Here’s my take on a popular recipe for Buttermilk Cluster rolls. These rolls are crusty on the outside, soft and moist on the inside—and dotted with bits of bacon and toasted pecans.
When I toasted the pecans, I did it in the pan that I fried the bacon in, so they pick up a little bit of that smokey flavor.
These rolls would be a great addition to a fall or winter feast (I’m thinking alongside a rib roast). That said, The Angry Chef and I ate them for breakfast, toasted and slathered with cold butter, standing up at the kitchen counter.
These rolls are baked in a 9-inch springform pan and you pull them apart once they’re cool.
The original buttermilk cluster recipe
The reader reviews on Saveur.com were all over the map. There were arguments about how much flour was correct to use, whether there was enough flavor, etc. The reviews on The Fresh Loaf were consistently much better.
I think Saveur reviewer paranoidtourist put it best: “Relying on the measurements in the recipe for any bread recipe is like getting directions from one place to another using animals as landmarks; you’ll get somewhere, but probably not where you had in mind.”
That’s a longer way of saying: Baking bread is a fickle task.
It depends just as much on the temperature in your house, if your yeast is fresh, how humid it is, the moisture content of your flour, as it does on the actual recipe. (If you’re in a really dry climate, you probably have to add more liquid to your dough, etc.)
All that said, the picture was absolutely mouthwatering, so I figured I’d give them a try. I modified the recipe a little and was quite pleased with the results.
Ingredients for buttermilk rolls
I used regular ole lowfat buttermilk. A handful of people on The Fresh Loaf used buttermilk powder. I haven’t tried that, but it looks like it’s an OK option if you don’t have any of the fresh stuff. (I assume you reconstitute it according to the directions on the package.)
For the bacon, I used Black Forest bacon from Whole Foods, which is a little sweeter than regular bacon. This is my favorite bacon of all time, but it can be hard to find. By all means, use what you like.
I included pecans in this recipe because I really like them with bacon. Walnuts would be great, too.
Bake buttermilk rolls in a springform pan
Making these rolls in a springform pan helps keep the dough balls together as they rise and bake, which makes for a really pretty finished bread. It also gives the sides of the rolls a nice crust.
A springform pan is one of these things. It’s the kind of pan you traditionally use to make a cheesecake.
The bottom is removable. When you flip open this latch, the sides of the pan expand to make it easier to get your cake (or in this case, your rolls) out. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend one of these.
Buttermilk Cluster Rolls with Toasted Pecans and Bacon
1 Tbls. active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 ⁄ 2 tsp. sugar
1 3 ⁄ 4 cups buttermilk
3 tbsp. maple syrup or honey
5 cups flour
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
4-5 strips of bacon, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
Oil or butter to grease the pan
1 egg, beaten w/1 Tbls. water
Makes 12 rolls in a 9-inch springform pan
Proof the yeast
Toss the yeast and sugar in the bowl of your mixer.
Add the lukewarm water. (Be sure it’s not hot. Hot water can kill the yeast.)
Whisk the water, sugar, and yeast together. Let this sit on the counter for about 10 minutes.
Make the dough
Add the maple syrup or honey to the bowl. (I used maple syrup.)
Add the buttermilk.
Whisk the whole business together until it’s uniform. (You want to dissolve the syrup/honey.)
Toss in the flour and the salt. I used 5 cups of flour. You might need a little more or less depending on where you are (see note in the intro).
Knead the dough by hand or with the dough hook on a stand mixer for about 5 minutes.
You want the dough to come together in a smooth, not-too-sticky ball like this (depending on where you live, you might need to add a little more flour or buttermilk). Like I said, this is the fickle part of bread baking. You have to play some things by ear.
Let the dough rise for about 2 hours
Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Set it aside to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.
When the dough has just about doubled in size, like this, you’re ready to deal with the bacon and pecans.
Prep the bacon and the pecans
Dice up the bacon.
Put it on the stove in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally. You want to cook it like this until it’s crisp.
While the bacon’s in the pan, chop up the pecans.
I chopped mine up roughly, because I wanted a rustic bread. If you want to go nuts (har, har), by all means, chop them more evenly.
When the bacon is crisp, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set it aside in a bowl. (Try not to gobble down too much.)
When it’s cool enough to handle, chop the bacon up into smaller pieces. (I do this now, as opposed to when the bacon is raw, because it’s kind of a pain to cut the slippery raw stuff into really small pieces.)
Pour out most of the bacon fat from the frying pan and discard (or save it for something else).
Toss the chopped pecans into the pan. Saute the pecans in the little bit of bacon fat that’s left in the pan over medium heat. Keep an eye on them and stir frequently, because they can scorch.
When the pecans are lightly brown and very fragrant, transfer them to the bowl with the chopped bacon. Set that aside for a minute while you deal with the dough.
Knead the bacon and pecans into the dough
Punch down the dough to smoosh the air out of it.
Toss the bacon and pecans into the bowl.
Fold the dough over a few times to start to work the bacon and pecans through the dough.
Then start to knead in earnest, until the ingredients are fairly uniformly incorporated through the dough.
Form the buttermilk rolls
Round the dough up into a ball and set it on your counter (it shouldn’t really stick, but if it does, toss a little flour under it).
With a bencher (that’s one of these things, one of my favorite kitchen tools) or a big knife, whack the dough into 12 pieces, just like cutting a pizza. Don’t worry if they’re not all 100% the same size. They’ll be close enough.
Grab one of the wedges of dough. Roll it into a ball between your palms.
Spray your springform pan down lightly with a little oil. Set the dough ball in the pan. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
I like to make a circle of dough balls on the outside rim, then fill in the center for an even design. Arrange them however you like.
Let the rolls rise for about an hour
Cover the pan with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap (so when the rolls rise, they won’t stick to the plastic). Set them in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
When they’re just about there, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Mine rose to just above the edge of the pan.
Brush the tops of the rolls with beaten egg
To make the egg wash, beat an egg together with a tablespoon of water.
Gently brush the beaten egg over the tops of the rolls with a pastry brush (or your fingertips, in a pinch). This makes the top of the bread shiny after it bakes.
Don’t press too hard, or else you can deflate the little guys. Don’t make yourself nuts getting every nook and cranny on the top.
Bake the buttermilk rolls
Pop the pan into your pre-heated 400-degree oven. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until the rolls are shiny and warm brown on top.
Now, the Saveur and The Fresh Loaf recipes have you test the rolls for doneness by temperature.
I’ll admit that I don’t often do this. A nice brown crust and a good hollow sound when thumped (another sign that bread is baked through) are usually good enough for me.
If you’re so inclined, however, you’re aiming for about 190 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. (Stick the thermometer in the dead center of the loaf, not touching the edges or bottom of the pan.)
When they come out of the oven, let the rolls cool for about 15 minutes in the pan.
Then, slip off the outer ring of the springform pan and let them cool on a rack.
When you’re ready to serve, rip the rolls apart. Keeps well wrapped on the counter for about 3 days.