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Holidays '99
(Food #6: November 21, 1999)

   This is my second Thanksgiving at My basic feelings about this wonderful American day haven't changed: it's still my favorite holiday. It's a time for family to assemble and enjoy each other's company. It's a time for reliving family traditions—even down to repeating those old family clichés. It's a time to be concerned with giving, not getting. It's a time to say "Thanks!" to anyone and everyone, but especially to God for all the wonderful things He provides.
    I said all these things last year, but I have to repeat them, because Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. It always elicits from me the ultimate sentimentalism. Thank You Father for taking care of me another year; thank You for keeping all Your promises.
    This year I had decided to do Thanksgiving solo, at my house, rather than travel all the way back to Louisiana. I bought a small turkey breast and was about to plan my menu when my office mate Ray invited me to spend the holiday with him and his family. I thought about it, being with Ray's family versus being alone, and there was no contest. I'd celebrate with him! I could keep the turkey breast for another day. I checked with my Mom, and she's celebrating with friends, too. So add another thing for the Hinckleys to say thanks for—good friends.
    I hope you've got a great Thanksgiving day in store. But even if you're going to be dining alone, you won't really be alone; God will be there with you. Why not set another place at the table for His son, Jesus? The Bible clearly says that if we make Him welcome, He'll come in and eat with us:

"Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down to supper with him and he with me." (Revelation 3: 20)

    Happy day!

    Last year I presented here a recipe for great, simple yeast rolls. I've put the recipe here again—it's still as good as it was. I've also added a second recipe that may be even better. I hope you'll try one of them if you haven't already got your own Thanksgiving roll recipe.

I Always Wanted To Make The Rolls
   For years I've wanted to make the Thanksgiving yeast rolls; but I just wasn't consistent. Yeast and I didn't get along. I tried everyone else's recipes—no better. So I determined to study the recipes and design a personal yeast roll recipe that made tasty rolls, and that nobody could screw up. And, if I could, I'd make it as low-fat as possible.
My Philosophy My basic philosophy of cooking is "cast out," not "add." It means that if I can't taste an ingredient or detect its effect in a recipe I cast it out. If I can taste it, I reduce it until I can't, then I restore it at its smallest effective amount. This makes for very simple, efficient recipes.
    Applying that philosophy to roll recipes, here're the basic ingredients of Thanksgiving rolls:
  • flour
  • shortening
  • water
  • sugar
  • salt
  • yeast.
How About the Yeast? There are two "secrets" of making yeast work for you:
  • yeast must be fresh;
  • yeast must be used at the right temperature.
   The freshness part is simple; check the date on the package. Don't buy yeast near or past its expiration date, and don't buy more than you intend to use. I developed this very simple, effective...

    Test For Yeast's Health
  1. dissolve 1/2 tsp. sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water;
  2. sprinkle in a few yeast buds or crumbs;
  3. watch closely.
You should see the yeast first fall to the bottom, then, within about thirty seconds, begin to rise toward the top. If, after two minutes, you have to wonder if the test is working, it's not. The yeast is sick or dead—get rid of it!
Now, About The Temperature All the recipes I read called for dissolving the yeast in carefully tempered water, then adding the solution to the other roll ingredients. To be safe you had to have a thermometer and do a lot of temperature adjusting. There was a hidden problem. If the ingredients were cooler than the yeast, the temperature of the yeast solution would drop, and it might slow down. Was there a simpler way, one that could be done without instruments or such detailed work? Yes! I use the method in this recipe for rolls, and it also works with all the other breads I've made since I developed it. It's simple, and it has never failed.

Very Easy Thanksgiving Rolls
    This recipe uses water instead of milk, and no eggs. Depending on the amount of flour you use, it makes 12 to 20 delicious, competent rolls you can serve anywhere. Here are some terms from the recipe that you might not know:
cut in:
to use a fork to mash and mix the shortening and dry ingredients until they are intimately mixed and have a uniform grainy texture.
turn the dough out:
dump it out of the bowl.
punch it down:
with your fist, punch the dough; it will collapse.
to mix and stretch the dough. First mash it flat. Then fold it in half, then in quarters. Push the dough and stretch it out long. Do all this again, as specified in the recipe.
the dough rising process.
   Start by combining:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. shortening or vegetable oil
   Cut the shortening into the flour thoroughly with a fork until the texture of the mixture is loose and grainy, with no small dough or shortening balls. Add:
  • 1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 package yeast (3.5 grams—be sure of the date!)
Mix thoroughly. Now add slowly, while stirring:
  • 3/4- to 1 cup very hot water (as hot to your touch as you can stand it)
   The dry ingredients cool the water as it is added, and are, in turn, warmed uniformly; so the yeast is unharmed. Mix thoroughly and form into a ball. Let this dough rise, covered, at room temperature, until it at least doubles in size (two or more hours).
    Turn the risen dough out on a well-floured rolling surface. Dust the dough and your hands with flour and punch it down, adding enough extra flour to make dough firm enough to cut with a cookie cutter. Knead the dough firmly for about 20 folds and presses. Roll or press the dough to about 1/4-inch thick and cut out 3-inch circles. Use the circles as they are, or score and fold them in half and place them on a lubricated cookie pan. Allow these formed rolls to rise again until they are about double in height.
    Bake the rolls at 350°F for about 25 minutes, or until they are even light golden brown.

America's Bread Book
America's Bread Book
Mary Gubser
    While I was browsing the bookstores for Christmas presents I came across an interesting book on baking breads. America's Bread Book, by Mary Gubser, is a collection of bread recipes from her travels across America. It wasn't loaded with exquisite photos, but it did have lots and lots of bread recipes of all types. None of my family are bakers, but I bought the book for myself, because of the tremendous variety of recipes that looked very easy. Incidentally, I ordered it online from and saved several dollars. You can find the book listed in our Online Bookstore. Just click to go to our store; or click the book jacket photo at the left, to go directly to Amazon.
    One of the recipes in the book was for "Maryland Hot Rolls." I tried it and my first batch of rolls were soft, fluffy, and very yeasty. The recipe proportions were close to those in my recipe, so, using the ingredients above, and the technique here, try this:

Maryland Hot Rolls
   Start with:
  • 1 qt. water
  • 3 medium/small potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
   Bring the water and potatoes to a boil in a covered saucepan. When the water begins to boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 20 minutes.
   While the potatoes are boiling, mix the dry ingredients as in the recipe above, with these exceptions:
  • Use 2 Tbsp. shortening instead of 1;
  • reserve about 1 cup of flour for adding later.
   When the potatoes have cooked, remove them from the water and mash them thoroughly. Measure out about 3/4-cup of the mashed potatoes and return the rest to the potato water. Mash those in the water until they are like a potato broth.
   To the dry ingredients, add:
  • 3/4-cup of mashed potatoes;
  • 1 egg beaten lightly.
Mix thoroughly. Then add:
  • 3/4-cup of the hot potato broth—
—a little at a time, and mix again until the dough is well mixed and sticky.
   Mix the reserved flour into the dough, a little at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Return any unused flour to the bag. Cover the dough with a towel and let it proof at room temperature until it doubles in size.
   Next, punch the dough down in the bowl and let it rise again until it doubles in size.
   From this point, follow the finishing instructions from the recipe above.

   It should be obvious that a good time to make these rolls is when you are making mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving meal. Those potatoes can be used to make these rolls. If you're interested in making sourdough bread, put the remaining potato water into a clean jar and cover with a light cloth. In a few days it will ferment and make great sourdough bread starter. If you're not interested in that, throw the potato broth out.
    The dough keeps very well in the refrigerator overnight. Just be sure to cover it.

Notes on the Starter
Sourdough Rolls
The potato water from the recipe above ferments in a few days and makes excellent sourdough starter. Leave it on the counter and stir it thoroughly a couple of times each day. When it is ready it has a nice yeasty smell, but a little sour, and it bubbles whenever you move it.
   When it's starter, add a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of flour and stir it thoroughly. This will cause a flurry of new bubbling, so put the covered jar on a plate or bowl in case it overflows. Frequent stirring will prevent overflowing.
   After another day on the counter you can put the jar in the refrigerator. It won't hurt the starter—just slow it down a little. As you use the starter, replenish it with an amount of water/flour equal to what you used and stir it in thoroughly.
   This is a historic Alaskan starter with a colorful history. Read it in Ms. Gubser's book.

   To make the sourdough rolls, follow the recipe for "Very Easy Thanksgiving Rolls," above, with these exceptions:
  • leave out the yeast;
  • use sourdough starter instead of the hot water.
Do everything else the same. Don't forget to replenish the starter and return it to the 'fridge.
   The first proof may take longer than for the yeast recipe, because the starter will not have been hot. I didn't really find much difference, though; this starter really seems to want to work.

Interesting Variations
    Add a little cornmeal for a rougher texture. Add fresh grated or dried onion for onion rolls; crushed red pepper for peppery rolls; mustard for mustard rolls--get the idea? Hey! They make great cinnamon rolls, too. What else can you think of?
   Happy Thanksgiving!

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