1/4 cup very warm water (105° to 115° F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
scant 1/3 cup plus 1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm brewed coffee (90° F)
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 scant cup dried cherries
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg white, for egg wash
1 pinch salt, for egg wash
Combine the very warm water, yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in a large bowl. Stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 3 minutes.
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, the remaining scant 1/3 cup sugar, and the salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using a wooden spoon or your hand, stir the coffee, egg yolk, and butter into the yeast mixture. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until a shaggy mass forms and all of the flour is moistened.
Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 7 to 8 minutes, until it is silky-smooth and elastic. This dough should be nice and moist, so add flour sparingly as you work.
Shape the dough into a loose ball, cover it with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes to relax the gluten strands.
Flatten the dough and stretch it gently with your fingers to form a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Spread the dried cherries and chocolate chips evenly over the rectangle.
Fold the dough into an envelope and knead gently for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cherries and chips are well distributed. The dough should be soft, smooth, and springy. If it resists, let it rest for 5 minutes and then continue kneading it.
Some of the chips may pop out of the dough, but they can easily be incorporated again after the first rise, when the dough has softened. Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl, along with any loose chips.
Turn to coat the dough with oil, and cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (75° to 77°F) until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
Line two 17 x 12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently pour the dough onto the floured work surface, pressing any loose cherries and chips into the dough.
Flour your hands lightly and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, weighing about 85 grams/3 ounces each.
Shape the pieces into rolls (see page 38) and place 6 rolls on each prepared baking sheet, leaving several inches between them so they won’t grow together as they rise.
Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let them rise for 1 to 11/2 hours or until almost doubled in volume. A finger pressed lightly into the dough will leave a slight indentation.
Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt to make an egg wash. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400°F, and prepare the oven by placing a cast-iron skillet and a smaller pan (a mini loaf pan) on the floor of the oven or on the lowest possible rack in an electric oven.
Place one oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Fill a plastic water sprayer with water. Fill a teakettle with water to be boiled later, and have a metal 1-cup measure with a straight handle available near the kettle.
Five to 10 minutes before the rolls are ready to bake, turn the water on to boil, and carefully place two or three ice cubes in the small loaf pan in the bottom of the oven. This helps to create moisture in the oven prior to baking.
When the rolls are ready, lightly brush them with the egg wash, being careful not to deflate them. Place the pans in the oven.
Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the skillet and immediately shut the oven door. After 2 minutes, quickly pour another 1/2 cup of boiling water into the skillet, then shut the oven door.
After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and rotate the pans if necessary to ensure even browning.
Bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops of the rolls feel firm but not hard when you press them slightly and the bottoms are very lightly browned.
They should have a thin soft covering, not a hard, crunchy crust. It’s better to underbake them than overbake them.
Transfer the rolls to a wire rack and to cool. They can be served warm or at room temperature and are best eaten the day they are baked. They can also be frozen, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag.
Thaw them at room temperature, then pop them in a 350°F oven for 5 to 7 minutes to revive the moist crumb and chocolate flavour.