"And the best bread was of my mother's own making --the best in all the land!"
--Old Memories, Sir Henry James
My maternal grandparents lived in Binghamton, New York. We used to visit them once a year, and there were a few things you could count on. There would be a banana cream pie in the fridge; we would have either spiedies (only folks from Binghamton know what these are) or spaghetti and meatballs; and Grandma would make her family famous rolls. One of the last times she was in town visiting my mother, I pinned her down on the recipe. She had it all in her head, but she let me follow her through the process, taking notes and measurements. The recipe was large, so for our purposes here, I've halved it for practicality and it will make one 13x9 inch pan of rolls, either 8, 12 or 16 rolls depending on the size you form them.
These rolls are the best. The dough is rich, and just a hint sweet, almost like Brioche. Aside from dinner rolls, they are fantastic the next day, split, toasted and slathered with butter. In fact, as long as they're in the house, they're all I want to eat.
|These are huge, I should be a Texan|
They make a great sandwich roll, but the bread itself tastes so good, I don't want anything getting in the way of it's yeasty goodness, so give me bread and butter and a tall glass of cold milk. It's one occasion when simplicity rules.
Now let me talk you into making these, even if you've never attempted homemade bread before. These rolls are reason enough to try. It really isn't hard, there are just a couple basics you should know before you start. And let me tell you, the smell of fresh bread baking, and the taste of it, cannot be duplicated, and the results are so rewarding.
Start with fresh yeast, and proof it (directions in recipe below) to be certain it is viable. There are many variables with flour. The type you use, the humidity outside and the altitude you live at can all make a difference in how much flour will be needed. It's more about the feel of the dough. When it becomes too difficult to stir, and pulls away from the side of the bowl, then it is ready to knead, now matter how much flour you've added. Don't let this scare you. It's very forgiving. A little more or less will not ruin it, you just need to be able to handle it. Use lots of flour on your kneading surface at first, and keep plenty handy. When you first turn the dough out to be kneaded, it can be sticky, but if you have lots of flour on the board, and sprinkle the dough with plenty, it will still be easy to handle. Don't be afraid of kneading. Again, it is very forgiving. You don't need perfect technique to make fabulous bread. Please try these rolls. You'll become famous for them in your family, like my lovely Gradma Dailey was in ours.
Grandma Dailey's Rolls
1 cup evaporated milk (no substitutes, I think this is the secret to their great taste)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 rounded teaspoon salt
4-5 cups flour, plus more for flouring work surface
1 packet dry yeast (check expiration date)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon melted butter
In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup warm water, a pinch of sugar and the yeast. Set aside to proof. In about 5 minutes, it should start foaming, proving the yeast is viable. If it doesn't foam, you need to try again, with fresher yeast.
In a small saucepan, slowly heat the evaporated milk with the butter until the butter melts. Set aside to cool slightly, until it's just very warm, but not hot (it cannot be over 105 degrees or it will kill the yeast). Pour warm evaporated milk and butter into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the foamy yeast. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then sugar and salt. Beat in 2 cups of flour, then add flour in 1/2 cup increments, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, and it becomes very difficult to stir.
Turn dough out onto a liberally floured working surface, sprinkle dough with more flour and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. To knead, reach over the dough to side farthest from you, grab the dough and fold it half towards you. Give it a quarter turn away from you and press the heel of your palms into the dough, pushing away from you. Fold, turn, press, repeat. That's all there is to it.
Put 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large bowl. Put dough in bowl and turn to coat with oil, cover bowl with a damp warm cloth, or plastic wrap. Set in the warmest room of the house to rise. Let rise until double in bulk, around 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down dough. Cut in half, then cut in half again. Decide how many rolls you want in the dish and form equal size balls. You want them to be smooth on the top, so tuck any jagged edges underneath and place rolls in greased pan, smooth side up. Cover pan with a damp warm dish cloth. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 - 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Uncover rolls and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and hollow sounding when you tap the top. Brush tops of rolls with melted butter. Serve within 24-36 hours, or freeze for a special occasion.