If someone ever asked me to list down what I thought were the best things in life, I reckon ‘baking bread from scratch’ would be in my top ten. If I could, I would bake a different kind of yeast bread every single day. There’s just something about it that I find so soothing. Maybe it has to do with how every moment of kneading is like a quiet moment of careful unraveling, until finally I find myself a small moment of relaxation, of peace; or how the inhibitions and tensions in my mind and body seem to leave me as I concentrate on working my dough.
For a no-nonsense person like myself who likes to do a lot of different things as quickly but accurately as possible, making bread is one of my ways of taking it slow. I imagine I would go crazy if I didn’t give myself opportunities to transport myself to my “quiet places”. Making bread to me is a form of therapy, and although it might not be as extravagant as perhaps shopping is a therapy to others, having a successfully baked bread fresh out of the oven is one of the most rewarding things I could think of.
Admittedly, this recipe isn’t similar to most other yeast breads I’ve made in that its dough is not exactly kneadable. It’s also one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The bread is more of a brioche, with a gooey dough that would require a spoon to scoop into molds, or in this case a muffin-tin. Most of the work is done by the mixer with a dough hook attachment, with some participation of one’s hands.
Please do not be tempted to add more flour. The dough should only be thick enough that you can hold it in your hands for a few seconds before it begins to sag through your fingers. It will be sleek, damp and slippery, but if you add more flour, your rolls may end up tough once they cool. If in case you do add more flour and find that the bread toughens up, you can always reheat your rolls in the toaster oven to get it softer.
Remember to fill the tin cups only 3/4 full because they really really rise. Some of the holes I overfilled ended up overflowing/overgrowing once baked, but the bread did not turn ugly at all. The golden colour of the rolls are so gorgeous, you won’t even notice the misshapen heads. In fact, it even looks like it was done on purpose! The more misshapen, the more homey if you ask me! You really should divide this into 18 rolls though because I made 12 and they were ginormous. I thought a piece was enough for two people to share.
These are really mild-flavoured on their own, so the next time I make them, maybe I’ll add a touch more herbs for more flavour. Then again, these are lovely eaten with garlic-butter, or with herb-flavoured spreads. But if you’re eating this with, say, pasta, I think this mildness is favorable.
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup warm milk (105-110°F)
- 1 stick (1/2 cup / 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, chives, thyme, sage, basil, dill, etc.)
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
- whole fresh herb leaves, for topping (I used basil)
- 1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and salt on medium-high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- 2. Mix in the yeast, sugar, milk, melted butter and flour. Stir until a dough forms. Beat in the chopped fresh herbs until incorporated. The dough will be damp, and almost goo-like in texture and form.
- 3. Cover the mixer bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
- 4. Generously butter 18 muffin cups.
- 5. Once dough has risen, punch the dough down. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing evenly until each cup is about 3/4 full. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise about 45 minutes more, until slightly puffed.
- 6. About 15 minutes before the end of the second rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- 7. Once risen, uncover the rolls and brush the tops lightly with the egg wash mixture. Gently press a fresh herb leaf into the top of each roll so that it adheres completely.
- 8. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack, using a small knife to help release the rolls from the pan. Let cool slightly before serving.
To this day I am amazed by the magic of yeast. It’s the prospect of creating something as beautiful that serves as part of the reason why I love making my own bread so much.