Several summers ago, when our relationship was still somewhat new, I met Jeremy’s parents for the first time. We took them sightseeing as well as for seafood in Marin and authentic Chinese in the Sunset (Go Go on Irving near 19th Street). Despite outstandingly fresh fish and an introduction for Jeremy’s father to black bean clay pot catfish, the “dish” that stands the test of time for me is his mom’s homemade honest-to-goodness-I-didn’t-kill-the-yeast-from-scratch rolls.
How fortuitous that on this trip, Jeremy’s mom was more than happy to bring a taste of home to us with her 1-hour roll recipe. She made it look so easy. I thought certainly, this cannot be as daunting as I would think. To be fair, Martha has been making these rolls for as long as Jeremy can remember. We got the recipe from mom and have both tried on various occasions to bring the rolls to life in the manner they deserve. Instead, there have been stumbling blocks along the way. My last two batches were so bready and dense they more accurately resembled paperweights rather than rolls.
Apparently, our baking soda was long past dead. Last night, with new baking soda and a warming oven to bring the temperature of our very cold San Francisco apartment up to toasty, I set about making the rolls another time. I paid special attention to the details I’m sure have set me wrong in the past: Warm the water and dissolve the yeast. Feed the yeast three tablespoons of sugar (not teaspoons as I’ve done accidentally). Keep the yeast near the oven where it’s warm. Sift the flour before adding it to the bowl. Dissolve the Crisco in the milk thoroughly but without overheating the mixture, which might kill the yeast. Make sure another sifted blanket of flour covers the first dough mixture that holds the yeast before adding the heated milk so the yeast don’t die.
For a moment, I thought my hopes of fluffy delicious rolls had been dashed when I realized we didn’t have quite enough flour to knead the dough into a non sticky ball. I covered the dough and let it rest on the stove as Jeremy ran out to get more flour.
You’re only supposed to let the dough rest for 10 minutes on the first rise; then another 30 once you’ve separated the dough into roll balls. It took Jeremy 30 minutes to get back before I could add the rest of the flour. In that time, the dough had risen quite a bit in the bowl. I separated the dough and covered it, hoping for the best. I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out since they didn’t seem to rise much after the final flour had been added.
I popped them in the oven and hoped for the best. A peak midway through the baking time showed beautifully rising dough. Success (or my version of it: without the wheat flour and somehow not nearly as lovely as Martha’s)! Still lovely in their own way and delicious. Finally. Worth the wait.
Martha’s One-hour Rolls
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water (~120F)
1/2 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup buttermilk (or buttermilk substitution)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 1/4 – 1/2 cups sifted flour (all purpose or a mixture with wheat)
Towel to cover dough
Oven at 400F
- Dissolve yeast in warm water.
- Add sugar and let sit in a warm place for ~5 minutes.
- Melt Crisco in milk (hot enough to melt Crisco by stirring, but not so hot you kill the yeast).
- Stir about 1 cup of flour into the yeast, water, sugar mixture.
- Add 1 cup of sifted flour on top and around the yeast (to protect the yeast from the milk mixture).
- Add salt and baking soda to flour and sift.
- Pour in milk and Crisco gently.
- Add 1/2 cup flour to liquid and begin to mix together.
- Gradually, add more flour (remember all of the flour should be sifted) to the dough until you can work it with your hands.
- The guidelines for measurement of the flour above are approximate. You will be adding enough flour that the dough is workable and not sticking to your fingers.
- Cover dough and let sit for 10 minutes in a warm place.
- Divide dough first into quarters and then each quarter into six small rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet. (I believe I placed my rolls too far apart so they didn’t rise and push up against each other the way Martha’s do; see first photo).
- Cover and let dough sit 30 minutes in a warm place.
- Bake in 400F oven until nicely browned (about 20 minutes).
- Remove and butter tops.