Great Grandma Michelson's never-fail dinner rolls

A dinner roll workshop with Grandma. #christmastime #familyrecipes

My grandma is an exceptional cook and baker. Because we live so far away and I miss her food, I'm motivated to learn how to master the recipes that are, to me, quintessentially Grandma. One of those recipes is her dinner rolls, which I'm sure I've eaten since I was old enough to handle solids.

My first two attempts at Grandma's dinner rolls were for Thanksgiving potlucks. I used her recipe from the centennial edition of her church's cookbook. The concise directions are fine if, like these lovely church ladies, you know what you are doing. I didn't. They were edible, but a far cry from what they're meant to be.

So while we were home for Christmas, I took advantage of our time on the farm for a hands on workshop with Grandma. She pulled out her worn recipe card and told me she thought her mom picked it up from the newspaper. She started up her trusty KitchenAid and began measuring while I inundated her with questions. Each written step seemed to be shorthand for a collection of smaller tasks and descriptions: "knead until smooth" or "shape into rolls," understood in full by a well-versed bread maker but over the head of a novice like me. I wondered if she felt the way I did when I had to explain to a retiree at church how to attach a file to an email. How do you elaborate on directions that to you are perfectly adequate?

With Easter this past weekend, I had my motivation to try making another batch of dinner rolls. I pulled out my now-annotated recipe for our community group's Easter dinner. The rolls still weren't quite up to Grandma's caliber, but are significantly better than my first two Thanksgiving attempts. I have a newfound confidence in my bread-making skills, which will only improve with more practice. Thanks, Grandma!

christmas 2012

Mom's (Great Grandma Michelson's) never-fail dinner rolls
makes 3 dozen

2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 pkg. dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp. dry yeast measured)
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 c. flour
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 c. melted Crisco (can substitute butter or margarine)

Measure 4 cups of flour into the bowl of your stand mixer and attach the dough hook.

Separately, mix the milk, sugar, and salt, then heat to 100°F. In another bowl, dissolve the yeast along with 1/8 teaspoon sugar into 1/3 cup of 100°F water and wait until the mixture has doubled in size (proofing). Add yeast to the milk mixture. Temper the eggs by stirring in a small amount of the hot milk mixture, then add the eggs and melted Crisco to the milk mixture.

Add the liquid to your bowl and mix well. Scrape the sides to help incorporate the flour. Add flour in 1/2 cup increments, waiting after each addition to see if the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. As soon as this happens, stop adding flour and let the dough knead until smooth (about 10 minutes).

Place the dough, covered, in a greased bowl then let it rise until doubled in bulk (20 minutes in a warmed but OFF oven). Punch down the dough. Allow the dough to rise for an additional 15 minutes (without re-warming the oven).

Cut into appropriately-sized pieces. Half pound pieces divided into eight are a good dinner roll size, while 3/4 pound pieces divided into six make good hamburger buns. Shape by rolling each piece on a floured surface, using the pressed palm of your cupped hand (see top photo) in a circular motion.

TIP: Grandma laughed at how delicately I thought I needed to treat the dough and said that unlike biscuits, "you can't overwork it." If it feels like you're just rubbing the dough into the board, increase pressure until it begins to roll under your hand.

Place on greased baking pans (or use Silpat baking mats), allowing room between to rise.

TIP: Grandma puts half the batch on the first pan, then allows them to rise in a warmed but OFF oven while rolling out the second half. By the time she's done, the first pan is ready to bake and the second pan, rising more slowly on top of the oven, should be ready when the first batch comes out of the oven.

Bake at 375°F until golden brown (8-10 minutes), then rub the tops with butter while they cool on racks.

TIP: Grandma swears by AirBake cookie sheets, but I went with America's Test Kitchen recommended (see for yourself here: 1 2 3) Vollrath Wear-Ever Half Size Heavy Duty Sheet Pans (13 gauge, model 5314) because ATK's testing showed it is more foolproof (and versatile). And I need that.

Rolls will stay fresh for several days or you can freeze them in an airtight container and reheat a few in the microwave (wrapped in a tea towel) on demand.

To have hot rolls for dinner, begin preparing them 2.5 to 3 hours ahead of time.

Third time's the charm. #grandmasdinnerrolls #easterdinner #yum