I made these, as I usually do, for Thanksgiving, which was otherwise catered by daughter at her loft in downtown Dallas. She did herself proud, with traditional fare like stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed red spuds, and Dead Baby Chickens (well, traditional for us). Beloved Spouse and I joined three of her friends, and her moose/dog Homer, for a lovely meal and great company.
Which is what Grandma Clarice's Dinner Rolls are all about. They were a staple in our lives while I was growing up, and a perennial request from the children and grandchildren on all sides of the family. If there ever were a holiday celebration without them, I don't remember it.
The exact equivalent is probably not attainable, even with her hand-written recipe in front of me, because she made them without reference to anything written down. I did ask her to record the recipe for all our sakes, but until Thursday I hadn't even come close. I think I've finally nailed it down, needing only to try this version with cake yeast and bread flour to see if that gets me even closer.
If any of my cousins want to try it, resist the temptation to skip any steps. For the sake of authenticity and nostalgia, stick with the white flour and all the beating. Especially the beating.
The verbatim recipe (transcribed from the little notebook in which Gram collected recipes from family and friends):
1 c scalded milk with 1/2 c sugar & 1 tsp salt
Dissolve 1 cake yeast in [1/2 c] hot water--add to cooled milk mixtures
Add 1 beaten egg--beat
Add 1/3 cup oil--beat
Then add short 5 c flour & knead well.
Let rise then make into rolls & let rise again
Gram and I often discussed the changing character of flour. She used plain-old all-purpose, but the gluten content seemed to change over the years. Now flour made especially for bread-baking is commonplace, so I'd suggest using that.
Over time I've tended to mess with the recipe, feeling guilty as I do whenever I don't use whole grains. So it's possible to make them with about 1/3 whole wheat flour, and even honey in place of sugar. Gram insisted on using cake yeast, but when I can't get that I use organic packaged dry yeast.
This year I stayed as close as I could to the original, and took out my whole wheat angst on the pistachio rolls I also made for the meal. These were adapted from a James Beard recipe (from Beard on Bread) and turned out nicely--but everybody ate Grandma Clarice's rolls instead.
Since Gram didn't write out instructions about how hot the oven should be, or how long the rolls should bake, I've had to improvise. In my electric oven set to 375F, I bake them from 15-18 minutes, but 16 is probably exactly right. For oil I used a canola/light olive oil blend, but plain canola is probably better (she undoubtedly used Crisco or corn oil--or whatever was on sale that week at Joseph's Buy-Rite market).
Butter muffin tins and put three one-inch balls of dough in each space for clover-leaf shaped rolls. I brushed them with melted butter before and after baking, but that's not necessary if you're keeping fat content down. We also used to make these as crescent rolls (triangles rolled up from large end to small) and occasionally cut rounds out of rolled-out dough. I like the clover-leaf shape because it's easy and they pull apart like monkey bread. The recipe makes exactly two dozen in this shape.
These rolls are rather sweet, but go really well with holiday foods. I love them the next day, warmed over with unsalted butter and good home-made jam. Their aroma while baking is a sure-fire way to nip back into my childhood for a few, sweet minutes.