- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

After the holidays I still have a yen to bake, but I don’t want to spend a day in the kitchen. After all the treats I overindulged in during holiday parties and celebrations, I want something leaner, and I always bake bread in January.

I might whip up a quick focaccia, or maybe some rolls. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with filled rolls, that is, rolls that have been made from a dough that has a flavorful filling folded into it.

I like this technique for several reasons: First of all, it’s fast and easy — nothing is more frustrating than trying to knead nuts or other solid elements into an already-elastic dough.

With the method in today’s recipe, you pat out the dough into a square, distribute the filling over the bottom half, then fold the top half over to enclose it and you’re finished. Moreover, the filling is all safely inside the dough with no volunteers poking their way out of the top crust and burning.

The filling is simple: chopped fresh rosemary, chopped pitted olives, some olive oil and a little pepper. Herbes de Provence might be a fun replacement for the rosemary (use half the amount in the recipe if switching to dried herbs); chopped sun-dried tomatoes could replace the olives. Or grated Gruyere cheese, chopped scallions and a little pepper - I think you can take off on your own with this, but remember, don’t overdo the quantity of filling or the rolls will be sodden with it. The filling is an adjunct to the bread’s flavor, not the dominant note.

These make great sandwich rolls, especially if the sandwich filling contrasts nicely with the seasoning in the rolls. Roasted peppers marinated in olive oil and a little garlic paired with some crumbled goat cheese or thinly sliced mozzarella would be great. Thin slices of Gruyere and a touch of mustard also work well. You’ll have to be patient, though, and wait for the rolls to cool before filling them — just don’t eat too many standing up in the kitchen as soon as you take them out of the oven.

Rosemary olive knots

Makes 12 medium rolls

DOUGH

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water, about 110 degrees

3 tablespoons olive oil

FILLING

1/2 cup pitted Gaeta, Kalamata, or oil-cured olives cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

A cookie sheet or jellyroll pan covered with parchment or foil

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well to mix.

Whisk the yeast into the water in a small bowl and whisk in the oil. Pour the liquid into the bowl and use a large rubber spatula to stir everything together to form a sticky dough.

Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour or until it is double.

Scrape the dough to a floured work surface and lightly flour the top of the dough. Pat the dough into a 10-inch square. Fold the dough into thirds and slide both hands under it, palms up and flat, and lift it to a floured cookie sheet or small cutting board. Unfold the dough, even out the shape, and cover it with plastic wrap. Chill the dough for about an hour or until it firms up.

While the dough is chilling, combine the olives, rosemary, oil, and pepper in a small bowl and stir well to mix.

When the dough is firm, remove it from the refrigerator, leaving it on the pan or board. Evenly distribute the filling on the bottom half of the dough in a 5-by-10-inch rectangle. Fold the top half of the dough down over the filling without pulling on it or stretching it, and press well with the palms of your hands to adhere.

Use a sharp pizza wheel to cut the dough into12 equal strips, each about 3/4-inch wide and 5 inches long. Don’t attempt to move the strips of dough, but bring the prepared pan next to them. Pick up one of the strands of dough and gently stretch it to about 7 inches. Loosely knot the strip of dough, letting one end of the strip protrude slightly at the top and arranging the other end under the roll. Place the formed roll on the prepared pan, leaving about 2 inches all around. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough.

Cover the pan with a towel or oiled plastic wrap and let the rolls rise until they are double, about an hour.

About 20 minutes before the rolls are completely risen, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Bake the rolls until they are well risen, deep golden, and feel firm to the touch, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Cool the rolls on a rack.

Storage: Keep the rolls loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day they are baked. Bag and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and reheat at 350 degrees for about 5 or 6 minutes, and cool before serving.

• Nick Malgieri is author of “Perfect Cakes” and “A Baker’s Tour” (HarperCollins) and “Perfect Light Desserts” (Morrow).

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