Since I love the flavor of fennel in bread, I made these with my usual whole-wheat mix for no-knead bread plus fennel seed (6 to 7 ounces whole-wheat flour, 13 or 14 ounces of unbleached bread flour to give a total of 20 ounces of flour, .3 ounces kosher salt, .4 ounces fennel seed, 15 to 16 ounces water). The rolls would (were, and I emphasize “were”; they didn’t last long around here) taste great with hearty vegetable soups and are particularly good, I think, with cheese.
To make rolls, you follow the same loaf-shaping process as for a large loaf of no-knead bread but with small balls of dough. Begin by pouring the fully fermented dough onto the counter as usual, and then dust the top with flour. Let rest about 15 minutes.
Cut the dough into about a dozen evenly sized pieces. Shape each of these into a ball by rolling them under your palm until they form a smooth, tight ball, and then place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment and dusted with cornmeal, semolina, or flour. Let the rolls rise about 30 minutes and then brush them with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water—cook leftovers and give them to the dog as a treat) to give them a shiny crust and to help any seeds adhere. Sprinkle the rolls with seeds such as sesame, if you like, or with gray salt or Maldon flaky salt. With a razor blade or baker’s lame, score the rolls just before baking. It would be best to add steam to the oven, however you do that—by putting a baking pan in the oven half-filled with hot water, putting ice cubes in a pan in the bottom of the oven, or just misting the oven heavily before adding the rolls. Bake the rolls in a preheated 450°F until crusty and brown, about 30 minutes.