Thursday, August 30, 2012

Roll With It

My guy could never be a vampire; he loves garlic too much. One of his favorite things in the world are those lovely knotted rolls you get at good Italian restaurants. He especially likes the rolls at one local place, which they serve drizzled with olive oil and topped off with chopped raw garlic.

Because I like making my guy happy, I've been trying for years to find the equivalent of those rolls that I could make at home with my Italian meals. I've tried jazzing up my own rolls, rolls from the bakery and frozen garlic knots (which are pretty awful no matter what you do with them) but no luck. Nothing tasted as hot, fresh or light as the rolls from his favorite restaurant.

I don't give up that easy; I'm the daughter of a chef, and while I'm never going to win a bake-off I'm a pretty decent bread maker. I felt certain I could figure out the recipe, I thought, by experimenting until I got it right.

I knew by taste that the rolls were made with yeast, so my first attempts were all variations on yeast roll recipes from various cookbooks. Some were too dense, some were too sweet, and none of them had the right texture. The dough needed to be light but chewy, almost like a good bagel, so I moved on to bagel dough recipes. That didn't work. I then tried to make them based on recipes for Italian bread, homemade pretzels and even my mother's fried dough cakes, but no luck there, either.

I was close to driving myself crazy over these rolls when I thought of something: the restaurant that made my guy's favorite garlic rolls also did a big business in take-out pizza. A lot of pizza meant a lot of dough -- and good pizza crust is made with yeast. If they wanted to save time, they'd probably use some of their pizza dough for their rolls instead of another, different recipe.

It seemed almost too stupid to be right, but I was pretty sure I was onto something, so I made a batch of my homemade pizza dough, cut it into strips, rolled it into knots, and baked them. They came out so close to the restaurant's rolls that after one bite I nearly fell on the floor. They were using pizza dough. Despite my success the rolls still weren't quite right; they didn't have that correct crispness to the crust, and the garlic in my olive oil drizzle seemed mushy.

I talked about the recipe with my daughter, who took a culinary class in school last year, and she suggested I use an egg wash on the rolls to improve the crust (and that worked.) Then I tried different ways to prepare and add the chopped garlic, all of which failed to replicate the restaurant's version. It ended up being too chunky, too soggy, too crunchy or too mushy. I was too close to give up, so by trial and error I discovered that if I waited to chop the garlic (in the food processor) a minute before the rolls were finished baking, and added it to the rolls after applying the olive oil drizzle, it worked.

Now my guy can have his favorite rolls whenever he likes, no restaurant required. I know it seems like a silly thing to spend so much time puzzling out, but you don't know how happy these rolls make my man. He practically kisses my feet every time I set a basket of them on the table.

Of course, I could have saved myself a year of trial and error baking by asking one of the people at the restaurant to tell me how they make their rolls; we're such regular customers I'm pretty sure they would have given me at least the general idea. Or I might have searched online until I found the exact right recipe for garlic knots and copied that. There's nothing wrong with either of those options; they certainly would have eliminated a lot of mistakes and failed batches of rolls.

That also would have taken all the fun out of it, and I wouldn't have learned things like egg wash is great for making crisper crust on bread (thank you, daughter), or that garlic is better chopped than crushed. Even while taste-testing different types of garlic while I was involved in this experiment, I found out that Mexican-grown variety is a little too bitter for my taste, and the elephant variety (which has huge cloves) is kind of bland.

It's also given me an infusion of assurance that I didn't have before; I really don't have my Dad's gift with food so I've always been more of a by-the-book cook. I've adapted existing recipes, but I've never invented one from scratch on my own. Now that I've done this, I think I'll be open to experimenting more often.

There's one more bonus I got out of this cooking experiment: I'll never tell my guy this, but I like my garlic knots better than the ones we get at the restaurant. This is because I know exactly what goes into them, my ingredients are all-natural and healthy, and they're made with love. How can any restaurant top that?

With writing, most everyone develops their own creative process based on what they're taught, what they read in books and what they imitate. None of these are wrong; whatever helps you to learn and improve your art is a good thing. But every now and then, it doesn't hurt to figure it out on your own. It may take longer, and you may fail several times, but you'll also learn, and eventually you will find the way to make it work. And that will be your way, not someone else's, and that will instill a sense of confidence that no teacher or book can ever give you.

12 comments:

  1. That is so great that you would spend so much time to try to make something that your family loves, and especially your hubby. I am sure that this showed him just how hard you will work to put a smile on his face :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fran K3:56 AM

    Congratulations on your patience and persistance. I have to say those garlic rolls look delicious and I'm now salivating. Not that I could actually eat garlic at 8am ...

    Now we just need the recipe please!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm with Fran ... Please share the recipe!

      Delete
  3. Oh, those rolls look delicious! Perserverance pays off, especially as they taste better than the originals!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a wonderful post! I am a mostly self-taught cook, and I took over the household cooking at a very young age (2nd grade) to help my struggling family. Since I was such a tyke, I didn't have the same rules, so I use my hands to crush canned tomatoes (messy but effective! also safer for a kid). I made up a lot of my recipes, based on my limited skills and what we had in the house, so I have always been sort of 'make it up as I go along, and it's fine so long as it tastes good at the end'.

    I recently realized the joy and freedom of my cooking was very different from the approach I take in my painting. I was struggling to overcome my painting rules, as I'm in a fun class (your fault--it's the silks class!) and want to enjoy it. This post has given me lots of great ideas! I think I'll go off and do more joyful experiments!

    ReplyDelete
  5. The rolls are making me hungry. (And I love your bubble glass plate.) Not to mention the reminder to be true to my own process.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Those rolls look so tempting! And I think trying that long to please your man is a wonderful thing.

    I rarely use a recipe. I'm more of a cook-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, or tastebuds as the case may be ;) which is what I do writing as well. Unlike my cooking which is usually good, it's no wonder why sometimes I have so much trouble with my writing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The American version of my recipe, for those who requested it:

    PBW's Garlic Knots

    1 cup very warm water
    1 packet yeast
    2 tablespoons light olive oil
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    In a larger mixing bowl add water, oil, sugar, salt and yeast; stir or mix at low speed until yeast is dissolved. Add the all-purpose flour in 1/2 cup increments and mix until you have a soft dough (if using a standing or hand mixer, I recommend using a dough hook attachment.) Once mixed let the dough sit for five minutes.

    Prepare a large cookie sheet or shallow baking pan by greasing it or spraying it with cooking oil spray and set aside. Dust your hands and a medium-sized bread board or cutting board with flour and transfer the dough to the board (the dough will be very soft and sticky, so keep some extra flour handy in a bowl nearby for your hands and the board.)

    Pat out the dough into (roughly) a rectangle shape about 3/4" thick, then cut with a sharp knife into twelve equal strips. Roll each strip around your four fingers to form a circle, and tuck the ends into the center for the "knot." Place each knot on a large cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart, and let the sheet sit in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes so the rolls can rise (I put my tray on top of the stove while I'm preheating it.)

    Bake rolls at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until the edges and tops of the rolls are a light golden brown. Remove from tray, drizzle with light olive oil, top with chopped raw garlic (I don't measure my drizzle but I estimate I use about 1/4 cup olive oil and 5 cloves of garlic for my rolls. Adjust these quantities to your taste preference.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. And the Euro version:

    PBW's Garlic Knots

    200 ml very warm water
    5gm active dry yeast
    30 ml light olive oil
    6gm sugar
    3gm salt
    312.5gm all-purpose flour

    In a larger mixing bowl add water, oil, sugar, salt and yeast; stir or mix at low speed until yeast is dissolved. Add the all-purpose flour in 75gm increments and mix until you have a soft dough (if using a standing or hand mixer, I recommend using a dough hook attachment.) Once mixed let the dough sit for five minutes.

    Prepare a large cookie sheet or shallow baking pan by greasing it or spraying it with cooking oil spray and set aside. Dust your hands and a medium-sized bread board or cutting board with flour and transfer the dough to the board (the dough will be very soft and sticky, so keep some extra flour handy in a bowl nearby for your hands and the board.)

    Pat out the dough into (roughly) a rectangle shape about 20mm thick, then cut with a sharp knife into twelve equal strips. Roll each strip around your four fingers to form a circle, and tuck the ends into the center for the "knot." Place each knot on a large cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart, and let the sheet sit in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes so the rolls can rise (I put my tray on top of the stove while I'm preheating it.)

    Bake rolls at 190 degrees C for 15 minutes or until the edges and tops of the rolls are a light golden brown. Remove from tray, drizzle with light olive oil, top with chopped raw garlic (I don't measure my drizzle but I estimate I use about 50 ml olive oil and 5 cloves of garlic for my rolls. Adjust these quantities to your taste preference.)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Fran K5:30 AM

    Darn, it won't let me post a reply - I wonder why? Anyway, that's beside the point. I wanted to thank you for the recipe particularly as you've done a Euro version. Much appreciated and I think this will be my challenge for the weekend. Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Congrats you made it. I know you will be very excited and happy, In all the things same rule applies, we should not give up until and unless we'll get through it. It increases our confidence and desire for learning.

    ReplyDelete