After reading Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, I was informed about what Glenn Roberts and his company Anson Mills are doing to preserve or rediscover heirloom grains. In Heritage, he’s mentioned regarding his work with the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and his preservation of other antebellum crops. I previously knew that benne is another name for sesame seeds. What I didn’t know was that older varieties of West African benne have a slightly different flavor than our contemporary sesame seeds. I ordered some of these traditional benne seeds and two varieties of bread flour from Anson Mills for these rolls. The rolls are made with bread flour and all-purpose flour, and the Ble Marquis flour from Anson Mills is suggested for the all-purpose. That one is currently only available for wholesale purchases, so I ordered two different varieties of bread flour instead. I used a little of the red fife whole wheat bread flour in addition to white bread flour which is an “organic new crop 18th-century style heirloom wheat French Mediterranean, hand bolted” flour. To start, a paste was made with sugar, local honey, and salt. The bread flour and some all-purpose flour were added to the paste. Fresh yeast was called for in the recipe, but it isn’t easy to find here so I used active dried yeast instead. Two teaspoons of dried yeast was substituted for the quarter cup of fresh yeast. The yeast was mixed with buttermilk and added to the flour mixture. The dough was stirred together and then kneaded before being left to rise for an hour. It was punched down and folded and left to rise for an additional 45 minutes. Then, the rolls were formed and placed in a cast-iron skillet. I used a larger skillet than the nine-inch size suggest, so mine fit more than half the rolls. I baked the remaining rolls in a smaller baking dish. The rolls were left to rise for a couple of hours, and then were brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with fleur de sel and benne seeds before baking.
These little rolls were tender and nutty tasting, and they’re fun to pull apart from the skillet. The benne seeds taste like amped up sesame seeds. The flavor is more pronounced with a little bitterness that makes them get noticed. The flours added more subtle flavor of toasty wheat, and I look forward to baking more things with them. This book has been an inspiration to preserve, to keep traditions alive, and to maybe make a few jars of pickles before the fall vegetables disappear for the winter.
Excerpted with publisher's permission from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014.
Makes 44 rolls
I could eat my weight in these tasty little rolls. We serve them every day at Husk. They are the first things that hit the table when guests arrive, so they have to be special. Bread should make everyone feel comfortable before a meal starts, whether it’s in a restaurant or at home. I like the food at Husk to tell a story, so we make these using Blé Marquis flour, which is a specialty wheat flour from Anson Mills. I want our guests to taste how older varieties of wheat pack so much more flavor. You can substitute all-purpose flour, if you must. A sprinkling of crunchy salt and benne seeds at the end makes the rolls irresistible.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup local honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose bread flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Ble Marquis flour
1/4 cup crumbled fresh yeast
2 cups whole-milk buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons Anson Mills Antebellum Benne Seeds
Fleur de sel
1. Make a paste with the sugar, honey, and salt in a large bowl. Add both the flours and stir them in with a wooden spoon. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the buttermilk, then add this to the flour mixture all at once and stir in.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until smooth, 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Lightly spray a large bowl with a nonstick spray and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and put it in a warm place. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
4. Remove the towel and gently punch the dough down. Cover the bowl again with the kitchen towel and let the dough rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
5. Spray two round 9-inch cast-iron skillets with nonstick spray. Portion the dough into 1-ounce rolls: divide the dough in half and then in half again, and divide each portion into 11 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and carefully place 22 rolls in each pan; they should fit snugly. Cover the pans lightly with kitchen towels, put them in a warm place, and let the rolls rise until they have doubled in size, about 2 hours.
6. About 20 minutes before the rolls have finished rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
7. Whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the wash. Sprinkle the rolls with the benne seeds and lightly with fleur de sel. Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through. Test the rolls using a thermometer: the internal temperature should read 195°F. Cool the rolls in the pans on a rack.
8. The rolls are best served as soon as they have cooled, but they can be kept covered in the pans for up to 1 day and reheated in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes.
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