If you are using instant yeast: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, instant yeast, and fresh thyme leaves. Add the water. Mix until the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap (or a tea towel that has been run under hot water and squeezed out). Place in a warm spot to rise: Because your kitchen will likely be nice and cozy with all of the cooking going on, you don’t need to do the warm-oven rise trick. But for future reference, here is how you can create a warm spot: Turn your oven on (to 350 or so) and then turn it off after 1 minute — this will create just a slightly warm environment to get the bread rising nicely.
If you are using active-dry yeast: In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar into the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top. There is no need to stir it up. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is foamy and/or bubbling just a bit — this step will ensure that the yeast is active. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and thyme. When the yeast-water-sugar mixture is foamy, stir it up, and add it to the flour bowl. Mix until the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap (or a tea towel that has been run under hot water and squeezed out). Place in a warm spot to rise: Because your kitchen will likely be nice and cozy with all of the cooking going on, you don’t need to do the warm-oven rise trick.
Let dough rise for 1 to 2 hours or more or less. As noted in the post above, you can let the dough rise, and when you see that it has reached the top of the bowl, but you don’t have oven space available in the following 20 minutes, punch it down and let it rise again. You can do this as many times as necessary. Meanwhile, generously butter a 12-cup muffin pan, plus a few ramekins (2 to 4).
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Using two forks, punch down your dough, scraping it from the sides of the bowl, which it will be clinging to. As you scrape it down, turn the dough up onto itself. You want to loosen the dough entirely from the sides of the bowl, and you want to make sure you’ve punched it down. Take your two forks and divide the dough roughly into 8 portions. Then, using the two forks, scoop up half of each of these portions and plop each into a buttered muffin cup. Repeat with remaining dough. This won’t be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. Try your best to divide the dough equally, and if you have extra dough, bake it off in the buttered ramekins. Let the dough rise for about 17 to 20 minutes or until it has risen to just above the top of the muffin cups.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and make for 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and turn the rolls onto a cooling rack or directly into a bread basket. Pass the butter.
* For future reference, you can buy both SAF instant yeast and Red Star active dry yeast in bulk from Amazon. After you open the pouches, transfer yeast to airtight container and store in the fridge or freezer, where they will last forever. If you are using the packets of yeast (the kind that come in the 3-fold packets), just go ahead and use a whole packet — I think it’s 2.25 teaspoons. Recently, I have been using instant yeast more than active dry because when you use instant yeast there is no need to do the proofing step — you can add the yeast directly to the flour — which makes the mixing process a little bit faster. ** To make fool-proof lukewarm water that will not kill the yeast (water that’s too hot can kill yeast), boil some water — I use my teapot. Then, mix 1 1/2 cups cold water with 1/2 cup boiling water. This ratio of hot to cold water will be the perfect temperature for the yeast.