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Getting ready for fall feasting with toasty dinner rolls

“Good god I ate a lot of food.”

Not a moment had elapsed from the muttering of these words that I realized that it’s not even October yet; that we’re just practicing for the Thanksgiving feast and yet the words are there. My stomach is stretched beyond capacity.

Having just supped at our in-laws’ house (the Mighty Fine Hesselbeins) a mere mile from our driveway, four of the six of us decided to walk home to get rid of that over-stuffed Turkey Day feeling. It was a well-needed walk and our bodies thanked us for at least burning off a few calories.

At home, it was time to continue our Sunday deep-clean but all I could think of doing was lying down on the couch. ‘Yes, let’s just pretend that it is Thanksgiving’ I told myself. Short of the horrifying tradition of having to sit through the Macy’s parade on that fateful Thursday, Turkey Day is always one of my favorite holidays.

And so the season starts; the year of school well in-gear and the season of Halloween soon to be behind us. We always find that the winter months fly for us; possibly since we like them so much.

Driving home from work on Friday I was struck by the commotion of the school children getting off of the buses and making their way back home.

As the bus stops are more-and-more full of children as the population of year-rounders in Ocean Pines blossoms, there is always a gaggle of children on hand. And they partake in many maxims of mob rule.

Walking down the middle of the street, seemingly oblivious to car traffic trying to pass, it donned on me that this exercise in tot-dodging is akin to driving through the flocks of ducks at the South Gate.

Different animals; similar behavior. I smell a Discovery special on this.

All of these different observances excite me for the upcoming holiday season.  Let’s start early when it comes to cooking. Let’s look at the various items in your larder that you could pull out to make every special occasion over the next three months shine.

One of the best places to start is with the dinner rolls, a simple and stately addition to any table. You may surely purchase them, but when you make them yourself, and tweak out the easy recipe below, you will wonder whether you will ever buy them again.

This recipe (as I am not the inventor of bread; nor am I a King Arthur Flour food scientist) is a variation on a theme of the dinner rolls from On Baking (Labensky, 2005.  Pearson). They are essentially the same as other butter rolls I have made, and this is a fairly failsafe recipe.

I note this as my teenaged students can make them without fail, so I am confident that you can do the same. And if they don’t work at first, just keep trying. You’ll get the hang of it.

A tip that I can give you for these rolls is to use the correct egg wash. Do some research, maybe? For me, when I want a buttery and tasty roll with a chewy and soft crust (exterior) I combine whole eggs and cream (milk works just fine).

The fats in the dairy and egg yolks help to soften the crust.

If you want a harder and crispier crust, use egg whites and water as your egg wash.  You can also place a pan in the bottom of your oven and when it is at temperature, and as you load the oven with your bread/rolls, simply throw a small handful of ice cubes in the hot pan and close the oven. With this little trick, you will be the proud owner of a copycat $25,000 steam-injection oven.

So as I sit here and knock this out, I’m still not hungry. Despite this, I am still looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner; the turkey, gravy, rolls, sweet potatoes, pies, stuffing of many sorts, candies, beverages and the overall joy that comes to us this time of year.

And to think that it all stemmed from one plate of food.

Homemade Dinner Rolls

Makes around 16 rolls

5 oz. Water (around 90F)

¼ oz. Active yeast (1 packet)

11 oz. Bread flour

¼ oz. Salt

1 oz. Sugar

1 Tbsp. Milk

¼ oz. Shortening

¼ oz. Butter

1 egg

Egg wash as needed

  1. Combine water, yeast and sugar in a bowl and allow the yeast to bloom for 10-15 minutes
  2. Place all other ingredients in a mixing bowl except shortening and butter and mix well
  3. Add the water mixture and the butter and shortening and mix with a dough hook until the dough comes completely together
  4. Let the dough proof, covered, in a warm spot for about an hour
  5. Punch it down and let it rest for 5 minutes
  6. Cut into 2 oz. balls and roll, placing these on parchment paper-lined sheet pans
  7. Proof until doubled and brush with egg wash
  8. Sprinkle with poppy, sesame, pepper, coarse salt or any other cook toppings that you’ve noticed in your travels. Make it fun and make them your own
  9. Bake at 400F until medium brown and the crumb is cooked all of the way through