the narrowboat baker

Baking on a narrowboat named "One Thing After Another"

Crusty Artisan Rolls

I love these bread rolls. It’s mostly because I love crusty bread! There’s nothing better than a crusty, yet chewy crust which gives way to a soft, fluffy interior. 

Call me boring, but I find there’s nothing better than one of these rolls with slices of cheese and onion, or even warm egg mayonaisse. They’re not the most fanciest sandwiches I admit, but sometimes, the simple classics done well really are the best. 

These are very simple to make and the ingredients are very similar to my Basic White Boule , the added bonus being they cook in less than half the time. Even though I make a lot of bread in my stand mixer, I make these by hand using a ‘stretch and fold’ technique rather than a traditional knead. All that involves is simply taking the dough and whilst keeping hold of it, slapping it down and then folding it over itself, It incorporates air a lot better into the dough this way, meaning you have a more ‘open hole’ texture in the final product.

It is messy to make the rolls this way, I won’t lie to you (!) and if you prefer, you can get a similar result using a mixer but by beating with a flat beater rather than the dough hook for about 6-8 minutes , just until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl whilst beating. Personally, I feel its always better made by hand.

I also only use plain flour in these rolls rather than bread flour. The reason being is that it recreates a flour that the French use in bread making – “T55″ as it is known over there. It’s basically a softer bread flour with less gluten content than ordinary bread flour  – like our ordinary plain flour in the UK and makes a much more softer dough inside. 

It’s very hard, if not impossible to find in the UK , although you can get it delivered to your home online. A good alternative is to just use a good quality plain flour as that recreates the “T55″ flour that French bakers use. 

When you make these and cut one open…. savour the smell and appreciate the appearance of the texture – you’ll realise that these little golden cobbles will be a firm favourite for years to come with their nutty, chewy centre and bronzed crisp crust.



  • 500g plain flour
  • 350ml warm water
  • 2 x 7g packet of yeast
  • 2tsp salt
  • 2tbsp olive oil


1. Take all your ingredients and place them into a large bowl – put either the salt or yeast in first followed by the flour and then the rest of the ingredients – just keep the salt and yeast away from each other to begin with. Mix until you have something that vaguely resembles a dough.

2. At this stage, it’ll be a bit like really, really stiff porridge – in appearance and texture and the dough will be very sticky. As long as you’ve mixed the ingredients until they’re just together, as in the picture above, tip out onto a board. This is where the fun starts….

3. As you can see, the dough is basically in thick lumps with zero elasticity to it at all! To begin with, simply think of the dough as like a business letter – imagine you want to fold the letter into thirds so you can put it into an envelope. Take a section from the left side of the dough and stretch it out like in the picture above, stretch as much as you can and fold over the top. Do the same with the right side.  Then, fold the dough as if you were closing a book – just in half. Repeat this a few times and you’ll see it come together a little bit more.

After about a minute or two of doing that , you’ll notice the dough changing:

4. The bread will start getting a little more elastic like and look less lumpy and a little more smooth. It will be very wet and it will stay that spray and it’ll stick to your surfaces and your hands. At this stage, if you’re like me, you’ll be freaking out about the mess on your hands and the state your kitchen is going to be in when you’ve finished – just let it go, get into it and enjoy it – everything cleans up!

5. As the dough gets more elastic, you’ll be able to manipulate it more – now you can take the dough up off your board, and throw it down whilst still keeping hold of one end – its a bit like playing with a toy yo-yo . Keeping hold of one end, throw it down towards your board so it stretches out like in the picture above. Fold the dough over itself, scoop it back up and do it again and keep repeating. 

This is when bread making by hand is amazing – you will feel that dough changing in your hands, minute by minute. It almost feels like you’re creating magic. I believe you are….. I really do! Bread making generally is a fantastic thing and kneading the dough in this way is a really great way to get a ‘feel’ for doughs



 6. When the dough starts becoming really resistant and becomes harder to throw down and fold – it’s done! It should be really elasticky now and really smooth looking. It will still be very sticky on the hands – its quite a wet dough. Simply place into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for one hour in a room between 18-23c ideally. It should at least double in volume.

7.  Once doubled, knock the dough back and start shaping. I find its good to rub your hands with some oil before you start – it means you can shape better without it sticking too much. I weigh each piece of dough I’m going to make into a bread roll – it gives a more uniform appearance and makes sure all your rolls are the same size once they’ve baked. For a good sized bap/roll (good for sandwiches at lunch time for example), I weigh out a 100g piece of dough. If you want something a bit smaller, say, for little dinner rolls before a starter at a dinner party, weigh something like 40-60g.

8. Shape the rolls into little ball shapes – you can roll between the palms of your hand, and then to finish off, simply fold the ball underneath itself,  stretching the dough as you do so to give a nice,  ‘perfect’ round shape. See Basic White Boule for detailed pictures of how to shape into the ball shape.

9. Leave the rolls to prove for 25-30 minutes. Preheat your oven to Gas 9/240c whilst waiting for the rolls to prove.


 10. Once proving is done, brush the top of each roll with a beaten egg. Place into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to Gas 7/220C. 

11. Bake for 20 minutes, until the rolls are a rich golden brown colour and they feel light and sound hollow when tapped underneath. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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One comment on “Crusty Artisan Rolls

  1. foxglovenarrowboat
    December 1, 2013

    These look yummy also. Never made bread in my life before. Definitely going to try this week. Not sure I will be able to take photos during like you, I can imagine I am going to get it everywhere! Need an upright vacuum to help clear up afterwards! Lol. What do you think? Xxx

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This entry was posted on November 22, 2013 by in Uncategorized.

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