Whenever I make sandwich rolls, the crust ends up too thick and too crispy. I've tried a few things, such as a moister dough, but I can't seem to get a combination of a hearty bread and a soft crust. Questions: I'm baking at 425, is this too hot/cold? Will it help to add more/less fat to the dough? Will it help to add more/less water to the dough? Do I need to do a slower rise? How do you control the crustiness of a bread, anyway?
Normally, a bun for a hotdog or hamburger is going to be made of a softer, sweeter dough. It will have higher egg, milk, fat, and sugar content. It is a slightly softer (more water) dough than a white bread dough (and a lot softer than a crusty, lean loaf like french). You will definitely want to bake it at a lower temperature, 425 is far too high. I would not usually bake too many breads higher than 400. A softer, sweeter dough such as this should be baked no higher than 375. If you are looking for a good pointer towards the type of dough to use, I use the same dough for hotdog and hamburger buns as I use to make cinnamon buns/sweet rolls.
Hearty and hot dog buns aren't two ideas you see put together very often. If you're doing something like using some amount of whole grain flour in the buns then you're going to get a chewier crumb and crust just because of the recipe you're using. If you are making a richer/sweeter dough already then yes, lower temperature will help. I looked at a couple of recipes and 400°F seems to be the temperature that most recommend.
Beyond that, there are a couple of other things you could try. You could try making a wash of egg white and a little water and brushing that on the bread before baking. This is traditional for similar doughs like challah and it allows the crust to remain soft and promotes even browning. If you're not already, you could also try using a special pan. There are Pullman / pan de mie pans that cover the bread on all sides when baking, which limits the extent to which the crust can form considerably. You can get special hot dog pans that are shaped on the bottom (so you get the nice hot dog bun shape) and you can simulate the pan de mie effect by placing a greased cookie sheet (greased side down toward the buns) over the bun pan when baking. This should definitely help avoid an overdone or overdeveloped crust. (King Arthur Flour sells one of these kinds of pans online.)
Hamburger buns / sandwich rolls would be a little trickier as the specialty pans for those are probably too shallow to use the cookie sheet on top trick. Instead, you could try baking the rolls on a special pan or half sheet pan with some aluminum foil tented, shiny side out toward the heat, and crimped around the lip of the pan.
I just did a basic bun recipe, which is a sweeter dough.
I set the oven to 375 F and the crust ended up quite crispy...but I failed on prepping the dough. Before the second rise I should have used the egg-white wash. Instead I used the wash just prior to baking. Umm....that didn't work too well.
The next batch ended up perfect, I washed before the second rising....then baked. Came out perfectly soft at 375F.
Hope that helps someone.
Why not try putting an additional pan in the oven with hot water in it. The stream from the water should help to keep the outside moist.
Also, I would recommend brushing them with butter or some wet flavoring when they come out of the oven to help keep them moist from the pan to the table.
I do think your temperature is too high, though I can't say how much lower it should be.
A response to the idea of more water: (I'm an experienced home bread baker.)
As odd as it seems, the pan of hot water will INCREASE the crispiness of the bread. The reason is that the additional moisture keeps the outer shell of the dough (as it cooks) in a pliable, gelatin state much longer than without the steam and that prevents the crust from turning crisply too early. So then, the crust gets thicker and later will dry out more. My reference material for soft crust bread calls for using milk instead of water and using a substantial amount of liquid oil, such as canola oil. Then cook at 375 -- 400 degrees F. (200 degrees C.) for only 25 minutes.
If you want to keep the crust of hotdog or hamburger buns "soft," after the last rising - and before the baking - brush the top with melted butter. Just make sure the butter isn't too hot or you'll deflate the dough. Bake them at 350 deg. for approximately 20 minutes and give them another brushing of butter on all surfaces. Also, don't forget to use milk instead of water and honey instead of sugar. The buns should come out - and remain soft.