Cherry Chocolate Rolls

If you should find yourself, like I have, without any one particular person to impress on Valentine's Day, but rather with a lot of friends who want treats, in a more time-consuming version of the elementary school Valentine's card exchange, you can't do much better than bread. (Unless maybe you prefer cupcakes, the current height of food fashion, or brownies or cookies, but I don't. I like bread.)

On a somewhat related tangent, over the summer I read The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, and was very intrigued by his mentions of chocolate cherry bread and sauerkraut red onion sourdough. Since then, I've tried Whole Foods' chocolate cherry bread, which is quite good (but I prefer my own). I've never seen the sauerkraut sourdough anywhere, and my own earlier attempt was not successful, but I'll probably try again soon.

This is, in fact, the first original bread recipe of mine that has been worth saving. I'm fairly pleased with myself and hope this is a sign of more successes to come. I was influenced by my experience making Reinhart's cinnamon raisin walnut bread in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, since that was the style of bread I was looking for, but I played around a bit with the amounts to get something a little 'breadier' that was less sweet, because the cherries and chocolate both add a fair amount of sweetness that the raisins and walnuts just didn't have.

Making the rolls was a bit hectic because I've been working full-time, and had a translation deadline today, with a few pages left to finish up after work. Then, it was announced during the second proof that the family was going out to eat (and I wouldn't be back in time to put the rolls in the oven at their peak). I thought the recipe had too much yeast for a slower rise in the fridge, or to survive 2+ hours at room temperature, and was especially unwilling to take chances, having just lost a pizza dough under similar circumstances. I came up with the (rather brilliant) idea of letting them proof in the family room/basement, which is probably the coldest room of the house. (Either there, or my room is, definitely.) All went well until I dropped one of the trays coming back up the stairs after dinner... The fall degased and smooshed the rolls on that tray, but I mostly salvaged them. You just won't see them in my pictures.

I also decided to try adding powdered sugar in a heart shape, in the spirit of the holiday, and in an uncharacteristic attempt at being disgustingly cute. It worked better than I expected. (The heart shape, that is. I'm not sure how adorable I was.) I'm sure there are numerous (possibly better) ways to go about doing this, but I used a small knife to cut a heart shape from the lid of a spread margarine tub. I balanced it on top of the buttered rolls and tried to sprinkle sugar from straight above so it wouldn't fall down below the lid on the sides.

Cherry Chocolate Rolls
Recipe by the foppish baker
Makes about 15 rolls

4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1 package instant yeast
2 teaspoons cocoa powder

1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk (I, as always, used soy milk, because of my sister's lactose intolerance.)
2 tablespoons butter, melted (Or, y'know, margarine.)
1/2 cup lukewarm water

1 cup chocolate chunks
1 1/2 cup dried cherries, rinsed and drained (I like the slightly sour ones from Door County, WI. I had some blacker, sweeter cherries from CA that I used in the stollen, but I didn't like them as much. (This has nothing to do with Dairy State rivalries.))

2 tablespoons butter, melted
powdered sugar

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2. Form a well and add the wet ingredients, stirring until the dough forms a ball. You may need to add more water or flour to get a nice consistency.

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth/the dough passes the windowpane test. It should be tacky, but not sticky. Now knead in the dried cherries and chocolate chunks. The moisture from the rinsed cherries will make the dough sticky and gross, and the chocolate chunks will start to melt from the warmth of your hands. It's a little bit gross, but that's good incentive to hurry up and let it proof.

4. Lightly oil the bowl you used to mix the dough (unless, of course, you prefer a clean one). Turn the dough to coat, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise 1~2 hours, until dough has doubled in size.

5. Form rolls and place them on baking sheets covered with parchment. 15 seems a good number of rolls, but the size and shape don't matter, except for cooking time.

6. Spray the rolls with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 ~ 1 1/2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350* F.

7. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls for 10 minutes, then rotate the trays for even baking and cook another 8-10 minutes.

8. Once they are golden brown, remove to a cooling tray and brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, in shapes, if you want to be disgustingly cute about it.