I’m so excited to share this week’s recipe, because this has become something that we enjoy so much that I now make a batch once per week. I am not a salad type of person. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy a nice salad before the main course, but a salad does equal a full lunch to me. I envy the people that bring salads full of delicious toppings to work and seem to survive through the rest of the day, but that’s not me. I end up starving and crabby by 2:00 when I do this. Therefore, every day lunch is a sandwich with provolone cheese, crunched up dill pickle chips, mayo, and a rotation of either chicken, roast beef, or ham throughout the course of three weeks. While this has always been a satisfying lunch, one thing that has always been slightly disappointing is the bread. I used to take my sandwiches slapped between two slices of whole grain bread, very healthy, but not overly good to the taste buds. When the pandemic closed down Wisconsin this gave me some time to experiment. During the first week, I discovered a homemade hamburger bun that was light and fluffy. This got me to thinking, why couldn’t I transform that recipe to try and mimic my favorite bread at Subway – Italian Herb and Cheese?
Italian cuisine is one of our favorites, so I knew I would have all the seasonings I could dream of already in my spice cabinet to start this project. My worry was the cheese though. I knew from my one summer working at Subway that the main addition of cheese in the bread was just a light sprinkle of cheddar on the top before the buns went in the oven. However, I didn’t want to waste the cheddar cheese that I had stocked up to last me throughout my time at home. I always keep a heavy stock of parmesan cheese in the basement though. It has a longer shelf life, and as I stated before, we do a lot of Italian meals. I decided that would be the cheese to use for my experiments, and that I wanted to put it directly into the dough instead of sprinkling it on top.
My only concern in adding the cheese directly into the dough was that I was afraid I would be making it too dense and that my dough wouldn’t rise, but I figured I would give it a shot. This recipe does rise a lot less with the cheese in it than without it, but it still rises enough to make the buns light and fluffy.
It took a couple of tries to get the flavor exactly how I wanted it, but I eventually found what I was looking for. I truly think these are super close to the flavor of Subway’s bread, so if you are a fan of their Italian herb and cheese buns, you should definitely give these a try!
3 tbsp Milk
1 cup Water
2 tsp Active Dry Yeast
2 ½ tbsp Sugar
1 ½ tsp Salt
3 cups Bread Flour
⅓ cup All Purpose Flour
2 ½ tbsp Softened Butter
1 less than level tbsp Dried Parsley
¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 ¼ tsp Dried Onion Flakes
½ tsp Basil
½ heaping tsp Garlic Powder
1. When working with recipes that include active dry yeast, one of the first items to consider is the actual activation of the yeast. This requires at least two ingredients in addition to the yeast itself, warm water, and sugar. In this recipe there is one additional ingredient of milk, but that isn’t actually helping the yeast activation, it’s just mixed in during this time because it’s a liquid and just makes sense to mix it with the water before adding other components. First, mix the water and milk together, and then heat it up. Depending on the strength of the microwave, do this between 30-45 seconds.
Kitchen Tip 1: Water temperature is the key to yeast activation. The water needs to be warm, but it cannot be hot. I like to compare this to humans getting into a hot tub. You want to stay comfortably warm in a hot tub, but you don’t want your skin to turn bright red while you are in it. You can actually do the hot tub test with your water mixture and your finger. If you can hold your finger in it and warm it up, your water is good to go. If your finger feels like it’s going to hurt when you touch the water, then you’ve overheated it and will need to wait for it to cool down a little before continuing onward.
2. Whisk in the sugar until it is dissolved and then whisk in the yeast. The yeast needs to be whisked until it is almost entirely dissolved. It’s okay to have a couple of small floaters in the mix, but there shouldn’t be large clumps. Next, take a 6 minute break while the yeast activates.
Kitchen Tip 2: After six minutes the mixture should look frothy and a little bubbly. It won’t be frothy like a fresh root beer, but you should see a definite rise in the middle of the cup forming, and a thin layer of froth on the top. If you do not notice any bubbles or frothiness at all it means one of two things. Either the water temperature was too hot or cold, or the yeast packet was dead from the start. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes a yeast packet is dead from the moment it leaves the store, even if it says it’s not expired. If this is the case, and it just looks like gross dirty water with no froth on top, then start over. You will not regret this. Nothing is worse than continuing onward and then not having your bread rise or having it turn out dense.
3. After the yeast is activated, pour it into a standing mixer. I’m sure it is possible to make these without a standing mixer, but because of the amount of kneading that the dough has to go through, I rely heavily on this machine when making dough. Start this process with the regular mixing attachment on, you will switch to the dough hook before you start kneading later on though. Add in the egg and mix it in. Keep this on low since there are only liquids in the mixer, or you will be tossing liquids everywhere. (Yes, this has happened to me.)
4. Once the egg is mixed in, add the flours, salt, and butter. Cut the butter into pieces first though. If you were unsure about the quality of your yeast before, this should help confirm whether or not the activation went well. If all is right, there will be some foamy bubbliness forming around the edges of the flour where it has gotten wet. Mix all of these ingredients together until combined.
5. Now is the time to switch out the mixing attachment for the dough hook. Scrape the dough off of the mixer first, and then switch it out. Add in all of the Italian seasonings and the parmesan cheese at this time. The kneading process will incorporate those items. Set your mixer on two and let the dough hook knead for 7 minutes straight.
Kitchen Tip 3: While the dough is being kneaded, take the time to prep a spot in your house where you can allow your dough to rise. The ideal temperature that dough rises at is between 80-90 degrees. Am I suggesting that you turn up the temperature in your house to that extent? Absolutely not, but you do have some options here. A lot of newer ovens have a feature on them called Bread Proof. This is actually my favorite part of my oven. It heats up to between 80-90 degrees, and I have no worries about my dough rising at the ideal temperature. Other options include setting it by a warm fireplace, setting it next to a space heater (Please be safe with this, space heaters can be fire hazards!), or if it is a hot summer day, making sure it’s covered and setting it by an open window. If none of these are an option for you, you can still make the recipe, it’s just possible that the further away you get from the ideal temperature, the less the dough will rise.
6. Once the 7 minutes of kneading is done it’s time to double check the dough before moving it into a large greased mixing bowl. The dough should have a light tackiness about it. It should be slightly sticking to the sides of the bowl or hook, but if you grab it out with your hands it shouldn’t be sticking to your fingers in obnoxious gooey bits. If this is happening, set it back in the mixer, sprinkle about ⅛ cup more of bread flour onto the dough ball, and knead it in for another minute. That should remedy the problem. Drop the dough ball into the greased mixing bowl, cover it with either cling wrap or a flour sack towel, and leave it in your proofing location for 90 minutes.
7. After the 90 minutes is up the dough ball should have visibly risen. As I discussed earlier, it’s possible that the cheese and or temperature may have made the dough rise less, but the goal should be almost doubling the size of it. If it isn’t at that point yet but you can tell it is working on getting there, leave it for another half hour before handling it.
8. Once the dough is doubled or almost doubled, punch it down and separate it into equal sized balls. The amount of balls you roll will depend on what size your sandwiches will be. Cole and I continue to disagree about what size the buns should be, but overall that is an individual preference depending on how large of a sandwich you want. In these images, I’ve gone with smaller sandwiches by making 14 buns (there are more on another pan), but you can go down lower to 10 if you want pretty large hamburger-sized sandwiches, or as many as 16 if you want them to be closer to the size of a dinner roll. I wouldn’t go any smaller than 16 though because then you may have to adjust the cooking time.
9. After forming the dough balls, transfer them on to whatever pan you will be baking them on. I prefer to bake bread on stoneware, but if you don’t have stoneware, put parchment paper down on the pan before putting the dough balls on it. Make sure that each ball is spaced at least an inch away from each other because they still have more rising to do and will start to run into each other if they aren’t given enough room to roam. Cover the pan with either cling wrap or a flour sack towel and return it to the proofing location for another 60 minutes of rising.
10. When the hour of rising time is done, this dough balls should look slightly bigger and look more like buns, and less like balls. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake them for 15-16 minutes.
Most of the time I wait for the buns to cool and then package them away for use throughout the week, but quite honestly, they taste pretty amazing when they are served warm as a dinner roll too. I hope you enjoy some tasty sandwiches this week!