- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 8 cups water
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- Glazing and Topping:
- 1 egg
- sea salt (or pretzel salt or kosher salt), for sprinkling
Pour the water into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the yeast and sugar, stirring to combine. Let sit until foamy, about 10-15 minutes.
Add the flour, salt, and melted butter to the yeast mixture and use the dough hook on lowest speed to knead the ingredients together for 5 minutes. By the end of this period, you should have a smooth dough centered on the hook and no longer clinging to the sides of the mixing bowl. If the dough is still sticky, sprinkle on a bit more flour and continue to knead until it is incorporated.
Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and tucks the ends underneath to form a ball with a smooth top. Place in a greased bowl about double its size and cover with a towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-2 hours. If you'd like do an overnight rise and bake the rolls the next morning, place the dough in the refrigerator for the first rising instead (see notes).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the ball of dough like you would a pizza into 16 equal pieces (or 8 for burger buns). Take each piece and smooth and stretch the top, tucking the ends underneath and pinching them together at the bottom so that you have a smooth ball of dough. Place pinch-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Cup your hands around the sides of the dough ball and rotate it gently in your palms to smooth it more. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough. Cover shaped dough with plastic wrap and leave to rise again until doubled in size and puffy, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°F with the oven racks positioned on the bottom and middle levels. Place the poaching water in a medium saucepan, stir in the baking soda, and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg for glazing.
Dunk each roll pinch-side down into the water, let it sit for 30 seconds, flip it over, and let it sit for another 30 seconds. Use a large slotted spoon or a tea strainer - something larger in scoop size than the roll - to remove it from the water and flip it back over, right-side up, onto the baking sheet again. (I have a fairly shallow 3-1/2" tea strainer that worked perfectly for this.) Once you get the hang of the process, you can poach more than one roll at once; just be sure to leave enough room to maneuver the spoon or sieve around as you flip and remove the rolls. Keep the rolls spaced at least an inch apart on the baking sheet.
Brush all exposed areas of the poached rolls with the egg and sprinkle the tops with sea salt (or salt of choice). Slash across the middle of each roll with a serrated knife, using a back and forth motion to create a fairly deep gash.
Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, switching and rotating the trays halfway through the baking time, until the rolls are golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped at the base. Cool slightly before serving. Store in an airtight zip-top bag; leftover rolls can be reheated in the microwave wrapped in a light kitchen linen.
For Overnight Rise: Place the dough in the refrigerator during the first rising. The following morning, take it out, punch it down gently, knead lightly to smooth it out, and continue with the recipe as instructed. The rolls may need a longer time for the second rising, but you can speed the process along by letting them rise in a warm oven. (If your oven has a bread proof setting, use that. Otherwise, you can turn the oven on as if preheating to 350°F and allow to warm up for ONLY 1-2 minutes. Then, turn it off, cool briefly if needed so the oven is just warm, and place the rolls inside to rise.)