I am from West Virginia. (Make jokes at will!) It is one of the most beautiful places in the US, if not the world, even if life there is a little simple for my tastes. However, speaking of tastes, one of the most wonderful foods in the world was invented in Fairmont, West Virginia -- the pepperoni roll.
A humble hand-held loaf of good white bread dough with pepperoni baked right into it, the pepperoni roll is a lunch box standard, a fixture in every convenience store and frequently on the menu (baked with a little cheese and Oliverio's Peppers in sauce) of local non-chain pizza joints "back home." West Virginia kids practically cut their teeth on pepperoni rolls!
Although the origins of pepperoni rolls have never been confirmed, one of the many (and most common) theories is that one of the many Italian housewives in north-central West Virginia created the pepperoni roll as a self-contained, hand-held, no-refrigeration-needed way for her coal miner husband to have a decent lunch with no assembly on his part.
Although they are not commercially available outside West Virginia, and small parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky where they have migrated across the borders, authentic pepperoni rolls are easy to make. There are no Oliverio peppers available nationally, sadly, but Mancini makes a widely available version that is just as good.
Pepperoni rolls are baked with or without cheese; provolone, mozzarella and pepper Jack are the most commonly used. If you choose to bake cheese into your pepperoni rolls, add it SPARINGLY.
Too much cheese before baking will cause the dough to fail to rise properly, according to my good, good friend Donna DeCarlo, a Fairmont native and pepperoni roll authority who taught me how to make them. Her other tip for perfect rolls every time? Baking parchment. Essentially wax paper without the wax, baking parchment will make every roll golden without a single dark spot!
For 18 rolls:
1 pkg of 3 loaves Bridgford or Rhodes frozen bread dough
1 pound good pepperoni, peeled and sliced thin (the deli will peel it for you!)
4 ounces mozzarella, provolone or pepper Jack cheese, sliced thin (optional)
Take dough out of package; set on towels and keep covered with more towels. Let dough thaw. Slice each loaf into 6 pieces. Let come to room temperature, keeping covered all the time.
Stack pepperoni and slice into thin strips.
When dough is room temp, take each piece and pat into a circle, like a small pizza. Take a small handful of pepperoni strips and lay into the middle of the circle. If using cheese, add two small thin pieces, no longer or thicker than the pepperoni stack. Fold the sides in, and then tuck the ends over and pinch to seal.
Place finished rolls back on towels and let rise for another hour. Preheat oven to 350. Bake rolls in hot oven, on pans lined with baking parchment, for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely before wrapping or packing in containers or bags.
Pepperoni rolls may be eaten as they are, but for the most sublime experience, split the roll down the middle and spoon in a little of the above mentioned peppers in sauce, a little marinara sauce on top of that, and then some shredded mozzarella. (Use just the marinara if you can't get/don't have/don't like the peppers!) Bake in a toaster oven (or regular oven) at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes or until crispy on the edges and the cheese is melted.
For more info and lore on pepperoni rolls, go here.