Kümmelweck

kummelweckForget Buffalo wings, western New York’s real contribution to the culinaria of the Empire State is Beef-on-Weck, a sandwich of thinly-sliced roast beef on a crusty roll the top of which has been lightly dipped in the jus the meat cooked in. Not just any roll will do; it has to be a kümmelweck—literally “caraway roll.” Some who should know better (I’m talking about you, Bobby Flay) claim that you can turn a Kaiser roll into a kümmelweck by sprinkling it with caraway seeds and kosher or sea salt. But above the Niagara Escarpment people make a clear distinction between kümmelwecken and Kaiser rolls which are sold side-by-side in nearly every supermarket and bakery worthy of the name. The rest of us have to take matters into our own hands.

There are many recipes for kümmelweck online, all different and all claiming to be authentic. For no better reason than I use their flour, I adapted this recipe from one I found on the King Arthur Flour website. The biggest changes I made were to start with a pre-fermented poolish using my trusty sourdough starter and to add a bit of rye flour. If you have the time, you can eliminate the instant dry yeast and let the starter leaven the rolls. Being impatient I use a bit of commercial yeast. If you do not have a sourdough starter, simply increase the amount of water and of flour by 50 grams, increase the yeast to 2¼ teaspoons or one envelope, and skip the pre-fermentation altogether.  

A note on units of measure: It is simply not possible to achieve consistent baking results with volumetric measures. The weight of a cup of flour can vary by 10% or more depending on how it is scooped. Digital scales are so inexpensive today that every serious cook can afford one. All such scales display either Imperial or metric units making it easy to use the latter and to avoid having to try dividing by 16 in one’s head. It is not necessary to be familiar with the metric system; just set the scale and read off the numbers. The one exception I make is for small, non-critical amounts for which teaspoons are more convenient.

Ingredients

100% hydration sourdough starter

100 grams

Water

170 grams (divided use)

Bread flour

320 grams (divided use)

Rye flour

20 grams

Potato flour

25 grams

Sugar

6 grams

Salt

6 grams

Non-fat dry milk

15 grams

Unsalted butter, softened

30 grams + extra for brushing

Instant dry yeast (optional)

½ teaspoon (2½ milliliters)

Large egg

1 (approximately 50 grams)

Caraway seed

As needed

Kosher or coarse sea salt

As needed

Method

To make the poolish, combine the 100 grams of starter with 100 grams of water, 80 grams of bread flour, and the 20 grams of rye flour a bowl. I use the bowl of your heavy duty mixer. Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil and place it directly on top of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside until bubbly, a couple of hours is best. The longer you let it ferment, the more pronounced the sourdough flavor will be.

Combine the remaining ingredients, except the caraway seed and kosher salt, with the poolish and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a nice smooth dough. Place in a large, lightly oiled proofing bowl, recover with the plastic wrap and towel, and set aside to proof until doubled in size—an hour or two depending on the temperature and the activity of your starter.

Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. Divide the dough into six equal ball of about 100 grams each. Working on a floured surface, form each ball into a flat roll about three inches (75 mm) in diameter and place it on the pan. Cover with the towel and allow to proof for an hour or so until the rolls have roughly doubled in size.

Set a rack near the bottom of your oven and preheat it to 475°F (250°C). I use the convection setting in mine.  Wet a very sharp knife or a razor blade in water and cut an X into the top of each roll. Brush generously with melted butter then sprinkle with caraway seed and kosher or coarse sea salt to taste. When the oven is hot, put the sheet pan into the oven and spritz the interior with a spray bottle of water. Immediately turn the neat down to 425°F (220°C). Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

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