As we headed back from vacation, we needed to pick up a quick bite to eat in the airport. We initially thought of a bagel, but there was a huge line in front of the place that sold bagels, All-American Bagels or some such, and we knew, just knew, that their bagel would pale by comparison to one scratched up by hand. We couldn’t stand the thought of waiting more than a few seconds for an overpriced, not-so-great bagel, so we moved on.
Instead, one of us picked up something called a “savory spinach pine nut roll.” It sounded good; however, the execution was lacking. Under-baked so the dough was gummy (that seems to be the case with most bread products. Are people losing their teeth and can’t eat properly-baked bread?) and it lacked in pine nuts, having just a couple for each roll. Now, we could just complain, but, instead, we’ll show you that you can whip up a better version right at home.
Now, if you’re a regular baker of bread, this will be a no-brainer for you, and you probably wouldn’t be reading this, anyway. You’d just look at the title and say, “Those sound good. I can scratch those up next time I bake.” Which is really what we did. We just used a batch of our Easy Wheat Bread recipe, added toasted pine nuts, spinach, and a bit of cheese (to help everything stick), and baked. We’ll still show you how you can do it yourself.
We choose the easy wheat bread dough because it’s easy. Sure, it takes an overnight rise in the fridge, but there’s nothing difficult. We do note that this dough is a bit stickier than you might be used to, so handle gently when shaping and rolling. Yes, pine nuts are expensive, and it seems as if they all come from China these days, but, if prepared right, they’re something special, so we do buy them occasionally. For the cheese, just use whatever you’ve got, although if we thought about it, we would have gone with Parmesan.
Procedure in detail:
Make bread dough. Follow the recipe given here all the way through the second rising, so the dough is ready to shape.
Prepare pans. We use cast-iron muffin pans that we heat in the oven during the preheat stage. It helps tremendously with the oven spring and makes for a better texture. Plus, it seems rather dangerous, handling some very hot iron. If you don’t have cast-iron pans, don’t worry; your spirals will turn out well, too. Just line a couple of baking sheets with parchment, but don’t preheat the pans.
Toast pine nuts. Place the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring continuously, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully and don’t wander away as pine nuts — all nuts, really — can burn in a flash, and burned pine nuts are not correctly prepared. Once toasted, transfer to a small dish or plate and spread them out so they cool rapidly.
Divide dough. Chop the dough into three equal pieces. Each piece should weigh around 680 grams, but a dozen grams here or there won’t matter. Try not to deflate the dough much. In fact, try not to do anything except cut the dough into three pieces. The more you work the dough now, the harder it’ll be to shape in the next step.
Roll or spread dough. Since the dough was sticky, we shaped it into a rectangle on a silicone baking mat so it would be easier to roll up later. If you don’t have one, you can shape the dough on a floured work surface. You should be able just to pull, press, and flatten your piece of dough into a rectangle about 12 by 18 inches.
Layer. Sprinkle about a quarter cup of toasted pine nuts on top of the dough, followed by a single layer of spinach leaves — too much spinach will make soggy rolls, which aren’t not that good — followed by a sprinkling of cheese to hold it all together.
Roll. Take the front edge of the long side and carefully roll up the dough into a log. It’ll be sticky, and you’ll have to crunch a few spinach leaves, and a few pine nuts will pop out, but form a tight log with the filling spiraled inside. Like a Swiss cake roll, but without the weird plastic chocolate coating.
Slice. We used a bench knife, as we didn’t want to slice into our silicone baking mats. But, however you do it, you want to slice the log into 16 pieces, each about an inch thick. We think the easiest way is to cut the log in the middle to form two logs, then cut each of those in half, and so on, until you have 16 slices. Place the slices on one of your prepared pans about an inch apart. If you can’t fit them all on the sheets, place them on a floured surface and transfer them to the pans later during a second baking.
Rise. Cover the rolls with a clean dish towel and let rise until very soft and nearly doubled in size. This can take an hour or two, depending on the ambient temperature. Yeast works faster when it’s warm, but more flavor develops if they work slowly. It’s all a tradeoff.
Preheat oven to 450°F. If you happen to have cast iron muffin pans, this might be the time to use them. Preheat them in the oven, and let everything preheat for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Place on pans. If you’re using cast iron as we did, be careful when you place the rolls in the pan. Touching a 450°F cast-iron pan is a pain-inducing event. Otherwise, slide the baking sheet into the oven.
Bake. Slide the rolls into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool. If you can’t eat all the rolls at one sitting, these freeze beautifully. Just pop them into a freezer bag when cool and place in the freezer. You can even thaw them in the microwave for a quick easy, warm bread (about 10 seconds in the microwave per roll should be perfect).
These are far better than those things we picked up at the airport, and they’re a nice change from the usual dinner rolls that we make from time to time, but, unless you make bread from scratch regularly (you should, it’s far, far better) you may find this a bit more challenging. Not the rolling and shaping part, but the whole process for making the dough. Yes, even with the Easy Wheat Bread recipe, it still takes time and some effort. Let’s say four stars, shall we?