Conversation Rolls (With wild acorn and curly dock flour)
There is something so exciting to me about finding surprises in my food. I love reading about various traditions all over the world where things are tucked away in special or not-so-special meals, from the lucky almond in Norwegian Yule rice pudding to the sometimes-hilarious fortunes inside fortune cookies at take-out Chinese restaurants. Why not create your own fun holiday tradition around this idea? I present to you: wholesome gluten free dinner rolls containing a surprise to enjoy. These aren’t just harboring a little trinket, though, they offer the gift of conversation. Inside each roll is a question designed to promote an interesting discussion. Get to know your family members better! And better yet, once Uncle George goes off on yet another political ramble at the Thanksgiving table, hand him a roll and change the topic of conversation to something everyone can enjoy. Ah, now isn’t *that* magical?
These rolls are designed to be gluten free, but are easily adapted to using normal flour as well. I’m including several recipes below with different qualities - feel free to pick your favorite or just tuck the conversation starters into your favorite roll recipe. They are made with two of my new favorite wild ingredients: acorn flour and curly dock flour. Here’s a little info on both:
Acorn flour is like nothing else. It’s nutty, almost maple-like, and has a delicious caramel maple scent. It lends a subtle sweetness to baked goods and is fantastic in desserts and puddings (a lot of the nut is starch, so it can be used to thicken puddings in the same way cornstarch is used as long as they are cold-leached.) The downside to acorn flour is that it takes a LOT of processing. Fresh acorns contain very high levels of tannins, which are toxic to humans in that amount. (And they taste terrible - bitter and very drying in your mouth!) Once they are leached out, however, the acorns are absolutely delicious and nutritious. Here is a very quick overview of how I do it: I gather the acorns, shell them, put the freshly-shelled acorns through a meat grinder, dehydrate that meal, put that through a flour grinder with grinding stones, then leach the fine flour in cold water for a day in a shallow muslin strainer before dehydrating it and grinding it briefly one more time to break up the chunks. Whew, that was a mouthful. If you want to learn more about this process, I recommend John Kallas’s book “Edible Wild Plants.” John was who showed me this process and his book is a wealth of knowledge! If you don’t want to go through all of this bother (and I won’t hold it against you), you can often find acorn starch in Asian markets.
Curly dock flour is another new favorite of mine. Curly dock grows all over the Pacific Northwest and is easily spotted in the fall by its rust-colored stalks of flat seeds sticking out above the grasslands. The flour is fairly easy to make as well. I simply pluck the seeds from the stems, make sure they are thoroughly dry, then roast them in a 350F oven for 8 minutes or until they are slightly darker and fragrant. Then I let them cool and grind them, chaff and all, in my herb grinder to make a fine flour, then run them through my flour grinder to make it extra fine. This is much less sweet than the acorn flour and instead has a slightly bitter earthiness that pairs well with stronger flavors like chocolate or rosemary. The roasting really brings out the rich flavor of this plant (thank you Gather for the suggestion and inspiration!) If you’re not able to forage your own flour, you can easily substitute buckwheat or sorghum flour in the recipes below.
Don’t forget to prepare your pieces of paper with questions on them. This task is easily done while the dough is rising. You can come up with your own ideas or find suggestions online - just search for “conversation starter questions.” You can write them by hand on colored paper or print them and cut out the pieces. Roll them up tightly before wrapping them in the dough.
Here’s the basic flour mix recipe. I adapted this and the other recipes from the book “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day” (which is one of my favorite cookbooks and I highly recommend to anyone getting into gluten-free baking!)
Wild Gluten Free Mix:
6 parts white rice flour
1 1/2 parts tapioca starch
1 1/2 parts potato starch
3 parts wild flour (either acorn or curly dock, or substitute another flour if you’d like. I made a batch of both.)
1/4 part xantham gum (this is required - it helps the dough rise properly and your recipe won’t work without it.)
Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
*If you aren’t making this recipe gluten-free, just use 3 parts flour to 1 part your choice of wild flour.
German-style Brotchen Rolls:
These delicious rolls are baked at a higher temperature than most dinner rolls, giving them a delightful crunchy crust.
6 1/2 cups flour mixture of choice
1 Tbs. yeast
1 Tbs. salt
3 Tbs. sugar
4 egg whites
- Combine the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl.
- Put the egg whites into a measuring cup and add warm (not hot) water until you reach the level of 3 3/4 cups (if you live in a dry climate, you may need more like 4 cups)
- Add the water and mix thoroughly until you reach a smooth consistency. If you’re using normal flour, be careful not to overmix - mix only until combined. Note: different kinds of flour absorb water differently. You want your dough to be pretty soft, more like cookie dough than bread dough. I needed to add an extra 1/2-3/4 cup of water for the curly dock flour mixture.
- Let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours. (You may need longer if your room is on the cool side.)
- If you’re not using it immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Preheat oven to 450F with a baking stone on a middle shelf and a broiler tray or cookie sheet on the shelf below it.
- Pull off pieces of dough about the size of small apples and quickly shape them into balls around a rolled-up conversation paper, then squeeze to form oval shapes. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat for 50 minutes.
- Brush the tops of the rolls with an egg white wash (mix 1 egg white with 1 tsp. water) and cut a single lengthwise slash into the top of each roll.
- Place the baking sheet into the oven and pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door to trap in the steam (that’s what makes the rolls so crusty.) Bake for about 25 minutes and allow to cool before serving.
Soft Challah Rolls:
These rolls are deliciously soft and buttery, thanks to the addition of melted butter, honey, and eggs. This recipe works particularly well with the acorn flour - the already-sweet dough really lets the flavor shine. See below for a decorative topping to make them even fancier!
6 cups flour mixture
1 Tbs. yeast
1 Tbs. salt
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/3 c. honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
- Whisk together the flour, yeast, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Add the water (warm but not hot), honey, eggs, and melted butter and mix well until smooth.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350F with a baking stone near the middle.
- Pull off lumps of dough about the size of small apples and quickly shape into balls around a rolled-up conversation paper. Allow to rest on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat for 50 minutes.
- Cut small slashes into the top of each roll with a serrated knife, then brush the tops with melted butter.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes and let cool before serving.
Dutch Crunch Topping:
This technique looks complicated but it’s actually super easy, and it results in slightly-flatter beautiful rolls with a speckled topping pattern. It has a slightly sweet flavor and satisfying crunch. This works well with the challah rolls above or your favorite recipe.
2 tsp. yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups rice flour (note: this recipe only works with rice flour. It will not work with normal wheat flour because of the gluten.)
- Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and beat with a whisk. You’ll have to beat hard to combine into a smooth consistency similar to royal icing - not too runny. You can add more rice flour or water as needed. Let stand 15 minutes.
- Gently smear it onto the top of the rolls right after you shape them (before you let them rest for 50 minutes.) You can just use your fingers to apply it. You’ll need a slightly thick coating for it to crack properly.
- Let the rolls stand uncovered for 50 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F
- Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, or until the tops are slightly browned. Let cool completely before eating.
Serve your delicious homemade rolls with some flavored butter (sauteed mushrooms or chopped herbs work great for this) and watch as tensions relax and vulnerabilities open up and you see your loved ones in a whole new way. Oh, and be sure to warn them there are treats inside their rolls and to be careful as they dig in.
As always, if you like this post please consider supporting me on Patreon! And don't forget to subscribe via email if you'd like (below)