Dan Lepard's bread roll masterclass

08 January 2009 by
Dan Lepard's bread roll masterclass

Basic rolls

Cost price about 3.5p per 75g roll.


Bread should have plenty of body and flavour. This takes time. Here are several options:

â- Start the half-sponge first thing in the morning finish the rolls before evening service.

â- Part-bake the rolls for midday or dinner service crisp them ahead of service (see method).


For the final rising, the rolls stand on a tray, covered with a floured cloth or tea towel, that helps them to hold their shape.

Instead of baking the rolls in a steam oven (most restaurants don't have one), you'll need a steep-sided baking tray - a gastronorm container is ideal, preferably with a lid. If you don't have a lid, make one from foil.

The basic ferment

(This is known as a half-sponge)


(Makes 20-25 x 75g rolls)

400ml warm water (32-38°C)

100ml low-fat yogurt

3/4tsp dry active yeast

400g white bread flour

100g wholemeal, rye, spelt or more white flour


Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl big enough to take three times the ingredients or more. Mix them together. (1) Cover with film or acloth. Leave for 8â€'15 hours at room temperature (about 20â€'24°C, not a hot kitchen temperature). (2)


The final dough


125ml to 225ml warm water

500g white bread flour

15-20g salt

4tbs neutral oil


Mix the basic ferment with water, using more or less depending on how firm or soft you want the dough to be. Start with less water until you're experienced with soft dough. Then add the flour and salt. (3) Mix until free of lumps - the dough will still be very tacky. (4/5) Cover the bowl and leave for 30 minutes at room temperature. (6)



Pour 1tbs oil on the dough, 1tbs on the work surface and 1tbs on your hands.

Turn the dough on to the work surface. (7) Knead it for less than a minute so it forms a shiny ball. (10) Cover and rest for 30 minutes more. (8/9)



Shaping the rolls

Prepare the trays. Lay tea towels or similar on them and rub the fabric liberally with flour. You are going to push the towels up against the rolls so they hold their shapes. (11)

There are two ways of forming the rolls:

1. Weigh a piece of dough. Flour one hand. Take the dough with the floured hand, gently cup it over the dough on your clean hand and roll it into shape. Then lay it on the tea towel with the floured side down. (12/13)


2. Weigh a piece of dough. Flour one hand. Take the dough with the floured hand, gently cup it over the dough and roll it into shape on the work surface. Lay it on the tea towel with the floured side down.

Arrange three or four rolls in a row. Push the towel against them. Roll some more and continue filling the trays. (14/15)



Preheat the oven to 240°C (or 220°C in a forced convection oven). Line the base of the gastronorm trays with silicone paper.

When the rolls have risen by about half their volume (not doubled in size!), lay them in rows on the trays, spaced 3-4cm apart and placed so the floured surface is uppermost. (16) Make one or two slashes with a razor blade in each roll. (17)


Fit the lid on the tray. (18) Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid.

To complete the cooking process, you can take the rolls from the oven and finish them later. Alternatively, lower the heat to 200°C or 180°C convection and bake until crisp and golden - about 10 to 15 minutes more. (19)


Walnut, onion and ale rolls


(Makes 30-35 rolls)

1 basic dough recipe (see above), but use only 150ml water for the final dough

600g shelled walnuts

100ml brown ale or stout

50g black treacle

110g raw onion, finely diced


Toast the walnuts for 20 minutes at 200°C (180°C convection). Purée 200g with ale and treacle then stir in the onion. Chop the remaining 400g walnuts coarsely. Combine the walnuts and the purée with the final dough and follow the method above.

Oat, three seed and honey rolls


(Makes about 30 rolls)

1 basic dough recipe (see above) without the water

100g rolled oats

100g sunflower seeds

100g pumpkin seeds

100g sesame seeds

50g honey

200ml boiling water


Toast the oats and seeds for 15 minutes at 200°C (180°C convection). Spoon into a bowl. Mix with honey and boiling water. Cool. Add the mixture to the final dough and follow the method above. Vary the seeds according to what you have or prefer.


Sometimes, time is against you and you need to make rolls fast. You can make them as an all-in-one recipe if you increase the dry active yeast content to four sachets (28g). The flavour will be less interesting, but the dough will rise fast, in a couple of hours or so.

This could be a simple solution for chefs working with flavoured breads such as the seed or nut breads above.

When preparing rolls like this, the same techniques relating to shaping and rising hold good.


Bread-making flour has tough, extensible gluten allied to high protein content, and this is activated when you mix it in water and leave the dough to rise.

The conventional British method of kneading a dough creates a compact, homogenous texture in the crumb. However, if you don't knead the dough, the texture will still be stretchy and the carbon dioxide created by fermentation will cause the loaf to rise just as well.

A cheap way of buying bread flour is directly from a supermarket, where an own-label 1.5kg bag costs about 75p. The equivalent of a 25kg sack costs about £12.50. This may well be a flour of average quality, to which improvers have been added to help it rise a top-grade bread flour may cost more than twice as much.

The protein level will usually appear on the packaging. Strong flour may be anything from 11% to 13.5%. The higher the protein content, the more the flour tends to cost and the more volume the loaf is likely to have. Bear in mind, though, that extra volume isn't always desirable.

Dan Lepard

Australian-born Dan Lepard found his way into baking through Alastair Little's back door, even though he had no formal training.

After working as a pastry chef for Little in the early 1990s, he went to California where he cheffed for David Hockney, and crossed to the East Coast for a year as a grill chef in New York.

Founding the bakeries for John Torode at Mezzo, for Fergus Henderson at St John and for Giorgio Locatelli at Locanda Locatelli over the following decade turned him into a stylish professional master of baking.

His passion, curiosity and skill have taken him to a higher level still, where he is recognised as the most knowledgeable baker of artisan bread in the country. His book Baking with Passion (Quadrille, 1999) won the Guild of Food Writers Cookery Book of the Year award in 2000. In 2004, The Handmade Loaf (Mitchell Beazley) was shortlisted for a World Food Media Award.

He works with bakeries and chefs throughout the world, helping them to make the best bread possible, and is a consultant to Bakehouse, the leading UK supplier of bake-off croissants, sweet and savoury pastries, and speciality bread.

At the Cookery School in central London's Little Portland Street (www.cookeryschool.co.uk 020 7631 4590), Lepard will be running baking courses for both professional and amateur chefs.

His website, www.danlepard.com, provides a forum for baking enthusiasts at every skill level.

Bake bread with Dan

Dan Lepard will be teaching bread making courses at the Cookery School in London throughout 2009, at a cost of £215 per person. The first class is on 17 January and covers sourdough bread making. The second, "Bread Baking for Restaurants and Food Service" on 23 February, is targeted at the professional market.

To book lessons call 020 7631 4590 or e-mail info@cookeryschool.co.uk.

Latest trends

Consumer interest in healthy eating, provenance and quality ingredients is driving demand for traditional, rustic and wholesome breads with a home-made appearance, according to UK suppliers.

Granary bloomers, rye and sourdough breads are best sellers at Greenwich-based suppliers Flour Power City. Managing director Matt Jones comments: "Chefs are requesting simple crusty breads which they can have good portion control over, such as bloomers cut into slices."

According to Lucy Pickersgill, category manager at Delifrance, many operators are saving money by cutting bloomers into uneven, rustic-looking slices. "Operators might use the main parts of a bloomer for sandwiches and then randomly cut what's remaining to serve in a bread basket at the table," she says, adding: "I've also noticed more people bringing the breads out warm to give that just-out-of-the-oven feeling."

Popular items at Delifrance include the stone baked and flour-dusted Pavé rustic squares par-baked white and brown basic petits pains fully baked mixed banqueting rolls with poppyseed, brown and white varieties plus miniature baguettes called Miniguettes.

Speciality breads, especially seeded and grain varieties, remain popular, according to suppliers, enabling caterers to add value while meeting consumer demand for healthier products.

"Seeded breads are a big growth area for us and our tomato and basil and walnut and sultana Miniguettes sell well," Pickersgill says. "Speciality breads are good for cheese platters when operators may want to bring out something more unusual."

Foreign food

Mediterranean-style breads are also in high demand at 3G Foodservice, which marketing manager Tim Shearer says reflects the sustained interest in foreign cuisine. And while Jones has noticed operators serving breads with good-quality butter, Shearer says the speciality breads lend themselves to oils and dips.

"Crusty Mediterranean breads can be served with a selection of herb-infused dipping oils or side orders of olives, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic butter," he says.

According to research by Bakehouse, consumers would love to try more speciality breads when they eat out and those operators who are willing to trial more exotic varieties will find it pays dividends. Favourites in the Bakehouse range include the Parmesan Pavé, Italian Flatbreads and Cheese and Olive breads, which can be served alongside oils and dips.

The jury is out on whether to charge for bread. La Brea Bakery says that more operators are choosing to charge for quality breads and oils as consumers are prepared to pay for speciality choices. The company suggests enticing customers who have skipped a starter to pay a small price for a selection of flavourful speciality breads instead.

But Bakehouse's marketing director Kate Raison, says: "Offering breads as a complimentary extra is a great way to create a feeling of extra value in these tricky economic times."

Photography by Lisa Barber (www.lisabarber.co.uk)

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