Hard rolls, those with soft, pillow-y insides and crunchy-chewy crusts are difficult to find outside the older cities of the North and East. As independent bakers become harder to find, so do the rolls.
These rolls are best made with a "00" Italian bread flour like Pivetti Rinzfornato 00. Many such flours are only sold in large bags to bakeries but a variety of internet vendors now repackage these in quantities more likely to meet the needs of home cooks. I got this flour from nybakers.com.
This recipe uses two techniques that may be new to most American home cooks and I'm a recent convert. Both of them are actually quite easy to master.
First is using a scale and metric measurements to apportion ingredients. Second is using a stretch-and-fold technique instead of kneading.
An inexpensive digital kitchen scale from a discount store is a wonderful thing to have in the kitchen both for weighing ingredients for bread and for controlling portions for your family. Look for a scale with a "tare" button that allows you to set the scale back to zero when you put an empty bowl on it.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. Stir in water with a spoon until a ragged mass forms and all lose flour is incorporated but don't worry too much about lumps -- similar to mixing biscuit dough. Cover with a damp tea towel and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
On a lightly oiled surface, do one stretch-and-fold, working in or discarding any remaining dry lumps of flour, return to bowl, cover and let sit 45 minutes.
STRETCH-AND-FOLD INSTRUCTIONS: lightly oil a flat surface about 12" x 18" in area. Flop the dough out of the bowl and onto the oiled surface. Use your hands to stretch or gently press the dough into a rectangle. Fold the rectangle of dough in thirds as you would a piece of 8 1/2" x 11" paper to put in a business envelope. Then fold in thirds again the other way. Flop the resulting roll of dough back into the bowl. With each successive stretch-and-fold, the dough with develop more gluten and be harder to stretch.
Do a second stretch-and-fold, return to bowl, cover and let sit 45 minutes.
Do a third stretch-and-fold, oil the bowl and return the dough to it, cover and let sit 45 minutes.
Divide into 12 equal pieces. (The scale can again be useful here.) Gently shape into balls and place on parchment paper lined baking sheets for eventual baking. Let rest another 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375F and make the egg wash by whisking the egg and 1 teaspoon of water together.
Paint the rolls with an egg wash and optionally, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or other garnish. Wait 2 minutes and repeat egg wash and poppy seeds. Optionally, score a cross in the top with a very sharp knife for decoration.
Bake for 35 minutes or until they are golden and the interior temperature is 200F. Flip upside down or place on a rack to cool thoroughly before eating.