The oh-so-fabulous Bread Baking Babes baked Italian Knot Rolls as their May recipe. This month's host babe, Ilva from Lucullian Delights has the recipe on her May 20 post, along with some helpful pictures of how to form the knots into rolls (or is it: form the rolls into knots?) The Italian name for these rolls is pane di pasta tenera condita, and the recipe is from a book by Anna Gennari. I decided to bake the rolls as a Buddy of the Babes this month.
You can't get much more white-flour-soft than this recipe; it calls for white bread flour as well as Italian "00" flour, which is similar to white cake flour in North America. The most unusual/controversial ingredient in the recipe is lard. Ilva explained that the lard gives the rolls a special tenderness and flavor that it cannot get from any other fat. She also gives the reassuring information that the lard constitutes a mere 2.7% of the recipe. I've never cooked with lard; in fact I typically make a point of avoiding recipes with that ingredient. But I figured I might as well try it in the interest of accuracy.
- To make the recipe as written, I needed a couple of new ingredients in addition to the lard: fresh yeast and "00" flour. The recipe listed acceptable substitutions for each of them, however, so I knew I was covered if I couldn't find the ingredients. My first shopping stop was Star Provisions, a wonderful specialty market not too far from my house. I was in luck! I found both a block of fresh yeast and a bag of imported Italian "00" flour. Sadly, there was no lard to be found on the premises, so it wasn't one stop shopping.
- My next stop was the local grocery store. The only lard that I could locate was a 2.5 pound tub. The package size seemed a little excessive for the few grams that I'd need, but it cost less than $4, so I put it in my shopping cart and called it a day.
- With my ingredients in place, I felt ready to tackle the knotty recipe!
- My plan was to make 1/2 recipe; a dozen or so rolls would come in handy without being too many.
- I was so curious and excited to use the fresh yeast in this recipe. It crumbled and dissolved easily with the bit of room temperature water.
- The directions say to leave the biga partly uncovered or cover with a towel. I chose the towel option and the contact with the air overnight made the biga form a dry crust on top. I hoped it would soften and incorporate when mixed with rest of dough ingreds
- The lard worked into flour beautifully.
- I used a Trader Joe's Italian specialty olive oil, and a local black sage honey.
- The yeast dissolved beautifully and everything was going nicely until I poured in all the liquid and realized that I'd neglected to halve the water. Luckily I hadn't yet added the biga. So I quickly mixed up another half quantity of all the ingredients - except the water - and mixed it in with the dough.
- But I only had a half recipe of biga! I weighed out half of the dough mixture and added the biga to it. At this point I was in "thrash mode" so I forgot I was supposed to add 250g of the biga. I just stirred it all in without measuring it.
- I added flour and water to other half of the dough and put it in the fridge to retard.
- It turned out that the "skin" of the biga did not soften or mix in with the dough, but just broke up into smaller hard bits. You can see the lumps in the picture of the finished rolls, 3 pictures below.
- The fresh yeast was very fast; my dough doubled in less than an hour.
- I measured out 12 rolls at 100 g each. I'd never formed knots, so the diagram was very helpful. I found it easier to hold them in my hands rather than on the counter. As I went along I got better at pushing the ends up from underneath to make the knots pop up.
- The yeast continued to rise fast: the first roll was doubled by the time I shaped the 12th.
- The rolls were baked in short order: they reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees after baking at 375 for 20 minutes.
The rolls made a bit hit with my husband, daughter J.D.E. and her friend G. My husband loved the complex subtlety of the flavors: "This might be the best stuff you've ever made." All in all, I'm glad that Ilva chose this tasty recipe and I'm very glad that I baked along with the Babes this month.
A footnote about the other half of the dough, which I made as a non-biga version:
I was much better at the shaping technique. The dough was smoother. I had just guessed at the flour and water amount, but they rose and baked nicely. And the taste? A bit "flatter" and "flourier" and maybe a little "tougher" too, but not half bad ! We enjoyed these for sandwiches and as buns for our hot dogs on Memorial Day.
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