A great pleasure of hotel breakfasts in Rome are the invariably offered rosette – firm, crusty, delicious rolls that you break open and slather with butter and jam. I’ve often wanted to make them at home, but I thought it’d be impossible, because – in addition to having a distinctive shape, taste, and texture – rosette are almost completely hollow. I couldn’t imagine how a plain flour and water yeast dough was made to puff up in the oven like popovers.
I’d never seen them in the US until, at a recent lunch at restaurant SD 26 in Manhattan, the bread service included perfect, authentic rosette. When the headwaiter stopped by our table I asked if they were brought in from Italy and he said no, they were made here. I mentioned my wonder at how they were made, and in a little while he came back with some information from the chef: three risings of the dough, very hot oven, press the rosette shape into the rolls with an apple cutter. I was inspired to try it.
A Google search provided a lot of information about making rosette, all the sites admitting that it’s very hard to get the rolls hollow. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I bookmarked a fully illustrated recipe on a website called VivaLaFocaccia and got ready to work.
Please note: The rest of this post is going to be about a lot of baking technicalities, possibly of interest mainly to people who like to make bread. Skip it if the prospect doesn’t appeal to you. (Or just scroll down to see whether I succeeded.)
First I had to get the right kind of flour. The recipe calls for Italian 00 flour, specifying one with 12% gluten. That’s a protein content higher than most all-purpose flours, lower than most bread flours. It’s not hard to find 00 flour in my neighborhood, but no brand lists its gluten content. I chose one whose Nutrition Facts label gave the highest protein content per serving.
A day in advance I made the initial dough, briefly kneading together 2⅔ cups of flour, 6 ounces of water, and a scant ½ teaspoon of yeast. The recipe warns that this will be a tough dough, “not very refined.” I’ll say! It came out looking like a head of cauliflower. I left it to sit at room temperature for 20 hours.
The next morning, the dough had softened quite a bit, though it hadn’t expanded much. I proceeded with the recipe. Finishing the dough involved just another 3 tablespoons of flour, a scant 2 ounces of water, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and a scant ½ teaspoon of sugar – no more yeast. It was to be kneaded on the heavy-duty mixer for 6 minutes at the lowest speed before adding salt, then, with salt, 7 minutes at the next lowest speed. Actually, I had to knead it much longer, because at first my dough just slopped around in the slush at the bottom of the mixing bowl, refusing to absorb the water or gather on the dough hook. I don’t know why that happened.
Eventually it did turn into a smooth, elastic dough, very lively looking. In fact, it never needed a speck more flour during all the many manipulations that followed. And they were many: From start to finish, I spent most of four hours making these rosette. Obviously, you undertake something like this only if you love the process or love the result or both – or if you are, as Tom sometimes maintains I am, latently masochistic.
I shaped the dough into a ball, covered it and let it sit for 10 minutes; flattened it with a rolling pin, folded it in 4 parts, covered again and let it sit 15 minutes; and did the flattening, folding, and resting twice more. To my surprise, the dough rose noticeably during each of those short rests. I shaped the dough into a ball again, brushed it with olive oil, covered it with plastic wrap and a towel, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Again it rose well. (BTW, I didn’t take photos of all these stages; the dough looked just like the pictures on the website.)
At last it was time to divide the dough into eight pieces and shape them into balls. There was a special technique for that (again, see the website photos if you’re interested), apparently intended to create a potential air cavity in the center of each roll, though I have to admit it didn’t do much for mine. When the smooth balls had been covered and let rise for 30 minutes, it was time to give them their rosette shape.
I’d bought an apple corer just for this job. I pressed it into each ball (“gently but not too much,” the recipe said, which wasn’t entirely helpful). I tried to make cuts that looked about as deep as the recipe’s pictured ones. Here are mine:
I turned the rolls upside down and covered them again. At last it was time to preheat the oven to 500°, while the rosette rose once more, for an hour. This time they didn’t rise very much, which worried me somewhat. Had all that manipulation with the rolling pin, and all those rising times, worn out the yeast? Also, my kitchen timer had chosen this day to go wonky on me, so several of those short rises were actually longer than they should have been. Worry worry worry.
Resigned to my fate, whatever it might be, I laid a piece of parchment on my pizza peel, placed the rolls on it right-side up, and dusted them with flour as directed. I poured boiling water into a shallow pan in the oven on the shelf beneath the one holding my baking steel and transferred the loaded parchment to the steel. I also sprayed water into the oven every minute for the first 10. Slowly, slowly, the rosette rose.
After 15 minutes I turned the oven down to 400°. The rosette should have been done in another 10 minutes, according to the recipe, but they hadn’t browned at all in that time, so I kicked the oven back up. It took almost 15 minutes more to get the rosette well browned.
They were nicely puffed, very light in the hand. I could see that I hadn’t made the cuts deep enough to get the proper appearance of rosettes of flower petals, but there was the suggestion of them, anyway. And I really had hopes that they’d prove to be hollow.
Alas, no. There was just a small cavity in the middle of each roll, with a lot of soft crumb all around. However, they did come out with exactly the right Roman flavor and crustiness. Absolutely delicious with sweet butter and homemade strawberry jam. So, despite the amount of time it takes, I’ll probably bake rosette again some day. Maybe I’ll figure out how to get them hollow: I have a few theories . . .