My Nana Pearl baked her onion rolls, which she called tsibele kuchen, just about every Friday to have with a roast chicken dinner. She never measured or weighed, she just knew by handling and observing exactly how much of everything to use and how long each step would take. When you can still remember how those looked and tasted more than 50 years later, you know they were something special, and the desire to replicate them becomes an imperative.
Over the past several weeks of my bread-baking frenzy, I’ve become addicted not just to the superiority of home-baked breads and rolls, but also to the tactile and olfactory experience of baking. During this process, some of Nana Pearl’s instincts have been awakened in me, but still I weigh and measure to ensure uniformity of size and baking outcome. Today I applied the taste memory of her tsibele kuchen to my experience of baking brioche buns and challah. I also wanted these rolls to be onion-filled, not simply onion topped as hers were, and am feeling a little pleased about how these rolls turned out:
PEARL’S 21st CENTURY ONION ROLLS
1 cup lukewarm water
14 gram SAF instant yeast or one package other quick-rising yeast
4-1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour or other bread flour
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 medium sweet onion finely diced (about 3/4 cup)
1 egg white whisked with 1 tbsp water
In large bowl of stand mixer, dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water and immediately add 4 cups flour, the 2 eggs lightly beaten, 1/4 cup of the oil, the sugar and salt. Use paddle attachment to combine thoroughly, and then switch to dough hook and run on medium-low speed for 10 minutes, adding additional 1/4 cup of flour once a sticky dough begins to form. Lightly grease another large (5 quart) bowl and turn the dough out into it. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise 1 to 1-1/2 hours until doubled.
Meanwhile, lightly sauté the onions in remaining canola oil until just softened and remove to a small bowl.
Preheat oven to 375º and place a shallow pan filled halfway with water on bottom rack.*
Divide into 6-8 equal pieces (I made 7) and roll each into a ball. (Dough will weigh about 1 kilo (1,000 grams). Flatten each ball into a disk about 5″ and place about 1 tbsp of the onions in center of each, leaving a little bit of the onion mixture to sprinkle on top. As you’re working, the dough will continue to puff up a bit. Flatten out the edges a little more and pull the edges over the onion fill to completely encase, cradling in your hands to form a spherical bun.
Place the buns on a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet, press down gently to flatten a bit, brush all over the with egg wash, and sprinkle each with a bit of the remaining onions and some poppy seeds. Let rest about 15 minutes, then bake on center rack of oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack at least an hour.
*NOTE: the pan of water creates steam in the oven which helps the rolls rise again and gives the crust a light texture. If you prefer not to do this, they will bake somewhat flatter and denser.