Kaiser Rolls

Week Sixteen: Sandwich Rolls


I don’t think you can find a deli in this country that doesn’t have a kaiser roll in it somewhere (unless they’ve just run out).  Kaiser rolls and sandwiches go together like milk and cookies.  And, thinking about it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a kaiser roll that wasn’t destined to become a sandwich, or already part of one.  Have you ever seen kaiser rolls served as dinner rolls?  Me neither; that’s what I’m saying!

Named for Kaiser Franz Joseph I, emperor of Austria from 1848 to 1916, the kaiser roll is a crisp-crusted bread with just enough butter or shortening to prevent toughness while shaping, and just enough sweetness to be noticeable.  It’s a pretty lean dough for such a good roll, as opposed to a rich dough that has eggs, milk, and/or extra butter, like many other kinds of rolls.  This lean characteristic contributes to its somewhat unique flavor (for a sandwich roll, anyway), as does the poppy seed topping, and the use of a starter.

The yeast in the starter (if you remember from this discussion) gives off lactic and acetic acid, both of which are important dough conditioners and contribute greatly to flavor improvement.  The more of these acids there are, the better your bread will be.  So if you have time to let the starter sit overnight, you should; but if you don’t, the bread can be made in less time.  Or, if you have a sourdough starter, you can probably use that instead.  Me, I let the starter ferment for about 2 hours, at which time it hadn’t fully risen, so I added a half-cup of my (miraculously still alive!) sourdough starter to the dough, just to give everything a little boost.

As for shaping these, you can form them by hand, by rolling the dough into flat discs, and folding the edge into the middle, like this guy did.  Or you can simply cut an “X” into the top with a knife, or press an “X” into the dough with your bench scraper.  (Just don’t press too hard, like I did.  Then you will have lovely flower-shaped rolls that have little in common with the shape you were going for, but are still very tasty.)  There are companies that make kaiser roll cutters, but seriously?  Who needs that?

For serving, you can’t really beat a corned beef on kaiser roll; but in Austria and Germany, they’re often seen at breakfast, served with sliced cold meat, various cheeses, and marmalade.  And now, all I can think about is serving up a dinner of prosciutto and sopressata spicy fennel salami sandwiches, with thick slices of runny brie, and a good fig jam, all capped off with that lovely poppy-seed crust on top.  Delicious!


it tasted even better than it looks



Kaiser Rolls
Adapted from Bo Friberg
Makes 20

For starter:
1 1/2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water (105º to 115º F)
8 ounces bread flour

For dough:
1 1/2 cups warm water (105º to 115º F)
1 tablespoon active-dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 cup sourdough starter (optional)
20 ounces bread flour (about 4 1/2 cups)
Poppy seeds

1.  To make the starter, dissolve the sugar in the water, in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast over and stir to combine.  Add all the bread flour, and mix with the dough hook at low speed for about 10 minutes, or until the dough has developed a smooth consistency.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until it begins to bubble and fall, about 3 hours (see note 1 below).  You can leave it in the mixer bowl if you like.

2.  To make the dough, add the honey to the warm water and stir until dissolved.  Add the yeast, and stir to combine.  Add this mixture to the starter in the mixer bowl, along with the salt, sourdough starter, and pieces of butter.  Reserve a handful or two of the bread flour, and add the remainder to the mixture.

3.  Knead at low speed for 1 or 2 minutes with the dough hook, or until combined.  Increase the speed to medium-low, adding the reserved flour as needed to make a dough that is smooth and elastic, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Scrape the dough hook down if the dough starts to climb up.


4.  Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

5.  Punch the dough down to remove all air, cover, and let rise again for 30 minutes.

6.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface (you may or may not need to flour it).  Divide the dough into two equal pieces, and form the pieces into even ropes.  Cut each rope into 10 equal pieces.

7.  Form the pieces into round rolls on an unfloured surface, trying to have only one seam or wrinkle in the skin of the dough.  Place the dough seam-side down on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, about 2 to 3 inches apart.  Spray or brush the tops gently with water, then dust with poppy seeds.

8.  If you have a kaiser roll cutter, now’s the time to use it; but if you don’t, a knife or bench scraper will do just as well.  Press the kaiser roll cutter into the tops of the rolls firmly enough to mark and flatten the dough, but not far enough to cut into the dough.  If you have a bench scraper, you can press an “X” into the top.  If using a knife, cut an “X” into the top surface.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until nearly doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

8.  Preheat the oven to 425º F.  Spray or sprinkle the rolls with water, and immediately place into the hot oven.  Bake for 10 minutes, opening the door every 2 minutes or so to spray again with water.  Reduce the temperature to 400º F, spray one last time, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown on top and baked through.  Remove to a rack to cool.  Slice horizontally and fill as desired.


1. If you have time to let the starter sit overnight, decrease the amount of yeast to 1 teaspoon, and use cool or room temperature water (instead of warm).  Mix as directed, and let it sit about 8 hours at room temperature.

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1 Response to Kaiser Rolls

  1. Nathan says:

    she’s not kidding! 9.5 noms for this sandwich. 0.5 noms taken off for there not being more.

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