Sheboygan Hard Rolls (aka Semmel Rolls)

First off, I'd like to announce the winner of my 1st Blog Birthday Giveaway. The lucky lady is Amanda, proprietor of The Cilantropist! The Cilantropist is one of my very favorite food blogs, so I'm extremely pleased that Amanda is the winner. Amanda, you definitely deserve the chocolate for being such an innovative and badass food blogger.

Moving on to the latest post--Sheboygan Hard Rolls! My dearest darling husband is from Sheboygan, WI (aka 'Shebby' or 'Shevegas' or many other similar permutations). Being that Sheboygan is about 45-60 minutes straight north of Milwaukee, you would think that I'd have visited it sometime in the 24 years before meeting Greg. And you would be wrong. Greg took me there for the first time 3 years ago to meet the folks. But before we met the folks, we went to the Charcoal Inn. It's what you might expect--a townie-diner feel with cheap, greasy, tasty food. Greg recommended that I get the cheeseburger with onion rings, so I did. As I plowed my way through the middle of the burger, I bit into something unexpected....something creamy. I looked at Greg and said, "Uhhh....what is this? Mayo?" He shook his head, grinning delightedly. In the middle of my burger was a lump of sweet, creamy butter.

And that is Sheboygan. They put butter on your burgers and don't tell you about it on the menu. In short: Shebby is not for the faint of heart. Literally.

Sheboygan County is famous for its bratwurst. You may not have known this, but people in Wisconsin know--the best brats come from Sheboygan. At your grocery store, you probably have Johnsonville Brats. Guess where those bad boys come from? Sheboygan has Bratwurst Days and the Johnsonville World Bratwurst Eating Championship.

But what is the vehicle used to transport these brats to my mouth?, you may ask.

The Sheboygan Hard Roll, also known as "The Semmel Roll." They are similar to Kaiser rolls, except they have a dent across their super-crispy-crunchy-rye flour-dusted top (Greg calls it "The Butt"). Hard Rolls are perfect for eating a greasy brat, complete with onions, sauerkraut and plenty of mustard. They are substantial rolls--they do not fall apart under pressure. And, in the German tradition, the rolls are shaped like hamburger buns, despite the fact that the brats are not shaped like hamburgers.

Last night, we got together with our friend Gus for a night of beer, grilling, and Hard Rolls. Gus made "Sheboygan Brats" (so labeled from the meat merchant in town), bought local mustard, and I supplied the homemade rolls. It was Shebtastic.

Sheboygan Hard Rolls (there is really only one recipe for them on all of the internet, repeated in a couple places)
-4 1/2 cups bread flour (approximate)
-1 package dry yeast
-1 Tablespoon sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
-1 teaspoon malt extract
-1 egg
-1 egg white
-1 Tablespoon shortening
-Rye flour for dusting

1. Measure 3 1/2 cups of flour into a mixing or mixer bowl and add the yeast, sugar, and salt. Stir to blend well. Pour in the warm water and malt extract. Mix for 1 minute with a wooden spoon or mixer flat beater until a smooth but heavy batter forms.

2. Add the egg, egg white, and shortening. Beat together until the mixture is smooth. If with the electric mixer, remove the flat beater and continue with a dough hook. Add flour -- 1/4 cup at a time -- until the dough is a solid but soft mass that can be lifted from the bowl, or left under the dough hook.

3. Knead the dough with a strong push-turn-fold motion for 10 minutes, adding liberal sprinkles of flour if the dough is wet. If in the mixer, the dough will clean the sides of the bowl and form a ball around the dough hook. If, however, it continues to cling to the sides, add sprinkles of flour.

4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside to double in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Uncover the bowl and punch down the dough with your fingers. Cover the bowl again and allow the dough to double in volume again, about 45 minutes.

6. Place the dough on a floured work surface, roll it into a 12-inch long cylinder. With a sharp knife cut 12 pieces from the length (at every inch on the ruler).

7. Shape the pieces under a cupped palm into smooth rounds. Cover and allow to relax for 5 minutes. (**NOTE: If you want to do like I did in the photo below, this is when you want to do it.**)

I put some chocolate in one of the rolls upon Greg's musing "I wonder why nobody ever makes a Chocolate Hard Roll. You know, like a croissant." It was a very good idea.

8. Flatten each roll with your hand to about 1/2 inch thick. Dust lightly with rye flour. With a length of wooden dowel, a round wooden spoon handle, or a pencil, press a deep vertical indentation into the top of each roll. Press firmly and deeply, almost to the bottom (omit this procedure if shaping rolls into single-brat buns). As each roll is shaped, place it face down on a greased baking sheet.

9. Cover the rolls with a length of wax or parchment paper, and leave them at room temperature to rise -- slightly less than double in size, about 40 minutes.

10. In the meantime, prepare the oven by placing a pan under the middle shelf. Twenty minutes before the bake period preheat the oven to 450 degrees, quite hot. Five minutes before the rolls are to go into the oven, pour 1 cup of hot water in the pan to form steam and provide a moist environment for the rolls. Be certain hot water is in the pan.

11. Uncover the rolls, carefully turn them right side up, brush them with water or spray lightly with an atomizer of water.

12. Place the pan on the middle shelf of the hot oven. Three minutes later lightly spray the interior of the oven -- not directly on the rolls.

13. Midway through the bake period turn the sheet around so that the rolls are exposed equally to temperature variations in the oven. They are done when crispy brown all over, in about 25 minutes.

14. Remove the rolls from the oven. If, after the rolls have cooled, they are not as crisp and crusty as you like, put them back into a hot oven for 10 minutes.

Verdict: These are not the exact rolls you would get if purchasing them from a store or bakery in Sheboygan. Those rolls are typically very light and airy with a crisp crust. The rolls I made were chewy inside with a crisp crust, but they were FAR more dense and substantial than the rolls found in Sheboygan. I'm not sure if that's due to the amount of flour I had to add to make the dough non-sticky enough to knead, my lack of a baking stone, or what. BUT, Gus, Greg and I all give them an enthusiastic two thumbs up! Gus went on at some length about how they were the best brat buns he's ever had, and if I could make them again sometime, and Greg told me about how they're not the same as the Sheboygan ones, but that he liked these even better. Hooray!


d.n.williamson said...

Being from Sheboygan myself, I LOVED this post. AND my mom waitressed at Charcoal Inn for a bazillion years. Greg knows her from there actually. He knew my mom long before he knew me. Greg's parents were some of my mom's favorite custumers.

Dimah said...

Fantastic! Those look so good.

Chic Cookies said...

Me? I'm all about those cookies down there. This post? My husband will drool when I send this to him. Everything he loves in one blog post!!

d.n.williamson said...

PS-I think my new favorite word is "Shebtastic"!

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

I like the idea of the chocolate in them. I love fresh baked bread, I think I can smell those rolls over here at my house.

FitMamaEats said...

I love dense chewy bread...all the better with a little chocolate!

Anonymous said...

What is the secret to getting the Hard Rolls light like the Sheboygan Johnson, West Side, City Bakery's do?
What would the Hard Roll Yeast Starter consist of?

prettypeasrecipes said...

Anonymous - Unfortunately, I do not know anything beyond what's in this post. :) Sorry!

Jill C. said...

I'm from Manitowoc, just north of Sheboygan on the lakeshore. Frieder's bakery's semmels were the best (they are no longer in business), but Jerry's bakery in our sister city of Two Rivers makes them. They also supply Fatso's subs with the same roll in sub shape. I will have to try this recipe. My son in Austin, TX misses semmels rolls dearly. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Manitowoc also, and this recipe is not even close to the Frieder"s buns I remember.

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