My approximate guess is that there are about 8 bazillion roll recipes in the universe. And some of them are downright impossibly nasty. Bread is the stuff of life, somewhere near the laughter of children and proper chocolate and a really good, toe-curling.....uh, bottle of wine. yeah.
I stumbled onto this recipe online. If you have ever been in my home you know I have a fair amount of cook books so it may seem ridiculous that I would need to search online for something so basic as a good roll recipe; but, there I was, at 2 am scrolling through one personal testimonial after another promoting each roll recipe like then next president of the United States.
I stopped on this one because it seemed to have a high ratio of liquid and fat to the whole wheat. One of the things I don't like about home made bread is just how quickly it stales because of the lack of preservatives. And a lack of unpronounceable preservatives IS a good thing; but stale bread is not so a little bit of fat is important in prolonging the life of your hard work. I made these rolls on a Friday night to be served the following evening; I had a few leftovers and was still smearing strawberry jam on them Monday night without a hint of staleness or spoilage.
As I was actually making these rolls to serve to 25+ people, I needed a large recipe and ended up doubling the original. Sometimes that's a bad idea but this recipe held up beautifully so if you are in charge of the rolls for the next potluck or picnic, go ahead and double (or triple) this bad boy.
In a large bowl, blend the following:
1 1/2 cup warm water (hotter than 75 but cooler than 120)
1 pkg yeast
1 Tbs sugar
Swish them around in the bowl and then let them sit for about 10 minutes-this will give you time to gather up your other ingredients and also let you know if you should continue with this particular batch of yeast. In this amount of time, the yeast should wake up and begin to foam and froth. That means it's alive and ready to rock. If you don't have this, you have dead yeast and need to start over with a new package.
While the yeast is waking up and getting breakfast, gather these ingredients;
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 1/4 cup milk, heated (just until it starts to steam a little, then remove it to cool--never use anything hotter than 130 when dealing with yeast or you will kill it).
1 egg, beaten
2 heaping tsp salt
1/3 cup sunflower seeds (totally optional but adds some nice texture)
Grab a bag of whole wheat flour and a bag of AP and lets get ready to rumble.
With the milk cooled to lukewarm, stir this and the remainder of the ingredients into the yeast blend. Now, with a sturdy wooden spoon, stir in 3 cups of the wheat flour. Beat to make a thick paste and then let stand in a warm place (like on top of your running dryer, on top of the stove that's heating to warm or outside on a hot night, covered with a damp dish towel). Let this sit for 1-3 hours, until it is very light and foamy. I found that 1 1/2 hours was enough for my poolish (technical name for the starter dough you've just made).
Stir down the batter-like dough and stir in enough white AP flour until the dough becomes stiff enough to knead without sticking to your hands too much. How much you will need depends on the given day's weather and your location on earth. Now you know why some recipes suck, ok? Because bread can't be set in stone-it's a living concoction that varies with the environment.
Knead this dough by hand on a clean space for about 10-15 minutes. I had an enormous batch going and still didn't have a problem hand-kneading this dough and getting a soft, elastic result that was ready to rise again. So clean out your original big bowl and coat it with a bit of pan spray to prevent sticking and drying dough. Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel and give it about an hour to double again in your favorite warm place.
Once the dough is doubled, punch it down and prepare to shape it into rolls. I prefer a bench scraper for this but a good knife will also work. Cut the dough into golf-balls sized pieces and roll them a little on an unfloured surface to get a smooth ball. Place in the pan of your choice for baking. I lined a couple of cookie sheets that have 1 inch sides with some silpats for baking and fit 20 rolls on each sheet (remember I had a double batch so my batch yielded approximately 60 rolls). You can use pyrex dishes, cookie sheets, pie pans or aluminum disposables if you wish. Just remember to spray down the pan with a bit of pan spray.
Now, it's time to let the dough rise again so cover with a damp dish towel and let her go for about an hour.
Did you catch it? This dough has 3 different rises instead of the typical 2. This allows for a better developed flavor in the bread and also makes for a lighter, not rock-like consistency.
Your oven should be preheated to 350 about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake. Make sure your oven racks are on the middle to lower part of the oven, versus the top side. When you place your rolls in the oven, take a quick moment with a spray bottle of water to spray a few shots into the oven. This creates a bit of steam with makes a nice crust on your bread (try this sometime with French bread and get yourself a nice crusty crust).
Bake until golden and seams between rolls don't look shiny or raw. My rolls took 18-20 minutes, rotated once to get a the perfect browning on top without burning which is all too common with wheat bread.
Allow to cool completely before sealing in any air tight packaging. I cooled them then put them in ziploc bags but you could also wrap them in plastic wrap. They freeze well too but should be used within a few months of being baked.