This crusty French bread rolls recipe uses a no-fail yeast roll called Devilish Butlers, that are perfect for beginners and experts alike!
Crusty French Bread Rolls
Crusty-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside, Devilish Butlers are a fabulous little yeast roll, the original for which is none other than good old French baguette.
They get their name from the conspicuous ‘horns’ on the top of each roll, the browning of which being an indicator that they are baked through and through.
As long as you own a baking sheet or two, a large bowl for mixing, a roll of plastic wrap, and a warm place to allow them to rise, Devilish Butlers are a ‘perfect bit of tasty’ for bread-making beginners and experts alike!
There is nothing quite like the achievement and reward of baking homemade bread. Line a pretty basket with a new, clean kitchen towel and load the nest for a centerpiece-worthy home baked bread statement.
What You’ll Need to Bake French Bread Rolls
- warm water
- active dry yeast
- granulated sugar
- Kosher salt
- olive oil
- bread flour
- cornmeal or semolina flour
- flakey sea salt
What Is a French Bread Roll?
So, you’ve heard of baguette, the famous loooong loaf bread everybody seems to knapsack around France with, yes? Well, a French bread roll is a circular version of the French crispy crust classic.
The method for these tiny delights is not a new one. The dough assembled for this French bread rolls recipe is straightforward and very forgiving.
The proverbial ‘mix all the ingredients together until the dough forms a sticky ball’ is basically all there is to it. Well, that and we give it ‘horns’ for it to live up to its name, a Devilish Butler.
What Makes These French Bread Rolls Soft and Fluffy?
And we basically arrive at science yet again! And the answer is yeast.
Yeast releases gases as it eats the sugars in the flour. The resulting gases get trapped inside the dough. This is what causes bread to be airy and fluffy.
The act of kneading the dough creates a sort of ‘net’ that helps to trap those gases. All of this is necessary for the proper assembly of a batch of these crusty-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside yeast rolls.
How Long Do French Bread Rolls Take to Bake?
This French bread rolls recipe allows for two rises on the dough. The first rise allows the dough to double in size which takes just around 1 hour.
The second dough rise is performed once the dough has been portioned and rolled into round balls. The second rise takes right around 30 minutes.
Including assembling the dough, I am able to get a batch of 16 rolls completed in just over 2 hours. Much of that time is spent doing other around-the-house chores in between.
How to Make French Bread Rolls?
Step 1: Proofing Yeast
Begin by assembling the dough hook component onto your stand mixer. You will not need a bread machine for this method, but I do find it absolutely easier to work this moderately heavy dough in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Into the bowl of the mixer go a full tablespoon of active dry yeast (instant yeast) and a rounded tablespoon of granulated sugar. Heat 2 cups of water in a microwave safe container for about a minute. I use a glass measuring cup for this task.
Use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of the water. VERY IMPORTANT: the water must be between 105°F and 115°F, NOT HIGHER and NOT LOWER.
Cold water will not proof yeast, so do be sure to warm it and take a temperature read. Allow the water to cool or continue to heat in tiny increments based on the thermometer reading.
When the water is correctly tempered, slowly pour it into the bowl along with the yeast and sugar. Stir on low speed to combine it for about a minute, then allow to rest and ‘bloom’ or proof for a full 5 minutes.
As yeast proofs, it’s as if liquid fireworks are igniting silently in the bowl. If you watch the process, it’s really quite amazing and FRAGRANT. You’ll know things are happening because you’ll smell it before you see it.
Step 2: Assembling a Dough
After the full 5 minutes has been waited out, add a bit of olive oil and some Kosher salt to the yeast mixture. Also, add in 5 cups of the flour, mixing on low speed for 2 full minutes. As you mix, the dough will begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
From here, it’s all by eyeball! Adding 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour at a time and with a slightly increased speed to medium-low, allow a dough ball to form in the bowl.
The dough ball will be tacky but not sticky. You do not want a sticky dough but be sure not to add too much flour at the same time.
Do not overwork the dough – once you’ve got some semblance of what looks like a ball, stop the machine. It’s that easy.
Step 3: Resting and Rising
Grab a large-ish mixing bowl and pour about a teaspoon of olive oil into it. Use your fingers to spread and coat the oil all over the inside of the bowl, and up the sides all the way around.
Remove the newly formed dough ball to the oiled bowl and cover it loosely with plastic wrap (or a damp cloth or parchment paper) to let rise 1 hour. I turn the oven light on in my oven and adjust the rack to the middle position.
Here is where I allow my dough to rise until doubled in size, as the heat from the oven light is enough to provide the perfect environment for the yeast to do their job. Rise times will inevitably vary, so use your best judgement and watch for it to at least double versus gauging by the hands on the clock alone.
Step 4: Portioning the Dough for Individual French Bread Rolls
Remove the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly. I always try to make 10 to 12 passes which is enough to get the gluten moving but a couple of times is certainly enough.
PRO TIP: If you are not ready to make the French bread rolls immediately, you may punch the dough down and refrigerate it, tightly covered, for up to 3 days. I do recommend bringing the dough to room temperature before dividing it into rolls and proceeding with the recipe.
Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper and divide the dough first in half, then again into fourths. From there, form as many pieces (French rolls) as you desire into smooth round balls.
I take a simple step and go so far as to weigh out 4 pieces from each quarter, arriving at as equal and even a measure for each piece of dough as possible, then roll.
I am able to achieve 16 larger-than-dinner-sized round rolls from each batch of dough. Any leftover rolls are used the very next day as sandwich rolls at lunch.
Place the balls seam-side down on baking sheets that have been dusted with semolina flour or cornmeal. Leave an inch between them, and again cover loosely with plastic film and let rest/rise for 30 minutes.
Watching these rise a second time just moments before baking may well be a favorite thing. It’s as if I can already taste these delicious rolls, the anticipation building, and softened sweet cream butter at the ready!
Step 5: Baking the Rolls
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grab some flakey sea salt and begin to gently break it up with your fingers. You’ll want to go lightly with it if you’re using it, otherwise potentially end up with something that tastes as salty as a pretzel!
To properly christen these rolls ‘Devilish Butlers,’ you must first snip the tops of the rolls with a pair of kitchen shears…twice. Aim your shears straight down and make two 3/4-inch-deep cuts in an ‘X’ pattern right on top of the dough.
Sprinkle the tiniest pinch of sea salt atop each roll. A little goes a long way.
Bake the Devilish Butlers in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until their ‘horns’ have begun to turn a lovely golden brown. Mine generally require the entire 15 minutes, but only you know your oven, so watch the horns carefully!
Can I Use All-Purpose Flour Instead of Bread Flour?
You may substitute all-purpose flour, but bread flour produces a finer grain for the yeast roll, making them fluffier. Whole wheat flour would be entirely different, and I am unable to speak to its success or fail in this method.
When first reading through the handwritten notes in this French bread rolls recipe, notes which could well have been penned over 100 years ago knowing what I know about its origin, the term “strong flour” was referenced.
Strong flour is another name for bread flour that is commonly used in the United Kingdom which is where my great-great grandmother was from. So having this knowledge proved to me that the difference between the flours is significant enough for her to have specified the bread flour.
Can I Apply an Egg Wash to The Rolls?
Absolutely. If looking for a sheen, you may apply an egg wash to the tops just before baking. I prefer egg whites whisked with a teaspoon or so of cold water, then brushed atop using a pastry brush.
If not wanting to use sea salt, leave them bare or apply a light sprinkling of poppy seeds or raw sesame seeds for an uncommon variation on this roll recipe.
Store any leftover rolls in a brown paper bag. Grab a large, CLEAN, brown paper grocery bag and toss them in. Roll up the bag to seal it. The paper absorbs any moisture that would otherwise accumulate on the surface of the rolls, yielding a perfectly perfect bread roll on day two just as it was on day one.
Chances are, you’re not going to consume 16 or more rolls in a sitting even if you do have a large family to feed. But how you tuck them away matters for how they will taste the next day.
Placing the leftovers into a plastic bag will cause them to weep. Nobody likes to eat wet bread, so avoid plastic bags altogether.
Easy French Bread Rolls Recipe
- stand mixer with dough hook attachment
- candy thermometer
- kitchen scale if you want equally-sized rolls
- baking sheets
- kitchen shears
- sharp knife or bench scraper
- 2 cups water heated to between 105°F and 115°F, NO WARMER, NO COOLER; use a candy thermometer to get an accurate reading
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 heaping tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional for oiling the bowl
- 5 1/4 to 5 1/2 cups bread flour
- handful cornmeal or semolina flour
- flakey sea salt
- Assembling the dough hook component onto your stand mixer. Add 1 full tablespoon of active dry yeast (instant yeast) and 1 rounded tablespoon of granulated sugar to the mixer.
- Heat 2 cups of water in a microwave safe container for about a minute. Use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of the water. VERY IMPORTANT: the water must be between 105°F and 115°F, NOT HIGHER and NOT LOWER or you will kill the yeast.
- When the water is correctly tempered, slowly pour it into mixer bowl and stir on low speed to combine for 1 minute. Allow the yeast mixture to proof for a full 5 minutes. Add olive oil and Kosher salt and 5 cups of the flour, mixing on low speed for 2 full minutes. As you mix, the dough will begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. Add 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour at a time with a slightly increased speed to medium-low, allowing a dough ball to form in the bowl. Do not overwork the dough – once you've got some semblance of what looks like a ball, stop the machine.
- Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a large bowl and use your fingers to grease the entire inside of the bowl and especially up all sides. Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl and cover it loosely with plastic wrap, a damp cloth, or parchment paper. Let rise 1 hour or when doubled in size. PRO TIP: I turn on my oven light and adjust a rack to the middle position and place the bowl inside to rise. The tiny amount of heat from the oven light creates the perfect environment to allow the yeast to do their job.
- Remove the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly. Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper and divide the dough first in half, then again into fourths. From there, form as many pieces (French rolls) as you desire into smooth round balls. Optional: if you desire uniform looking rolls, use a kitchen scale to weigh pieces of dough equally. PRO TIP: If you are not ready to make the French bread rolls immediately, you may punch the dough down and refrigerate it, tightly covered, for up to 3 days. I do recommend bringing the dough to room temperature before dividing it into rolls and proceeding with the recipe.
- Place the balls seam-side down on baking sheets that have been dusted with semolina flour or cornmeal. Leave an inch between them, and again cover loosely with plastic film and let rest/rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. To make 'Devilish Butlers,' snip the tops of the rolls with a pair of kitchen shears making two 3/4-inch-deep cuts in an 'X' pattern right on top of the dough. Sprinkle the tiniest pinch of sea salt atop each roll. A little sea salt goes a long way, so sprinkle conservatively.
- Bake the Devilish Butlers in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until their 'horns' have begun to turn a lovely golden brown. Mine generally require the entire 15 minutes, but only you know your oven, so watch the horns carefully!
How This Recipe Came About…
As far as bread recipes go, I am not terribly ‘skilled’ at too many of them. Any found on this website are here ONLY because they are achievable by a novice – you know…ME.
I ran across this method for Devilish Butlers in a leather sack which contained very old jewelry. It belonged to my great grandmother as far as I know.
It’s unclear as to who wrote this recipe down, the penmanship beautiful and legible, but offering no clues as to whose it was. I sat on it for well over a decade before even considering trying them.
To my absolute astonishment, either the ghosts of my predecessor bakers were with me, or this is simply an easy recipe, but BOY are these some good rolls!
Since having baked them a dozen times over already, I have found the key to getting them great is to ensure they are cut into equal pieces before being rolled into small round balls and allowed to rise.