“More rolls?” The question echoed from the cozy quarters of my grandparent’s dining room at most holiday and large family gatherings. Typically a request from “the boys,” aka one of my uncles, the answer to the question was always a cheerful, “Yes!”
My grandmother, or Yie as everyone called her, gladly spent entire meals running back and forth to the kitchen for refills on water, a forgotten butter knife, and inevitably more rolls. When she returned to her seat we all marveled at how her butt magically never touched the seat. She hovered. Hovering gave her a head start out of her seat and into the kitchen before you could so much as push your chair back. Trust me, everyone tried to beat her to it by quickly hopping up or nonchalantly scooting out sideways but with her expert hovering – we never had a chance. Eventually we all realized that it was best to let Yie do what she loved to do – care for her family and friends by proudly bringing out basket after basket of rolls.
After a wonderfully full life spent serving in the U.S. Navy, living abroad and mothering and grandmothering not just one, but two families, Yie passed away peacefully this February. Her death delivered a complicated mixture of sadness and an overwhelming gratitude at having known the most kind, humble and courageously independent woman I have ever met. I struggled over the past few weeks to honor her in an appropriate and meaningful way that would speak, in some fashion, to both of us.
My sister and I spent almost every Easter of our childhood at my grandparents’ house. There were pastel colored chocolates, new flowery dresses, sleepy church services and always, Yie’s rolls. This year, I did not attend a big family Easter dinner, but I spent Friday morning working through her recipe solo for the first time. The smell of the sweet dough proofing in the kitchen, the feel of warm sticky flour under my palms and the taste of the first batch, still warm from the oven, were a fitting tribute. It’s a relief to know that although I will miss her presence and artful hovering around our respective holiday tables this year, there will always be more rolls.
This recipe yields A LOT of rolls – approximately 3 dozen. I recommend Yie’s method of par-baking a couple dozen and then freezing. This was her secret to a constant supply of fresh rolls within 10 minutes of a request. However, you will find that an entire batch easily disappears especially if one of “the boys” (or my husband in this batch’s case) is nearby.
2 cups milk
2/3 cup oil (canola or vegetable)
4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 packages instant yeast
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tsp sugar
2 large eggs
8-9 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
In a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until just before it comes to a boil. Do not let the milk boil. In a small bowl, combine the warm milk, oil, salt and 3/4 cup sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of stand mixer combine the two packages of yeast, sugar and warm cup of water. Stir gently with a fork to break up any clumps and let stand 5 minutes or until mixture becomes bubbly. Pour the lukewarm milk mixture into the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the eggs one at a time and beat to combine.
On low speed, begin to slowly add the flour, one cup at a time until a loose dough forms. There is no precise measurement for the flour as it will vary depending on your individual environment’s humidity, elevation, etc. but it will be somewhere between 7 to 8 cups. The finished dough will be slightly sticky and slack, but still hold together well.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead, incorporating more flour to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter top. Knead by hand for 6 to 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. To test if the dough is ready, gently poke your finger into the dough and if the indentation remains but slowly comes back, you have kneaded long enough. Place dough in a large lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Place in a warm draft-free place and let rise until dough doubles, about 2 hours.
After the first rise, gently remove the dough and knead lightly 2 or 3 times on a floured surface to remove any large air pockets. Next, divide the dough into 2 ounce pieces preferably using a kitchen scale. If you do not own a kitchen scale the dough should divide out into roughly 3 dozen small pieces and once shaped, be about 1-1.5 inches in diameter.
Shape dough pieces into rolls by either pinching two opposite sides of the dough and then pinching together the other two sides to form a ball. (See tips page for more details.) For the second method, spritz your work surface with water for friction and place the piece of dough in the misted water. Cup both of your hands lightly around the dough and with your hands grazing the counter, first nudge the dough back towards your body and then push it away, in a clockwise circular motion. For more details on this shaping method, you can consult the boule shaping video referenced in the posting on Potato Rosemary Bread.
Place shaped rolls on greased sheet pans with enough room for them to rise without touching and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, approximately 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly beat one large egg with a splash of water and paint egg wash gently over each roll. Bake rolls for 12-20 minutes until golden brown. Cool finished rolls on a rack and re-warm before serving.
To par-bake the rolls simply remove the partially cooked rolls after 7 minutes, let cool, and freeze in heavy duty plastic bags. To finish, place frozen rolls on a greased sheet pan and cook at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Frozen par-baked rolls will keep in your freezer for several months.