Kaiser rolls, the deli standard in the New York area for anything that’s not served on a sub, are oversized, soft white pleated sandwich rolls. Destined for overstuffed deli sandwiches or your morning egg sandwich with a bodega coffee on the way to the train, they’re a project bake but one that is achievable and unbelievably good homemade.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.Yum
Kaiser rolls, like most ubiquitous regional quirks, have a distinct form that you never think about. They have a characteristic round, pleated shape. They must be topped with poppy seeds, though plain is acceptable for the picky. They must be crackly when bitten into. They must be airy. To achieve that, it turns out, you have to give the otherwise unremarkable dough a long rise time, two hours plus two 15-minute rests during shaping. You also have to bake them with steam. A bit of fuss, but you’ll get the most amazing, authentic, throwback kaisers in your home kitchen.
Dough for kaiser rolls
It’s not the dough, but rather the method and the shaping, that give kaisers their signature qualities. For the dough, you can essentially use any lightly enriched sandwich bread type of dough (in old New York Jewish bakery lingo, light Vienna dough, the recipe for which is included below). Optional specialty ingredients are bread flour (I recommend using it if you can) and barley malt powder or syrup, which is not too hard to find. Traditionally rye flour is also used for dusting the rolls. You can skip all or some of these and still get a pretty good result, although I’ve gotten the best results using all three.
Shaping kaiser rolls
The old-school bakery method of shaping kaiser rolls is to pleat them, folding a dough round over a finger. Here’s how to do it the classic way:
- Flatten a ball of dough into a flat round, using your hands.
- Place your left thumb in the center of the round.
- Fold the dough from the “9 o’clock” position over your thumb. Leave your thumb in place.
- The second pleat is formed by folding the “11 o’clock” position to the center, again over your thumb.
- The third pleat is formed by folding the “2 o’clock” position to the center.
- The fourth pleat is formed by folding the “5 o’clock” position to the center.
- At this point, slip out your thumb and form the fifth and final pleat by folding up the remaining point of dough and tucking it into the hole where your thumb was.
There are two tactics for getting the rolls to remain pleated while they proof. The first is dusting them with rye flour. The rye flour is not adherent like wheat flour and keeps the pleats more separated. The second trick is proofing kaiser rolls upside down. To do this, moisten a kitchen towel and lay it near your work surface. Sprinkle it with poppy seeds (the traditional kaiser topping). As you finish shaping each roll, place it folds-down on the damp towel. When all the rolls are shaped,leave to nearly, but not quite, double in size, about 30 to 40 minutes. That’s when you’ll turn them right side up and let them get to double-size before baking.
Baking the rolls
Kaisers are baked at relatively high heat, 425°F / 235°C, ideally using a baking stone. I can fit four rolls on my pizza peel, so I bake four at a time. You can also use a preheated sheet pan and place the rolls carefully on the pan. It’s recommended to bake kaisers with steam. You can accomplish this by heating up a metal baking pan (so it won’t shatter) in the oven along with the baking stone, then pouring boiling water into it when you insert the rolls. I use (and reuse) a disposable foil roasting pan for this purpose.
The finished kaiser should be golden brown, crinkle when pressed, and airy on the inside. Great fresh, but, despite the old bakery guys who considered them stale by lunchtime, in our experience, they’ll last a few days quite well if kept covered at room temperature.
Homemade Kaiser Rolls (parve or dairy)
- 1 Tbsp instant yeast
- 1 ½ cup warm water – 360 ml
- 4 ½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour – 625 g
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp oil – 30 g
- 2 Tbsp sugar, heaping – 30 g
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp diastatic malt power or barley malt syrup – optional
- 2 Tbsp poppy seeds – 20 g
Mixing and rising the dough:
- Begin by pouring the warm water into your mixer bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for a few minutes while you get out the rest of the ingredients.
- Add the remaining ingredients for the dough to the mixer bowl and mix until combined. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, until smooth and supple.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, mist it with oil, then return the dough to the mixing bowl. Mist the top of the dough with more oil, cover, and leave to rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
- When risen, turn out the dough and divide into six to eight equal pieces. Shape the pieces into round balls. Place them carefully onto a lined baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
Shaping the rolls, pleating method:
- Prepare a kitchen towel for proofing by moistening it until slightly damp. Lay it near your work surface and sprinkle the sesame seeds over it. Dust your work surface with rye flour. Take out one of the dough balls to work with, leaving the rest covered. Using your hands, press down on the ball to flatten it, then stretch it into a circle.
- Place your left thumb in the center of the round. Fold the dough from the "9 o'clock" position over your thumb. Do not remove your thumb.
- Form the second pleat by folding the "11 o'clock" position to the center, again over your thumb.
- Keeping your thumb in place, form the third pleat by folding the "2 o'clock" position to the center.
- With you thumb still in place, form the fourth pleat by folding the "5 o'clock" position to the center.
- Now, slip out your thumb and form the fifth and final pleat by folding up the remaining point of dough and tucking it into the hole where your thumb was.
- Place the roll After shaping the last roll, let the rolls rise, pleated side down, for 30-40 minutes, until not quite doubled in size.
- Turn the rolls right side up and allow to rise another 10-15 minutes, until approximately doubled in size.
Baking the rolls:
- Meanwhile, prepare the oven by placing a metal baking pan (for steam) on the bottom rack and a baking stone or upside-down sheet pan on the top rack. Preheat the oven to 425°F / 235°C. You'll need two cups of boiling water for the steam pan, so if you need to, put them on to boil now.
- When the rolls are proofed, add one cup of boiling water to the steam pan and close the oven door for 1 minute.
- After 1 minute, place the rolls on the baking stone. Bake for 3 minutes.
- After 3 minutes, open the oven door and add another 1 cup of boiling water to the steam pan. Close the door and bake for 12-15 minutes more, until the rolls are golden.