Combine milk, molasses and 3 tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and transfer to a large bowl; stir in 3/4 cup cornmeal. Let stand until an instant-read thermometer registers between 115 degrees F and 120 degrees F, 15 to 20 minutes.Advertisement
Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast on top. Let stand until the yeast dissolves and looks foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir the yeast into the cornmeal mixture.
Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, figs, 1 1/2 teaspoons aniseed and salt into the cornmeal mixture until the dough begins to come together but still looks dry. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, adding more all-purpose flour by the tablespoonful if needed to prevent sticking, about 10 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball. Coat another large bowl with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Add the dough and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until almost doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Gently punch the dough down.
Coat two 9-inch round cake pans or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Shape the dough into an 18-inch-long log and cut into 18 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, gather and pinch the edges together, shaping it into a rough ball. Place each ball, pinched-side down, on a clean work surface. To shape the dough into a tighter ball, slightly cup your hand over it and move the ball around with a circular motion, keeping the bottom in place while tucking the loose edges into it and stretching the surface of the dough tight. (If the outer skin breaks, set the roll aside and let it rest while rounding the remaining rolls. Reroll once the dough relaxes.) Place the rolls in the prepared pans (or pan). Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until almost doubled, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Brush the tops of the rolls with egg white (you'll have some left over). Sprinkle with cornmeal and aniseeds, if desired. Place the rolls in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees . Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Make Ahead Tip: Store cooled rolls in an airtight container for up to 1 day. Or individually wrap and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Reheat stored rolls at 350°F for about 10 minutes; reheat frozen rolls for about 20 minutes.
Storage smarts: For long-term freezer storage, wrap your food in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil. The plastic will help prevent freezer burn while the foil will help keep off-odors from seeping into the food.
1 1/2 starch, 1 other carbohydrate, 1 fat