Whole-Wheat Rolls: French Hand-Kneading Method

Play with abandon. These are the words on my kitchen calendar. When I need to get my “endoughphins”* going I push the playground gates wide open and start hand-kneading dough, using the traditional French method. It’s a messy, sticky hands affair. Hard hat not required, but be on the alert for pieces of dough flying across the room, hitting the ceiling, getting into your hair. As with all physical exercise, you may even want to consult with your doctor first before attempting this. My neighbors must wonder about that possessed man standing before the altar of dough: slamming, folding and turning, slamming, folding and turning—my song of laughter growing louder with each slam. A grin fest, this technique is somewhere between the grace of synchronized swimming and the slapstick of the 3 Stooges or the hysteria of The Beatles singing “All My Loving” on the

Ed Sullivan Show and a solo accordionist playing “Lady of Spain” on a street corner. I first learned this technique from the accompanying DVD to Richard Bertinet’s book, Dough. You can also watch him using this method to knead a sweet dough. Still need coaxing? Haven’t gotten your fill of French accents? Tired of your Richard Simmons workout videos? Check out Simon the French baker slapping and folding as he talks about getting strength and air into the dough.

I adapted Bertinet’s recipe for “brown” dough, adding oats, bran, a handful of sunflower seeds, and shaped it into rolls:

Adapted brown dough recipe

10½ oz. whole-wheat flour (about 213 cups)

2 oz. oats (½ cup)

7 oz. all-purpose flour (about 1½ cups)

2 tablespoons wheat bran

a couple handfuls of sunflower seeds

1½ teaspoons yeast

12½ oz. water (just over 1½ cups)

1 tablespoons molasses (optional)

1/3 oz. salt (about 2 teaspoons)

Add yeast and molasses to water. Mix the flour, wheat bran, sunflower seeds, and salt together. Stir yeast and molasses into water and add to dry ingredients. Using either your hands or wooden spoon, stir everything together until dough starts to form. Pick up dough, swing it upwards then slap it down away from you. Stretch the front of the dough towards you. Lift it back over itself. Keep repeating this until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in bowl, cover in plastic and let it rise until it doubles (about an hour). Turn the dough out and divide into 8 to 12 pieces. Mold each into a ball. Cover with a dishtowel and let it sit for 5 minutes. After resting, shape into balls again. Place on a baking sheet and let rise for 45 minutes (until nearly doubled in volume).

Preheat oven to 475°.  Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make one long-cut lengthwise (or an x in the middle). Open the preheated oven and mist with a water spray. Quickly put rolls in oven, reduce heat to 450° and bake for 10 minutes.

Proceed with caution. There is a rumor that I have channeled Fred Astaire, singing and dancing to George and Ira Gershwin’s “Slap That Bass.”

Slap that bass

Slap it till it’s dizzy

Slap that bass

Keep the rhythm busy

Crank up the music and let the fun begin. You never know what might happen.

*Endoughphins: A sense of well-being derived from the act of hand-kneading dough.


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