The pepperoni roll, aka the State Food of West Virginia, is one of those simple things that makes life good. I’d never even heard of a pepperoni roll before moving here, but the testament to the pepperoni roll’s popularity in the Mountain State is found in every grocery store, bakery, and even gas station convenience store because the pepperoni roll is sold everywhere as if people might not be able to get down the road without one. They might die. As the story goes, pepperoni rolls originated with Italian immigrants who came to West Virginia to work in the coal mines. Rolls filled with pepperoni were easy meals to carry with them into the mines.
I’ve been working on perfecting my pepperoni roll recipe for awhile, determined to achieve pepperoni roll nirvana at home. When I first started baking pepperoni rolls, my kids called them “pizza rolls” because they aren’t from around here. Lest a native knock them flat for pepperoni roll blasphemy, I drilled the proper lingo into them as I continued to practice my craft.
There are, of course, good pepperoni rolls and bad pepperoni rolls. There’s a little store with a gas station near here that has some of the best pepperoni rolls I’ve ever tasted, better than some bakeries, so you never know. I try pepperoni rolls any time I get a chance. Research, you know. I’ve become a pepperoni roll connossieur. The most important thing in a pepperoni roll is enough pepperoni. (You’d think that was obvious, but some stores sell “cheap” pepperoni rolls by hardly giving you any pepperoni.) Then there is the “peppers or no peppers” question, but that’s really a matter of taste as is whether or not to add cheese (usually mozzarella or pepper jack). And, of course, the bread has to be just right, so you know I turned to Grandmother Bread.
In replicating the texture of pepperoni roll bread, I realized I’d have to add oil and egg. The absence of egg, oil, or milk is in large part the beauty of Grandmother Bread, but there is a definite textural effect. Including egg and oil here, I’ll demonstrate how to treat egg and oil as any other “add-in” to the standard Grandmother Bread recipe (such as when you add raisins or anything else) so you’ll also know how to use it in other breads when added richness makes a difference. Remember whenever experimenting with the addition of egg and/or oil in Grandmother Bread, you’ll need more flour than in the original recipe.
Since I like more of everything, I’m also all about the peppers and cheese, and most especially, the pepperoni and lots of it. And I mean lots of it. Not just in the filling, but right in the dough. Adding pepperoni to the dough itself is possibly a criminal offense as I’ve never found a pepperoni roll sold in West Virginia that did that. But at some point in my pursuit of the perfect pepperoni roll, I had to decide that perfection came first, and that if I had to go to hell for making the best pepperoni roll in the world by breaking tradition, it would be for a noble cause.
If you are all about tradition, you can follow this recipe to create real Italian immigrant-style pepperoni rolls by leaving the chopped pepperoni and cheese out of the dough. You can also leave the cheese and peppers out of the filling, and for an even more traditional result, use stick pepperoni instead of slices. You can also add Sweet Tarts. I’M JUST KIDDING!
Are you still reading? Here’s my SECRET recipe for perfect pepperoni rolls!!
How to make Pepperoni Rolls:
Start with the one-loaf standard Grandmother Bread recipe, with a bit more flour. (Add-ins: minced garlic, egg, oil, chopped pepperoni, cheese.)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup oil*
1 cup chopped pepperoni
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
4 cups flour
pepperoni slices or sticks
pepper rings (approx. 1 1/2 cups)**
mozzarella or pepper jack cheese (approx. 2 cups)
*Any time you add egg or oil to Grandmother Bread, calculate the add-ins in the quantities listed here. Per one-loaf standard recipe, add 1/3 cup oil and 1 egg. Per two-loaf standard recipe, add 2/3 cup oil and 2 eggs.
**I use Oliverio Italian-style Peppers (Mild Rings) in Vinegar Olvero. Oliverio products aren’t easy to find outside West Virginia. You can get away with using regular banana pepper rings, or whatever kind of peppers you like, or you can order Oliverio peppers here.
In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, salt, sugar, minced garlic, egg, oil, chopped pepperoni, and the 1/2 cup of cheese. Let sit five minutes. Stir in the first cup and a half of flour with a heavy spoon. Add the next cup of flour a little at a time as needed, stirring until dough becomes too stiff to continue stirring easily. Add a little more flour and begin kneading. The amount of flour is approximate–your mileage may vary! Continue adding flour and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. Let dough rise in a greased, covered bowl until doubled. (Usually, about an hour.) Uncover bowl; sprinkle in a little more flour and knead again before dividing in half into two balls.
Working with one half of the dough at a time, roll each ball of dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle (approximately 8×12 inches). Sprinkle flour over the dough to keep from sticking as you roll. Make one slice lengthwise down the dough.
Slicing from the other direction, make a slice down the middle, then again, until you have eight pieces. Sprinkle with cheese.
Place pepperoni slices or sticks on each piece.
Roll up, pinching seam to seal.
Let rise approximately 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Bake for 20-30 minutes. (Watch carefully–the size of your rolls will vary the baking time–they’re done when they’ve browned.)
Enjoy the fabulously scrumptious pepperoni-a-licious perfection!
Makes 16 rolls.
Note: If using stick pepperoni, cut sticks in approximately four-inch pieces, pencil-size. Also, if baking these with pepperoni sticks, there will be some drippings during baking. Be sure to use a pan that has some kind of edge to it to protect your oven from the drippings.
P.S. My kids love these and now I have to make them all the time, often in double batches. Just a warning. Once you get started, you can’t stop! (They make great quick snacks and on-the-go lunches.)