Italian Rolls Replication
Posted: 28 December 2007 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Okay, bread gurus ... I need your help.

When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents lived half a block down from an Italian bakery that made the best bread and rolls in the New World.  That’s all they made ... bread and rolls, in the most unlikely setting imaginable.  No fancy glass cases, no pretty displays.  You walked across a concrete floor into what looked like a warehouse, up to an industrial-type counter and bought either a loaf of Italian bread or rolls by the dozen ... watching the men load and unload the huge brick ovens while screaming at each other in Italian.

On Sundays, the minute Nonna dropped the pasta into the boiling water, Nonno would walk out the back door, down the alley, and be back with a white bakery bag filled with hot, fresh-from-the-oven rolls just as the pasta was being drained.  If there was a definition of heaven in my little world back then, it was breaking open one of those rolls, slathering half of it with dairy butter, then dredging the other half through the spaghetti sauce left on my plate.

For years, I have dreamed of those rolls and have never found another bakery that made bread quite like them, even in other parts of the northeast.  And I have never found a recipe that even comes close to approximating them.  Realistically, I know I don’t have a brick oven and would never be able to duplicate them exactly ... but if I could at least get somewhere in the ballpark, I would be a very happy woman.  And so I thought, given the bread geniuses we have here, that maybe I could describe the rolls and it would ring a bell with someone, at least enough to suggest a working recipe as a starting point.

These rolls had a thin crust that managed to be both crisp and toothsome at the same time ... and I truly mean ‘thin’, just enough to form a flaky covering of sorts over the roll.  And, while it was crisp, it wasn’t the least bit hard or crumbly ... you even had to tug a bit to bite off a piece.  The insides of the rolls were like fluffy, hot cotton which almost melted in your mouth even without butter.  They did not keep well at all and staled quickly ... any (unlikely) leftovers had to be toasted with butter and jam or cheese for breakfast the next morning to be palatable.

I have tried a good many recipes for “Italian rolls” over the years, both from friends and from the Internet.  All of them have either had a crust that was too hard or too thick, didn’t have the thin, flaky quality I remember, or the inside didn’t have that fluffy, almost airy “hot cotton” quality of these rolls.  I’m beginning to think I’ll have to drive 1,100 miles if I ever want to taste them again.

Do these ring a bell with anyone?

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Posted: 29 December 2007 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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TIFFANY:
  Good evening. I enjoyed reading your story of your youth…I can relate to it because my envirement was very similiar. Tiffany, I thought I would like to try to explain to you the “WHY” you have not yet succeeded in duplicating this bread as you remember it in your youth. (Not so many years ago, I am sure). It is not you, nor the recipes that you tried either. But the answer lies in the Mixing Machine.
  At home we all use a planetary style mixer or a spiral type mixer. Kithen aid is a planetary type & a Bosch or a Electrolux assistant or magic mill is a spiral type mixer. The spiral type is somewhat more efficient it only takes about 8, minutes to fully develop the gluten… The planetary type requires about 10, minutes.
  Now then Tifffany, as you know when we beat our ingredients in a home style mixer we also beat in “OXYGEN”. This
ingredient is most important to bread baking. The problem lies in the amount of time it takes to knead the dough sufficiently about 10, minutes… it beats in more oxygen then it requires. This is the reason none of us can get the desired effect in breads like that come from a bakery.
Tiffany, to get what you are looking for, you must buy a spiral mixer that is made in Europe it costs approx $12,000. It handles many many 50 pound sacks of flour. It mixes the gluten fully in about 3.5 to 4 minutes max & with a minimum amount of oxygen
mixed in ...this is the key “MIN. AMOUNTOF OXYGEN”. Our home mixes cannot do this.  Also I might add Prof ovens are differant than yours & mine. The ceiling of the ovens are much lower & they have a ventillation apparatus in them which is very important to baking. I open my oven door by propping it open about 1.5 inches during the last 15/20 minutes of baking.
Tiffany I hope this explanation will be helpful to you. Enjoy the upcoming holiday young lady.

  ~FRESHKID,  cool hmm

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Posted: 30 December 2007 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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~FRESHKID - 29 December 2007 11:36 PM


Tiffany, to get what you are looking for, you must buy a spiral mixer that is made in Europe it costs approx $12,000. It handles many many 50 pound sacks of flour. It mixes the gluten fully in about 3.5 to 4 minutes max & with a minimum amount of oxygen
mixed in ...this is the key “MIN. AMOUNTOF OXYGEN”. Our home mixes cannot do this.  Also I might add Prof ovens are differant than yours & mine. The ceiling of the ovens are much lower & they have a ventillation apparatus in them which is very important to baking. I open my oven door by propping it open about 1.5 inches during the last 15/20 minutes of baking.
Tiffany I hope this explanation will be helpful to you. Enjoy the upcoming holiday young lady.


Sorry, but this just doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s unrealistic for a neighborhood bakery to have “a spiral mixer that handles many many 50 pound sacks of flour.” Certainly, not one that costs 12,000 dollars. A neighborhood bakery wouldn’t have the space for a piece of equipment that large; only industrial bakeries like WonderBread and OroWheat have mixers that big. Not to mention that they cost MUCH more than 12,000 dollars; think 100,000 +.

No, the bakery of Tiffany’s youth is probably using the standard Hobart, 60-quart planetary mixer (a larger version of a KitcheAid). Hobart is the standard piece of equipment for nearly every retail neighborhood bakery. They are easy to acquire, finance, and maintain, and not much space is required on the bakery floor to use them.

For a home baker who wants “less oxygen in their bread” (I don’t understand that whole concept anyway, and I’ve been baking professionally for years), use a food processor. It takes about a minute to knead bread dough in a food processor—unfortunately, this only works for stiff bread doughs. I use my food processor for hard rolls, bagels, and pizza dough.


Tiffany: For these style of rolls think Ciabatta dough that is a little bit stiffer than the traditional ciabatta so that the dough will actually form a roll. I would also suggest using a pizza stone and steam while baking them (or better yet, a brick oven insert for your oven.

I have had these type of rolls that you remember so fondly, and yes they are heavenly!

I would start with a slightly stiffer ciabatta dough and see what happens.

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Posted: 02 January 2008 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you both for taking the time to give me your thoughts.

Roxanne - I have always been wary of using ciabatta dough, thinking it would produce too many “holes” than what I remember in these rolls. However, a slightly stiffer dough just might be what I’m looking for, since I think that should reduce them from what I’ve read. I am going out of town for a few days, but I think I might attempt to do this when I return smile

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Posted: 02 January 2008 10:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Interesting challenge Tiffany.  I’m not sure that I have a great answer for you, but when I read your description, I tried to run through in my mind all of the breads I have made, and think of which breads fit the qualities you listed:

“These rolls had a thin crust”

The higher the baking temperature, the thinner the crust.  I thought of soft sandwich breads which are baked at a high initial temperature (475) and then lowered for the remaining baking.  It produces an ultra-thin crust.

“both crisp and toothsome”

This made me think of hearth breads that are sprayed with water before baking.  Actually, I was even reminded of Rose’s bagels which are unusually crisp when freshly baked and “toothsome.”  Of course, the boiling of bagels is the ultimate water treatment before baking—-you probably wouldn’t want to go that far here.  Also, you can achieve a very crispy crust by leaving the bread in the oven and opening the door slightly for about 5 more minutes after baking.

“it wasn?t the least bit hard or crumbly”

Perhaps you would want to use a softer flour, like an unbleached all-purpose rather than a bread flour.

“like fluffy, hot cotton”

This seems to again swing back towards soft sandwich bread.  Although cottony is not a goal of the recipes I generally make, I have to say the most cottony bread I ever made happened by mistake.  I halved a recipe, but forgot to cut the yeast in half.  I didn’t realize it until it rose in about a 1/3 of the time.  I went ahead and baked the bread, and while it was lacking in flavor, it was the most fluffy cottony bread.  Perhaps you could experiment with yeast amounts and compensate for flavor by making a sponge or biga.

I wonder if it wasn’t some sort of hybrid between a soft sandwich bread and hearth bread since it seems to have qualities of both?  If you are going to experiment with an Italian style bread, I would choose Rose’s Tuscan bread over the ciabatta (both are similar, but with some of the modifications Roxanne already mentioned).  I think it is already a step closer to what you are looking for.  I would probably also add some butter (and perhaps some powdered milk and honey) to see if you can draw in some of those sandwich bread qualities.

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Posted: 02 January 2008 10:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Tiffany - I loved strolling down memory lane with you - you’re very descriptive!

I’m curious, do you think the bread and rolls were made from the same dough???

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Posted: 03 January 2008 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Tiffany, I loved your description too! What a vivid taste/texture memory you have!

It’s been years since I baked bread—my husband is the bread baker now—but I do have a suggestion to add.  If you find a recipe you like, you could try using a bit of potato flour, potato starch, or mashed potatoes in the dough. That might help with getting that fine-grained, soft, cottony texture you’re looking for. There are some recipes in Rose’s Bread Bible that use potato—maybe a look at those would give you some ideas.

Good luck! Have fun!

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Posted: 03 January 2008 06:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Interesting you should mention that Barbara.  The bread I mentioned making a mistake on in the earlier post was a potato bread too.

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Posted: 11 January 2008 09:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thank you for all the responses ... I’ve been so busy, I haven’t yet had time to experiment. But this is first on my list as soon as I have a minute to breathe smile

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