German Brötchen (Bread Rolls)
Baked, Basics, Bread, Swabian, Vegetarian

German Bread Rolls (‘Weizenbrötchen’)


Last Updated on 6 months by Tim

Crispy on the outside, fluffy and airy on the inside. This pretty accurately describes the perfect German bread rolls. They’re easy to bake and take only very little practice to master.

Bread rolls used to be a special treat for Sunday breakfast. Many people in Germany used to go to the bakery on Sunday morning to buy fresh bread rolls and a loaf of bread that would last the entire week.

Times have changed of course. People nowadays like to enjoy fresh bread rolls on any day of the week.

The Building Blocks of German Cusine Series

This article is part of my basics series, which will introduce you to key ingredients and preparation methods. You can find all these articles in the ‘Basics’ category of this blog. Listed below are the articles that have yet been published in this series:

How to prepare the dough for bread rolls

I like to use a pre-ferment (poolish) to give my bread rolls a little more flavor. It doesn’t help much with freshness as bread rolls are so small. Eaten fresh they taste the best. If you have any leftovers, freeze them.

The poolish is 100 g of flour combined with 100 g water and 1 % fresh yeast. It is left to ferment in the fridge overnight. If you can’t get fresh yeast, then you can use 1/3rd the amount of dried yeast. However, whenever possible, I recommend working with fresh yeast.

The Poolish

The secret ingredient to get your bread rolls light and flavorful as you know them from the bakery is bread improver for rolls (“Brötchenbackmittel” in German). I’ve discussed the theory and shown you how big the effect of the improver really is in a previous post about Bakery-style German bread rolls. If you can’t source improver, then use barley malt.

Barley malt is sold in two forms: enzymatically active (diastatic) and enzymatically inactive. The enzymatically active malt has an effect on the dough volume although it is not as potent as bread improver. The inactive malt only contributes to the flavor of the rolls.

German Bread rolls with and without improver
From top to bottom: With Improver, with active malt, and with inactive malt. Notice the difference in volume and appearance.

The lard the recipe calls for can be substituted with butter or shortening if you’re a vegetarian. I use lard because it is traditional and solid fat helps to stabilize air bubbles in the dough. Check out my ebook “Baking bread the German way” if you want to know more about that.

The kneaded dough

It’s important that you knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Otherwise, the dough won’t have enough strength to hold its shape and rise properly. You need to be able to pull it apart thinly without it tearing.

Windowpane test of kneaded dough

How to rise and proof your dough

You will have to let your dough rise two times. The first time you are looking for it to double in size. After that, you can divide the dough and form it into smooth dough balls.

The smoother the dough balls, the better they will look at the end! You can achieve smooth dough balls by rotating the dough under the palm of your hand.

German Bread rolls before proofing

Let the bread rolls proof in a warm spot until they have puffed up, about 30 minutes. Always cover them with a wet towel or plastic wrap to prevent the surface from drying out.

How to bake German bread rolls

Just before baking, score your bread rolls deeply with a serrated bread knife by cutting across a diagonal line. Spray the surface with water before putting them into the oven.

Bread rolls just before baking

The bread rolls are baked at 250 °C (480 °F). You will need a lot of steam to get them to expand properly. Therefore, for the first 10 minutes of baking, open the oven door after 2 and 4 minutes and spray the surface of the bread rolls with water. This will make them super fluffy and give you a good crust in the end.

The last 15 minutes of baking are for crisping the bread rolls and to get some color on the crust. The temperature is therefore lowered to 210 °C (410 °F). Just pull the bread rolls out of the oven when their crust color looks appetizing to you.

Once they are out of the oven, lightly spray them with water. This will give them a nice sheen. Let them cool down for at least 20 minutes before cutting them open. Bread rolls are perfect when they’re still a little warm on the inside.

German bread rolls after baking.
German bread rolls from left to right: With inactive malt, with active malt, and with bread improver.
Crumb of bread rolls after baking
The bread roll with bread improver (on the right) has the by far fluffiest crumb, biggest volume, and crispiest crust.

I like to eat these with a little jam on them. But you can also eat them savory with some cold cuts of meat or cheese. Once they go stale, they’re perfect for German bread dumplings.


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