Pesto dinner rolls to make for the Holidays (Vegan)
These rolls have a chewy crust, moist interior and bloom with basil fragrance. Break off a green flecked bite and dip it in your soup, mop up the last of the gravy or slather it with a smear of ripe avocado.
In a large bowl mix the yeast and water…
-Fannie Farmer Boston School Cookbook
Moments after reading those words in our dog eared Fannie Farmer cookbook, I ripped open my first packet of yeast, poured the pungent granules into our huge off-white stoneware bowl, splashed in some tap water and set off on my first dough making foray. I was ten, which means I have been baking bread for almost forty years.
In those first few months of yeast experimentation I learned that flour, water and yeast are forgiving. Oh so forgiving. As I played with dough I realized that the outcome was based on the process. For me baking was a matter of reverse engineering. Did the finished loaf have a dense crumb or light? Was it moist? Or fragrant? Why was this loaf more sour? Did the crust crackle or yield uncomplainingly to the bread knife? How much dried fruit could fit into one bread and still slice cleanly?
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
I also learned that my hard working mother, returning from a long day of work, was ridiculously grateful for even the most ill formed, dense, overly salty loaf of bread. Climbing up the final flight of stairs to our third floor flat on her aching feet she would call out “Do I smell bread?”
Entering the kitchen, slipping her high heels from her feet, and sighing gratefully into our creaking kitchen chair as she pulled the heavy earrings from her tired lobes, her eyes would fill with tears at the sight of the simple peasant soup and loaf of bread on the table.
Yesterday, while I was forming our daily loaf, I told my son how sourdough starter can live for years producing a complex and increasingly more delicious bread each year. He said “that seems like a fairytale”.
“All sorrows are less with bread. ”
-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Lovely dinner rolls redolent with basil that are perfect for slathering with "butter" or dunking in soup.
In a large bowl mix the yeast, sugar and lukewarm warm water and let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Give it a good stir to help it along if need be.
Now add the oil and salt and give it a stir. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have a lovely cohesive dough that you can begin kneading. There is no "knead" to add all of the flour, I sometimes stop a 1/2 cup before the full amount. Knead it on a well floured counter for 10 minutes adding a bit more flour if necessary until you dough is smooth and elastic..
Place the ball of dough in a clean bowl and allow to rise covered in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Between 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hour depending on how warm it is in your kitchen.
Roll your dough out into a rectangle about 12 by 18 inches. Slather most of your pesto over reserving three tablespoons for brushing the top of the rolls. Knead the pesto through the dough and cut the dough into 18 equal-ish pieces, about the size of a golf ball, and form into balls. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.
Heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a metal pan on the bottom rack of your oven.
Allow to rise, lightly covered, for 20 minutes.
Brush the top the rolls with reserved pesto.
Place the sheet pan with the formed roll on the top rack in the oven.
Pour 1 cup of tap water into the heated metal pan on the bottom rack. This is for steam to help a good crust form on the rolls.
Bake 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool.