~ My New England Top-Split Brioche Hot Dog Rolls ~
The first time I encountered a top-split hot dog roll I was standing on the hot asphalt on the grounds of the New York World's Fair at Flushing Meadows Park in 1964. As a 9-year-old, I gave great consideration to NOT eating my hot dog that day because I didn't trust the shape of the roll. I was a very cautious child foodie. After a healthy dose of discipline from my mother, I ate my hot dog (mostly because I wanted that Belgian waffle I was promised), and, by my fourth and last visit to "The Fair" in 1965, I was an aficionado of the top-split hot dog roll. That said, it would be years before I learned it to be a New England-style roll and not a New York-style roll.
A bit about the classic New England top-split hot dog roll: Wherever one lives, most folks don't make any type of hot dog rolls at home -- we buy them. That said, these unique flat-bottomed top-loading SpongeBob-SquarePants rolls, are difficult to find outside of the New England, New York area, and, it's only in my recent Happy Valley past that I occasionally come across them here in Central Pennsylvania. Their crustless sides, when toasted on a flat-top grill in some butter, get a crispy, buttery outside -- the ideal vessel for all sorts of sandwich creations.
The top-split hot dog roll was the precursor to the all-familiar ballpark, hinge-type bun that most of us Americans put on our tables today (and that one didn't come along until the 1950's). Interestingly, hot dogs had absolutely nothing to do with the invention of the top-sliced roll either. Back in the 1940's, a Maine-based bakery, J.J. Nissen, came up with the idea at the request of Howard Johnson's.
This very-popular family-friendly Massachusetts-based motel-restaurant chain (that dotted our American landscape during the 1960's, '70's and into the '80's) wanted a stable roll -- one that would not 'roll over' on the plate. They wanted it specifically to hold their signature fried clam strips. HoJo's loved it and introduced their new bun to the USA, where it remains a novelty, except in New England where it's the #1 choice for lobster rolls, clam rolls and frankfurters.
The best invention since sliced white bread & made in the USA:
Each sturdy nonstick steel pan forms 10 rolls into U-shaped indentations that run across its rectangular bottom. Use the recipe that comes with the pan (printed on the back of the label) or use your favorite soft white bread-type recipe and shape the dough according to the instructions, which calls for covering the pan with a weighty or weighted buttered baking sheet. As the rolls bake, the dough expands against the baking sheet, and after baking, releases 10 evenly browned, flat-bottomed rolls ready for cooling and slicing.
In my opinion, the perfect bread for any type of soft sandwich roll is brioche -- an enriched dough made from butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar and flour. I make and rise my own recipe for brioche dough in the bread machine, which turns making top-split rolls (or any rolls) from a chore to a breeze -- pat the proofed dough into the pans and bake. It doesn't get any easier than this!
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes, preferably at room temperature (1/2 stick)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten
3 cups + 3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1 packet)
~ Step 1. Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine. The paddle (which will do the kneading), has been inserted. The instruction manual states to always insert the paddle this this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.
~Step 2. In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming. This is quickly and easily done in the microwave. Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk. Using a fork, stir until butter has melted. Pour this mixture into the bread pan.
~ Step 3. In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it. Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note: "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.
~ Step 4. Add the flour to bread pan. Do not mix or stir. Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer. Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.
~ Step 5. Insert bread pan into bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close the lid and plug the machine in. Press "select". Next, select the "loaf size" and choose the 1 1/2 pound option. Lastly, choose the "dough" cycle. Press "start". In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded, proofed, and, have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours -- it's now ready to go.
~Step 6. Spray the inside of the top-split hot dog roll pan with a light coating of no-stick cooking spray. When the dough cycle is done, lightly oil your fingertips with some spray too, take dough out of the bread machine's bread pan (which will not be hot), briefly knead the dough in your oiled fingertips to form it into a smooth ball, then, place it on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that also has been lightly-sprayed with no-stick and form the dough into a log-esque shape. Using your fingertips, pat and press it into a rectangular shape, roughly the same size as the the top-split hot dog roll pan. Note: I find it easier to do this initial patting and pressing on a flat surface.
~Step 7. Lift, invert and place the dough, top-side-down (this is the pretty side and after baking and inverting the rolls out of the pan, you want the pretty-side top-side), in the top-split hot dog roll pan and do a bit more patting and pressing, to get it into the sides and corners. The pan will be about 1/2 full. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about 45 minutes. The dough will have risen and the pan will be about 3/4 full. Remove and discard the plastic wrap.
~ Step 8. Invert and place the already no-stick sprayed baking pan over the top of the top-split hot dog roll pan and place it on the center rack of a preheated 360-365 degree oven. Place a cast-iron skillet (or something oven safe and heavy) on top of the baking pan to weight it down on top of the roll pan.
Remove the cast-iron skillet and the baking pan and continue to bake another 2-3 minutes until nicely golden. These baked 2 additional minutes today, for a total of 20 minutes in the oven. When tapped on the top with your knuckle, the "loaf of rolls" will sound hollow.
Remove the pan from the oven, place it on a wire rack and cool rolls, in pan, another 2-3 minutes.
Invert onto wire rack & cool completely prior to slicing.
Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; New England-style top-split hot dog roll pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap; cast-iron skillet; cooling rack
Cook's Note: Developing my own recipes for my bread machine was one of the smartest things I ever did -- if you've ever tried the recipes that come with the machine, you know they are not what they are cracked up to be. You can find my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, in Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)