A couple of years ago, I wrote about a family baking day in which we kids all came home to learn from the master (Mom) how to make bread.
It was great material for a column, but I’d be lying if I said it turned me into a great bread baker. Mom just had so many little inside tricks — knowing exactly how the dough should feel, sensing precisely when it had been kneaded enough — that I couldn’t replicate her magic.
Then we were hit by an extremely stubborn and contagious virus. If ever there was a time to practice the baking arts, it has been this spring.
Apparently, I was not alone. Have you tried to find yeast in your local grocery store lately? It’s like trying to find Lysol Wipes.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make people return to the basics. Family. A butter churn and a good team of oxen. And carbs.
Fortunately, my refrigerator holds a package of Saf-Instant Premium Yeast, which I ordered online last year. This yeast is supposed to be more forgiving and faster acting than regular yeast, promising to create bread, rolls and dessert braids in less than 60 minutes. But after following the recipe pamphlet that came with the yeast, I created four spectacularly unsuccessful loaves. Two barely browned and were as heavy as cinder blocks. The next two were slightly better, but doughy in the middle.
So I decided to tear up that recipe and resort to my mom’s basic recipe for “wedding rolls.” This recipe takes no shortcuts: You still need to “proof” the yeast and let it rise twice. But it managed to get a rise out of this aging yeast. I halved the recipe and made two incredibly good loaves.
Just keep in mind that the recipe below is written in classic Margaret Swift proportions, meaning it will make four to five large loaves of bread. Double it, and you’ll get enough rolls to feed a large German-Russian crowd after a night of spirited polka-dancing and red eye-drinking.
Dough can also be used to make cinnamon or caramel rolls. You also can swap out 1 to 2 cups of the bread flour with whole wheat flour if you’d like to pass it off as health food. Bun appetit!
Mom’s Wedding Rolls
1 ½ packages active dry yeast (or 2 heaping tablespoons of Saf-Instant Premium Yeast)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup very warm water (110 to 120 degrees)
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons salt (can use less, if preferred)
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs, room temperature
6-8 cups bread flour
In a small glass bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 120-degree water (a digital thermometer works great for this) for about 5 minutes. The mixture should foam and bubble; if it doesn’t, the yeast is past its prime and won’t work.
In a large saucepan (or in the microwave), warm milk, sugar, salt and oil until lukewarm. Add eggs, yeast mixture and 2 cups flour. Beat with an electric mixer (I use my Kitchen-Aid because this dough will give it a real workout), adding flour gradually. When dough becomes too thick for mixer, turn onto well-floured surface and knead. Continue adding flour and kneading until dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball.
(While 6 to 8 cups is an estimate, you may need more or less depending on the brand or type of flour you use. Pillsbury and Gold Medal, for instance, tend to be “softer” flours.)
Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch dough down; let it rise again. After doubling in size again, punch dough down and shape into loaves or rolls.
Place rolls on greased cookie sheets or loaves in greased loaf pans (I prefer glass). Cover bread and let rise in warm place until doubled in size.
Bake rolls at 350 degrees for 13-18 minutes or loaves at 375 degrees for 25-45 minutes until golden brown. (Loaves should sound “hollow” when you knock on them.)
Brushing butter on bread while still warm will create a softer, shiny crust.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.