees—about the temperature of a hot tub, a little over a minute in the microwave should do the trick—stir in yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
Make a crater in the center of the dry-ingredients bowl. Pour beaten egg and cider/yeast mixture into the center of the crater, stir with a wooden spoon gradually incorporating the dry ingredients until a shaggy ball of dough forms.
Knead dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes or until dough comes together, then place in a lightly greased (butter or oil) bowl, cover, and let rest in a warm place until dough is doubled in size, about 3 hours.
While dough is rising, melt butter in a small sauce pan with 1tbsp cider and a pinch of salt.
Once doubled in size, deflate by punching your fist into the dough. Divide into 15 equal-sized pieces, roll into balls and place in a 9×13 pan in three rows of five. Brush tops with cider and butter mixture, cover pan and let rise a second time until dough has again doubled in size, about 1 hour.
During the second rise, preheat oven to 375 degrees. When dough is ready, bake in oven for 12-15 minutes.