Wait.This had to be a dream, right? Why? Well because I'd never made a dinner roll. I'd never baked bread. I barely knew how to preheat the oven and I'd never taken anything but a salad to the few potluck dinners I'd attended. I was just shy of 20 years old ,a housewife of 2 Christmases, and almost 700 miles away from all of my family, and the holidays of home.
I'd already blushed fiercely through the annual Mothers' Day ritual-in-the-pews determining the youngest mother in the congregation. I knew when the ceremony began, barring any surprise child-bride visiting relatives, that this was one competition for which I only need show up to win. I had skipped through several stages of Maslow's model of development, and there I sat precociously with a pretty little infant girl bouncing in my lap, dressed in one half of a matching homemade set--- black calico mother and daughter dresses with white lace collars and red grosgrain bows at the neckline. It was my first Mothers' Day and I'd been up the entire night before sitting at my Singer sewing machine, emulating my mother and hers before. The last hemstitches were knotted as baby and Dad awoke. One warm bottle for her, and a warm cup of coffee for him later and baby and Mom kissed the church-averse cheek of Dad on their way off. Afterwards, I was too young to understand the few whispers, and awkward giggles in church--- had no idea that many in the church thought I was an (gasp!!!)---unwed mother. It didn't even occur to me until years later that I might have been the reason the last Youngest Mother award bestowed had been mine.
So you see I had something to prove. Always something to prove. And my kitchen was the laboratory for so many attempts. Failed attempts. So many meals collectively pronounced failures by various juries. The older husband had taken over cooking entirely for a while-- I assure you this was no improvement, but it cemented my status as a joke in the kitchen. Don't for a minute think that the irony of this so many years since is lost on me.
But back to the fantasy dinner rolls. THIS WAS IT! This was how I was going to prove myself worthy. I had 3 days, and 2 of those days my spouse would be off on the railroad-- PERFECT timing for these were always the windows of opportunity I took to learn something without mockery or interference. I'd taught myself to drive a standard, and in the future would learn to tool around on that 3 wheeler I'd never been allowed to enjoy, finance the purchase of our first house through a bond program and teach myself how to paint and wallpaper a bedroom. I'd also take one of those windows of opportunity to find a new place to live years later, but that's a much different story.
Long story not quite so long (but definitely not short), it took all of those 2 days, several tearful dissolutions, about $15 in wasted groceries, and $27 in long distance charges to my Mom who had no idea how to bake rolls, but talked me though said tears, Those were the ingredients of my first failed batches. The neighbor and I buttered those flattened rolls that refused to rise and ate whole pans while our babies napped and we shared a cup of coffee and complaint. Too soon, the babies woke, and we returned to our tasks, and that meant me trying another batch.
On the third morning, the day I rose way before the sun, I'd resolved to succeed or beg off of attending. Sickness wouldn't be too far off; with over 48 sleepless hours interrupted only by a 2 hour nap, I was feeling pretty ragged. But I drug up with optimism I had no business owning, and threw my all at a last attempt; all or nothing, I was making 100 rolls. Or not.
I settled on the basic recipe much like one I use today, and cranked them out pan by pan setting each on a rack to cool only enough to wrap, lay each tray in a single layer across the back seat. Hurriedly dressed my tot and myself for church, brushed past returned Dad with a kiss, and off we sped.
I thought they were majestic, but much like how you have no idea how you did on that test you studied a week for, I was unsure they'd be received with enthusiasm.
There was no cheering of the masses. There was no surprise, or awe, or grudging admiration, or instant acceptance into the fold of crafty and accomplished housewives. That day as I struggled out of the car with baby, Bible, lessons and purse, one of the deacons sent his teenaged son to help me gather and carry. With his arms outstretched, I gingerly placed two sheet pans of rolls in his grip with the same care I exercised with the baby on my hip. "BE CAREFUL", I threatened him as he playfully mock-juggled with a grin. And then....then he held them close to his face and inhaled their yeasty fragrance and said, simply, more than any crowd of applause or admiration could ever say...
Mmmmm Smells like love.
SMELLS LIKE LOVE YEAST-DUSTED DINNER ROLLS
Adapted from Martha Stewart Classic Dinner Rolls
Yield 2 dozen
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 package active dry yeast (1 scant tablespoon)
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for bowl and plastic wrap, and buttering finished roll
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flou
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the warm water, a pinch of sugar, and yeast. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes. Using the dough-hook attachment, mix on low speed, adding milk, butter, remaining sugar, salt, and 2 lightly beaten eggs. Gradually add enough flour to form a sticky but manageable dough. Transfer the dough to a large buttered bowl; cover tightly with buttered plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours.
Line 1 large or 2 small baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn out dough onto a floured work surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll out dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut 24 rounds of dough as closely together as possible. Place rounds 1/4 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let rolls rise until they are light and do not spring back when pressed with your fingertip, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Bake until rolls are golden brown, 20 to 23 minutes. Remove from oven, butter tops, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm.
This Holiday season on Notes from Maggie's Farm, look for Dressing 3 Ways: Oyster, Rice, & Cornbread, Golden Yeast-Dusted Dinner Rolls, Mashed Potatoes with Giblet Gravy, Lemony Green Beans dressed in Sherry, Shallot Hazelnut & Herbs, Oyster Dressing-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Roasted Quail, Sherried Sage Peppercorn pan sauce, and not shown, Cranberry Apricot Brandy Sauce, Persimmon Pudding, and Orange Blossom Ambrosia.