May 30, 2008

Yeast Rolls

I finally got a chance to try Rebecca Rather's yeast rolls from The Pastry Queen Christmas cookbook. I love the soft, pillowy, fluffy texture of brioche, but wanted something without quite so much egginess. I've been looking for these for years. Trying other recipes and being disappointed with their crustiness and dry texture. I wanted a roll that felt like a cloud. Something you'd want to curl up in. These are exactly what I was looking for. They are soft, yielding, airy and with just the slightest little bit of sweetness. They are to die for. And that's a good thing. While easy, they are also a bit time-consuming. The first rise is about an hour. The second, overnight. And then the last, just before baking, 30 minutes or more. But the recipe makes a lot of dough and you can stash it in the fridge for a few days for later baking, handy for the holidays or a big feast, or freeze them to bake later. Frozen treasures!

And this dough is versatile. It makes the perfect dinner roll. They can be baked in mini-muffin pans for small rolls (as seen in the photo). Or regular muffin pans or cake pans for larger rolls. And don't get me wrong, with a little salted butter melted on top or inside, they are perfection. Truly worth stopping a moment or two, to breathe more deeply and be glad for the experience. That kind of good.

But you can take them one step further and use them as a base for sticky buns, cinnamon rolls or orange rolls. I tried Rather's sticky buns, added some cinnamon to another batch to make cinnamon rolls, and did a third batch with an orange glaze. They all rocked. I prefer a little cinnamon in the sticky bun goo, but that's just me. And somehow for me, at Christmas, there should be warm, gooey, sweet orange rolls. Don't know why. That's just my thing. And these will be part of our Christmas tradition from now on.

One thing I noticed, I really liked the texture of the full-sized rolls a lot better than the mini-muffin size, which were not as moist. Next time, I'd shorten the cooking time a bit on those to see if they retain their moisture better. But while I usually like to make mini-sized treats to try to enjoy in moderation, not so here. Life is just too short to eat small versions of these rolls or buns. So I may not get around to trying them mini-sized again.

Rather makes her sticky buns with the pecans and brown sugar goo in the bottom of the muffin pan with the dough placed on top. After baking, you have to immediately flip them out (and over) onto a tray or sheet or the goo will harden up as it cools and probably never come out. But be careful. That stuff is like lava.

On the orange rolls, I took some of the glaze I'd made and rolled out the dough slightly in my palm and slathered it with the glaze. Then rolled them back up and popped them in the muffin pan. When they came out of the oven, I added more glaze on top. I liked that better than having to flip them out like the sticky buns, so I might try experimenting with that on the cinnamon rolls next time.

I'll start with the recipe for the basic yeast roll dough, then follow with posts on the sticky bun, cinnamon roll and orange roll variations.

Thank you, Ms. Rather, for sharing these with us. The world is a better place for these rolls.

Yeast Rolls

Stage One Dough:
1 1/4 cups warm water: 110 - 115 degrees
1 package active dry yeast (Rather uses Saf brand)
1 cup sugar, plus a pinch for starter
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a pinch for starter
3 1/4 cups milk (I used whole milk)
1 cup canola oil

Measure out 1 1/4 cups hot water from your tap. Using a candy thermometer, watch the water until it cools to between 110 and 115 degrees. Combine that with the yeast, pinch of sugar and pinch of flour. Stir together. Let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes.

Heat the milk over medium-high until steaming, but do not boil. Pour the hot milk into a large bowl. Add the oil, 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of flour. Stir constantly, using the candy thermometer to tell when the mixture reaches 110 – 115 degrees.

When the milk has cooled to the right temp, add the yeast mixture to it. Half a cup at a time, whisk in the remaining 3 1/2 cups flour. When it's all added, the batter should be thin, like a pancake batter.

Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let stand in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, approximately an hour. (Took mine a little longer, even though I closed the a/c vent in the kitchen.)

Stage Two Dough:
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 - 8 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
stage one dough
melted butter

Combine the salt, baking powder, baking soda and 1 cup of flour. Stir into the stage one dough until combined.

Continue stirring in more flour, half cup at a time, until the dough begins to lose its stickiness and pulls away from the bowl. (I ended up using a little less than 7 cups to get here.)

Sprinkle a bit of flour around the top and sides of the dough (pulling the sides away from the bowl a bit to drop flour down in between). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to three days). Beware: it will grow considerably. I had the dough in the biggest restaurant supply bowl we have and had to later divide it into two of them to keep it from overflowing.

To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin pan (even non-stick) with oil or butter. With a sharp knife, cut off wads of dough the size of a small lemon. Put one in each muffin cup. Set in a warm place (I put the oven on 200 and set the pan on the stove to rise) until puffy and the texture of a soft marshmallow. (Rather says this could take 30-60 minutes, but took 90 minutes for me.)

To freeze, put dough wads in a muffin pan or container, maybe separated by layers of parchment to prevent sticking together. I wrapped that in foil and then again in a vaccum-sealed plastic bag to protect them as much as possible from the horrors of freezer burn. (Let thaw and then rise as mentioned above before baking.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes. Start checking them at 12 minutes. You don't want to overcook these. You want them soft and steamy and just golden on top. Brush them with melted butter when they come out of the oven. They deserve it.

Adapted from The Pastry Queen Christmas by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman.

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