I cannot imagine my kitchen without the spirits of my grandma and mom or the voices of my favorite chefs and best friends. In one way or another, they all have inspired, informed and contributed to every recipe I have ever developed. This has never been truer than in the development of these fluffy, rich rye rolls—Mollie Katzen, an original chef at the famous Moosewood Restaurant in New York, has been my main tutor in basic bread techniques ever since I was gifted her Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook many, many years ago. There’s an entire section on the making of bread from ingredients to chemistry, to preparation and creative ideas. Priceless—my old book has been taped back together a number of times, but I will never part with it. I strongly suggest adding this cookbook to your collection!

Inspiration also comes from foraging locally. My cheese choice here is Marcoot Jersey Creamery’s Tipsy Cheddar—just perfect. But the super-local, superfood comes from my friend Sally’s garden—stinging nettles, a native plant that packs an amazing amount of nutrition into every pretty green leaf. Stinging nettles, as their name implies, must be handled with care during harvesting, but once they’ve been cooked or processed, they are your gentle good friend in the kitchen. Nettles are so versatile—used in everything from smoothies to breads to salads to desserts! So flavorful—earthy like a strong spinach. And so beneficial—check out their profile and uses at Gardener’s Path and Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment.

When Sally asked if I’d like to try some, well….you know what I said, right? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And that is how I ended up in Sally’s garden one rainy Sunday afternoon, wearing protective gloves and foraging for nettles. I walked away with a bag of beautiful leaves and two starter plants for my own garden! Hours later, I did my blanch and shock prep to make sure my leaves remained fresh and nutritious—you’ll see what I’m talking about after the recipe. Then two days later, I was in my kitchen baking these rolls. Here’s how it goes….and, in case you are not familiar with a sponge method of making bread, you’ll be doing three rises here—yes, it’s an all-day affair, but you will not be constantly in the kitchen. So other homey tasks can be accomplished on bread-baking day…like backyard foraging.

Cheddar Rye Rolls with Stinging Nettles

Prep Time: 7 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 7 hours, 20 minutes

Yield: 18-20 rolls

Serving Size: 1 roll--these are rich and filling

Cheddar Rye Rolls with Stinging Nettles


    For the Sponge
  • One and one-half cups warm water, about 110 degrees
  • Two packets yeast
  • A drop of unsulfured blackstrap molasses (signature Katzen secret to poufy rise!)
  • One cup bread flour (King Arthur is the best!)
  • One cup whole wheat flour
  • For the Mix
  • One quarter cup melted and cooled unsalted butter
  • One beaten egg
  • Two teaspoons salt
  • Two tablespoons unsulfured blackstrap molasses
  • Three-quarters cup blanched and shocked stinging nettle leaves, dried and finely chopped (See the how-to after the recipe.)
  • One cup grated white cheddar cheese
  • For the Final Dough
  • One cup stoneground rye flour
  • One cup all-purpose flour
  • Two cups whole wheat flour (Approximately—you may not need the entire two cups.)
  • One beaten egg (brushed on just before baking)


    Start with the Sponge
  1. Place the warm water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top—this is your proof—your way of telling that the yeast is fresh and alive. Drop in the tiny speck of molasses and let everything settle in for about five minutes. The mixture should start to bubble a bit and thicken.
  2. Beat in the two cups of flour (bread flour and wheat flour) until everything is fairly well incorporated. Cover with a clean towel, place somewhere warm and draft free for about an hour.
  3. Next, Begin the Mix
  4. Melt the butter and beat in the egg; then, add the molasses, grated cheese and prepared stinging nettles. Beat everything together and add this mixture to the sponge, which should have risen twice its size and be all poufy. Beat the mix well. I like a wooden spoon for this, but some folks like a sturdy rubber spatula. Your choice.
  5. On to the Final Dough
  6. Gradually begin to add the remaining flours to the mix. Use all the rye flour and all the white all-purpose flour. Add in at least one cup of the whole wheat flour and then add in small increments until you have a sturdy dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl and can be transferred to your bench, counter or board. At some point the wooden spoon or spatula will make way for just using your hands—a sign you are nearly there.
  7. Make sure your work surface is floured well. Knead the dough until it starts to spring back under the pressure of your hands. My grandma always said the dough will “talk back to you” when it’s had enough kneading. Figure anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. Try not to add lots of additional flour—just keep working until the dough comes away from the surface easily. Chin up.
  8. Place your well-kneaded dough in a large bowl that has been coated with olive oil. Turn the dough ball to coat it all over. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and tuck a clean kitchen towel around it. Place somewhere warm and cozy for about an hour to 90 minutes. It should double in size and will hold the indentation of your finger when it is ready to move on to shaping.
  9. Once your second rise is complete, gently punch down your dough and turn it back out on your floured work surface. Knead another 10 minutes or so. Form it into a sort of oblong shape and use a rolling pin to roll it out into an approximate rectangle. (See the photos at the end of the post for tips on cutting and shaping the rolls.)
  10. Use a sharp knife or the edge of your bench scraper to cut the rectangle into about nine thick strips. Cut each strip in half and roll each half into a thin log. Take each little log and wind it into a spiral—there's your roll! Place each roll on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet—at least 9 x 13. The rolls will crowd together a bit but that’s ok. You will be able to pull them apart once they are baked.
  11. Cover your rolls with the piece of plastic wrap you used in the second rise—might need a bit more. Cover with the kitchen towel and place back in that warm cozy spot for about another hour. Timing during each rise depends entirely on the heat and humidity in your kitchen. What you are looking for is a doubling in size.
  12. When your rolls are ready, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I like to place the bottom of my broiler pan on the lowest rack in the oven to heat up too. I put the kettle on and have boiling water at the ready.
  13. While the oven heats, brush the top of the rolls with the beaten egg. Heavy coating is ok; you’ll get a lovely crust and sheen. Once you have your tray of rolls in the oven, quickly and carefully—using hot pads—pull out the hot broiler pan and pour in the boiling water to create a professional steam infusion. Shut the door to the oven quickly so nothing escapes.
  14. Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes. I used the entire 20. Then, remove from the oven and slide out of the tray and onto cooling racks. You should wait at least a half-hour before eating. Waiting will be hard.


The prep time includes preparing ingredients, kneading and the three risings but not the nettle preparation.

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Steps to processing stinging nettlesNettle Know-How

It is really easy to blanch and shock your fresh nettle leaves and can be accomplished in minutes. First, still wearing protective gloves, wash your leaves in clean cold water in a colander.

You need three-quarters to one cup of finished nettles for this recipe, so you’ll need at least two packed cups of leaves to be sure you have enough. If you end up with extra prepared nettles, you can do what I did and use them in the next morning’s smoothie. Nice.

Next, put on a large pot of water and bring to a hard rapid boil. Also, fill a medium size mixing bowl with ice water.

Using tongs, lift a grouping of leaves from the colander and submerge them in the boiling water, holding them there with the tongs for about 15 seconds. Immediately remove the leaves and plunge them into the ice bath. From the ice bath, lay them out on a clean towel, spreading them out to dry. Just repeat this process until all the nettles are blanched and shocked.

Dry your leaves thoroughly and then store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. I made mine ahead by two days, and they were fine. Note that the leaves have now lost their sting, so no gloves required!

When you are ready to use them for these rolls, roll several leaves at a time into a cigar shape and begin slicing thinly at one end. You will get a nice chiffonade that works beautifully for these rolls.

Rolling Out the Rolls

steps to shaping the rollsIn case you are new to bread baking, the rolls might seem a bit intimidating, but nothing here is difficult and bread dough is so forgiving. If you mess up, start over—sorta like playing with playdough. The one caveat is keeping the dough from drying out. If you need to go slow, cover the dough that is waiting to be shaped with a towel to make sure it stays moist.

And that’s it! Spending the day working with bread dough off and on in the kitchen can create a beautiful rhythm, where everything is on its own time, respondent to its surroundings. And isn’t that a wonderful way to spend a day?


Happy baking! Looking for more ideas? How about sourdough or molasses whole wheat?

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