Hard Rolls

While my “regular” yeast bread is soft and wonderful for sandwiches, toast, or just fresh with a little butter and/or jam, it does not have that chewy crust that makes more “artisan” bread or rolls.

In an effort to try to get to that crust, I have combined a very, very old recipe with some suggestions found on line for “artisan” breads.

The old recipe is from The New Settlement Cookbook, the 1954 edition. It was first published in 1901 and this was the sixth edition. It was already “old” when I received it as a wedding or shower gift decades ago, and I mostly used it as a reference and a source for basics like vanilla pudding.

The very German (and Yiddish) basis for the recipe collection was the reason I went to this cookbook when trying to find a recipe for the kind of hard rolls that bakeries in our Midwestern, heavily German, town turned out: chewy and crusty on the outside, soft and tender within. While I never fully attained my goal, I came close. When my life became ever more hectic, I stopped almost all bread baking and didn’t go back to the hard roll quest.

Now, however, I am ready to try again. I really don’t want the hard, crusty, and mostly dry bread that many “artisan” recipes result in, and I am definitely not a fan of sour dough bread. All I want is a chewy flavorful roll, good both for sandwiches and for tearing in chunks to accompany an artichoke or similar dip. Is that so hard to do? Let’s see.

Here is the recipe I started with, almost straight from that old cookbook. Three changes here: I definitely was not going to be using lard, and I used bread flour which may well be more like the “flour” that was in the original recipe. Perhaps the biggest change came from more modern suggestions for these breads: the moving of the dough to the refrigerator for a slower rise that is supposed to enhance the flavor.

As for the brushing with egg white and water: the recipe for Semmel or Crisp Rolls suggested egg yolk instead of egg white, but there was a separate French bread recipe that used the egg white and water mix, and the newer recipes I found suggested the latter. Optionally placing hot water in the oven for steam is also a modern addition.

Hard Rolls

Course: Breads
Cuisine: American
Keyword: breads, hard rolls,, midwestern cooking


  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active or instant dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar –may need more
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 6 cups bread flour –may need more


  • Stir together the water, sugar, oil, and salt along with about a cup of flour. Making sure that the water is only warm, not hot, beat in the yeast and allow to sit about 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture becomes a little bubbly.
  • Gradually beat in the remaining flour until completely mixed.
  • Turn dough out on to a well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
  • Place in a large bowl with a tight lid (or a large plastic bag) and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
  • Remove from refrigerator and allow to double in bulk–this may take a little longer than you are accustomed to wait, since the dough will be very cold. Then shape into rolls–for best results, do not make too small. This size recipe will make 12 to 18 rolls. Place well apart on a greased baking sheet and allow to raise until about once more doubled in size.
  • Preheat oven to 400 to 425 degrees–the hotter the oven, the quicker a crust will form. If desired, you can put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven when you start heating it; this can result in an even crisper crust.
    Mix one egg white with about 1 tablespoon of water. Brush over the tops of the rolls when they are ready to go into the oven. If desired, you may sprinkle the rolls with coarse salt, sesame or poppy seeds, etc.
  • Put the rolls in the oven and immediately close the oven door. Bake the rolls for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. (If you are using hot water for steam to develop the crust, do not open the oven before 15 minutes so that any steam generated will not be lost.)

And one more thing–use this same recipe to make two loaves of bread instead of rolls. Just follow steps one through four and then shape into two loaves. Place on greased baking sheets (not in a standard loaf pan) and allow to raise until doubled. Then, after brushing with the egg white mixture, bake at 425 for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350 degrees for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Crusty loaf bread