Nostalgic Onion Rolls
One of my favorite things visiting the local Jewish bakeries as a kid was getting onion rolls. One bakery, in particular, had phenomenal ones which I desperately wanted to recreate. I think I came very close! Regardless, these rolls are downright delish. They make for a nice dinner roll, or if made bigger, a wonderful sandwich roll.
As a kid, I wondered how they made these heavenly rolls. Little did I know that, more often than not, the dough was simply the bakery’s challah dough with onions thrown in. It seems so obvious, but the taste seemed so different to me that I had to believe it was its own special dough.
In any event, that is precisely what these are. This recipe is a smaller version of my Challah recipe with onions thrown in. (For a further description on making the dough, including what the windowpane test looks like, check out my Challah post.) If you would like to increase the recipe, make a full Challah recipe and make 1½ times the amount of filling: 1½ onions, 1½ teaspoons of poppy seeds, add an additional pinch of salt to the ⅛ teaspoon, and 1½ Tablespoons of oil.
Tips for Making Onion Rolls:
Prep the Onions
Be sure to dice your onions nicely – it will make for a prettier end result. Toss all the ingredients in the frying pan (no heat on yet) to coat the onions in the oil and poppy seeds. Remove about 3 tablespoons of the onion mixture, wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside. That uncooked mixture will be used to top your rolls just before baking.
Cook the Onions Properly
I have a tendency to cook onions to the point of deep caramelization for the simple reason that I freakin’ love caramelized onions! I will tell you from experience though, do not do that here. Cook the onion on a medium-low heat for approximately 5-7 minutes. You want to cook just until the onions are translucent and just starting to caramelize. Once at that point, remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Remember, the onions will continue to cook in the oven as the rolls bake.
Fill the Rolls with Onions
The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to avoid the onion mixture from touching any area of the dough that will be used to attach to itself. When enclosing the onions in the dough, you need the dough to stick to itself. Contact with the onion mixture will make it impossible to create a seal with the dough.
Shape the Rolls
If making round rolls, you can flatten each portion of dough, place the onion mixture in the center, then fold up the edges onto itself over the center. Alternatively, and this is my preference, you can flatten each round into an oval, place the onion mixture in the top third, fold the dough over itself approximately one-third of the way down, fold the right side to the center, then the left side to the center, then the bottom flap up to the center. I found this way easier to fully enclose the onion mixture.
You can shape and fill the rolls however you want, of course. Many people like onion pockets, which can be made by rolling the dough out, filling it with the onions, and folding it over like a single letter so the onions are inside. I find that, although nostalgic, making onion pockets can be more labor intensive, but that’s just me!
I opted here to bake the rolls in a 9 inch by 13 inch pan so that they sort of touch each other once baked. You can certainly place them out on a couple of baking sheets so that they are more individual rolls that get browned on the tops as well as the sides. Or, put them into a smaller pan so that they are more like pull apart rolls.
You could also roll the dough into a rectangle, spread the onions over the rectangle, roll them up and cut them like cinnamon rolls, and bake in individual muffin tins or in a pan. (If you roll and cut like cinnamon rolls, take the tail of each sliced roll and fold it to the bottom of the roll. This will prevent onion from baking onto the pan and prevent the roll from opening as it bakes.) Many options! Long story short, when it comes to shaping and which pan to use for this recipe: you do you.
- 141 grams warm water (½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon)
- 4 grams active dry yeast or instant yeast (1½ teaspoon)
- 378 grams bread flour (2⅔ cups)
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 43 grams neutral oil such as canola, vegetable, sunflower (3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
- 68 grams honey (3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
- 30 grams sugar (2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
- 4 grams salt (¾ teaspoon)
- 1 egg combined with 1 teaspoon water (egg wash)
- 1 medium onion (peeled and diced)
- 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- A pinch of fresh black pepper
- 13 grams olive oil (1 Tablespoon)
- Dough. Pour water into mixing bowl of electric mixer. Cover with yeast and about ½ tsp. of the sugar. Stir gently to hydrate the yeast. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to get foamy. (If using instant yeast, skip this step and mix your yeast and water in with everything else in the next step.)
- Add the yolks, oil, honey, sugar, and flour. With the dough hook attachment, knead the mixture for about 4-5 minutes.
- With the mixer on low, slowly add the salt. Knead for an additional 2-3 minutes until the salt is fully absorbed and the dough passes the windowpane test.
- Place dough in ungreased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in warm area for about 3 hours.
- Onion filling. Toss all ingredients in a medium frying pan. Remove 3 tbsp. of the mixture and store on counter in plastic wrap. (The raw onion mixture will be used to sprinkle on top of the rolls.) On a medium-low heat, cook remaining onion mixture until onions are translucent and just begin to caramelize on the sides, 5-7 minutes. (The cooked onion mixture will be used for filling the rolls.)
- Line the bottom of a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
- Gently deflate the dough. Divide into 12 equal portions (approximately 60 g. each) and shape into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- One ball at a time (while keeping the others covered with plastic wrap), pat down the ball into a flat oval. Use about 1 tsp. of the onion mixture to fill each roll. Lay the onion mixture across the top third of the oval. Fold the top third of the oval over itself. Fold the left and right sides over itself and pinch the dough to make sure it is fully enclosed. Fold up the bottom and again pinch the edges to ensure it is fully enclosed. (Alternatively, you can flatten the dough into a circle/oval, place the onion mixture in the middle, and pull the edges into the middle, connecting them but not touching any of the onion mixture.) Use your hand to cup the ball against the countertop with your fingers and thumb closing in on the base of the ball. Rotate it clockwise to round out the ball. Repeat with remaining balls of dough, placing each ball in the prepared pan a couple of inches apart from each other and from the sides of the pan.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Apply egg wash. Sprinkle each roll with uncooked onion mixture. Bake 28-32 minutes.
- Either take your eggs out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to make the dough or place them in a bowl of warm water for approximately ten minutes. Once you separate the eggs, you can store the whites in an air-proof container in the refrigerator. They will be good for up to one week to use in recipes that call for egg whites (meringues, French macarons, angel food cake or for an egg white omelet).
- Do not grease the bowl you place the dough into for the 3 hour bulk rise. Non-stick spray or oil will make it more difficult to work with the dough. In the unlikely event that the dough sticks to your bowl when you go to remove it at the end of the 3 hours, just use a bowl scraper or a rubber spatula to get it out of the bowl.
- Do not grease your pan! And be careful when filling the rolls with the onion mixture. Any sort of oil or grease (including from the oil in the onion mixture) that touches the dough will make it difficult to close the dough on itself.
- When you place the balls into the pan, leave lots of space between them and near the edges of the pan. The dough will rise and spread. If you want rolls that bake more compact, use a smaller pan. Alternatively, you can place the rolls on baking sheets, spread apart, if you want rolls that do not touch each other.
- Rolls will last for several days wrapped in plastic wrap. They also freeze beautifully and can be defrosted at room temperature in about 15 minutes or wrap in foil, place in oven, turn oven on to 350° F. Within a few minutes of the oven getting to temperature, rolls will be warm.
- I strongly advise weighing ingredients rather than measuring them. For more information, see my post Weighing vs. Measuring.