I am a planner.  I plan my days, plan my outfits, plan our social calendar, plan, plan, plan.  It makes me feel more in control and helps me keep my fairly hectic life more manageable.  Planning our weekly menu is no exception.  In fact, this is one of the most important factors in keeping everything running smoothly.  If I know what I am planning on making for dinner each night, I know if any ingredients need to be thawed, how much time (and effort) dinner will require, and it prevents me from resorting to take out just because I can’t make a decision after a long day at work.  However, one thing that has repeatedly escaped my planning ability is these rolls.  I have had them on my menu several times since last summer.  The problem is, they require a pate fermentée which is prepared the night before you actually make the rolls.  For some reason, I would never remember that fact until it was far too late.  This time I decided to make sure that they finally got made by clearly marking both the starter and the actual dough on my baking schedule.  Success!  

These came out wonderfully.  We ate them with spicy shredded pork, but I think they would also be fantastic with a burger, a grilled chicken sandwich, or just about anything you would want to eat on a bun!  They are soft, but definitely sturdy enough to hold up to a heavy duty sandwich :)  I topped a few with poppy seeds, a few with sesame seeds and left some plain.  We enjoyed them all!

Kaiser Rolls
For the pate fermentée:
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. bread flour
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
6 to 7 tbsp. water 

For the dough:
1 batch pate fermentée
1 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp. plus a pinch salt
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. molasses
2 tbsp. honey or 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
10 tbsp. to 3/4 cup water
milk, for brushing
poppy or sesame seeds, for topping (optional) 

To make the pate fermentée, stir together the flours, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add 6 tablespoons of the water, and mix on low speed for 1 minute.  Adjust the flour or water according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky or too stiff.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for 6 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.  

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling once to coat with the oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1 1/2 times its original size.  Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, return it to the bowl and cover again with the plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.  (This can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in an airtight bag for up to 3 months.)

Take the pate fermentée out of the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough.  Cut into 10 pieces, cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature to take off the chill.

To make the dough, combine the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the pate fermentée, egg, molasses, honey or sugar, vegetable oil, and 10 tablespoons water.  Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball.  If there is still some loose flour, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed about 7 minutes, adding flour if needed to make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky.  Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.  If the dough doubles in size before the 2 hour mark, remove it from the bowl, knead lightly to degas, and return to the bowl to continue fermenting until doubled from original size or until the 2 hours have elapsed.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 to 9 equal pieces, depending on the size of roll you would like.  Form the dough pieces into balls.  Mist lightly with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with baking parchment, lightly mist with spray oil and dust with cornmeal or semolina flour.

To shape the individual rolls, roll a ball of dough into a 12-inch strand.  Tie a simple knot in the middle of the strand.  Loop the loose ends around and into the center of the knot (one over, one under).   Place the roll onto the parchment.  Repeat with remaining dough balls.  Lightly mist shaped rolls with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. 

Proof the rolls for 45 minutes at room temperature, then flip them over so the opposite side is facing up.  Recover with plastic wrap, and continue to proof for 30-45 minutes at room temperature, until the rolls are double their original size.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F.  Uncover the rolls and prepare them for baking.  If you want to top the rolls, brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with desired topping.  If not topping the rolls, just brush with milk.

Place the pan in the oven, spray the oven walls with water and close the oven door.  After 10 minutes rotate the pan for even baking and lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.  Continue baking until the rolls are a medium golden brown and register approximately 200 degrees F in the center (about 15-20 minutes for larger rolls, less for smaller rolls).

Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer to a wire cooling rack.  Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

Source: adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, originally from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart