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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Honeymama's Incredible Sabbath Rolls

Honeymama in the kitchen!
My grandmother got her nickname "Honeymama" from my cousin Jeff. My grandpa called her "Honey" and Jeff's mom called her "Mama" so he, being a confused toddler, put the two words together and she became "Honeymama, which was what she was ever after. The name kind of gave her a mystical aura, especially where food was concerned. She was one of those brilliant cooks who have a knack for making food taste and look almost painfully good. She worked for years in the cafeteria at Southwestern Junior College and her rolls were a campus favorite. Honeymama  taught my wife five secrets to making good wheat rolls and she taught me and I pass them along to you!

The first secret was to dissolve the yeast in warm (not hot) water first.  and to wait till the water bubbled slightly. If the water doesn't bubble a bit, then the yeast is no good and the bread won't rise. Be careful to not make the water too hot or it can kill the yeast and the bread won't rise. If you knead the bread by hand, you don't want dead yeast, because all you'll wind up with is sore fingers and concrete-like bread.

The second secret was getting the right texture.   The proportions below are not exact. Honeymom would put everything together in the bowl with a cup of flour and a cup of water standing by.  As the dough formed up, she would add a touch of flour or a touch of water until the texture was just right. She taught me to pat the dough gently to test it. The texture was supposed to be about that of a baby's bottom, she said. You fingers should stick just a little, but release easily.  The texture was important.

The third secret was patience.  I produced several pans of rolls the consistency of rubber before I learned this lesson. You have to allow plenty of time for the rolls to rise fully. You can't be impatient. Go away and watch a movie or something to give the dough ball to double in size.  

The fourth secret was to let the dough rise twice. Until I came to trust this rule, my rolls were thick and clunky. I was so afraid to punch down and knead the dough after the first rising. I was afraid it wouldn't rise again.  Finally, I trusted my grandmother and low and behold the dough not only rose twice, but the texture and tenderness was markedly improved. 
My Sweet Baboo taught me that you could make the dough the day before and have fresh hot Sabbath rolls for Sabbath lunch. All you have to do is make the dough up on Friday, let it rise once, make the dough into rolls, put them in the pan and put them in the fridge overnight. Incredibly the rolls actually rise the second time in the fridge and by morning all you have to do is set them out in a warm place early in the morning. About 20 minutes or so before lunch, pop them in the overn and they will not only cook, but they'll fill the house with the best smell you can imagine.

The fifth secret is wheat germ. Just add it to the dough when you are making it and not only does it make the rolls more nutritious, but gives them a slight crunchy texture and taste that's amazing.

With a little practice you can get looser with the process and even get a bit creative, but for the first few times, it's best to adhere to the basic recipe.

  • 1 1/2 packages Dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons Water
  • 3/4 cup Evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup Warm (not hot) water
  • 6 tablespoons Brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 cups White flour
  • 2 cups Whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup Wheat germ
  1. Mix together warm water and yeast. Stir it with a wire whisk then let it sit till it bubbles slightly.
  2. Dump all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. You need a big one to accommodate all the kneading and mixing without getting flour everywhere.  A nice Kitchen-Aid mixer with a dough hook and a bowl shield.  Mix everything up. A dough hook does this nicely and saves you time and energy. There's a reason old-time professional bakers had such huge arms.
  3. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then add all the wet ingredients including the yeast.
  4. Stir everything together and knead it until it forms dough. Here's where you'll appreciate the stand mixer.  Keep kneading the doug for ten to fifteen minutes. You'll probably need to add a little flour or water to achieve the right constency when you "spank" the dough. If you're blessed with a stand mixer and a dough hook, just leave it running for about 10 to 15 minutes, checking it as you go for consistency.
  5. Once the dough is just right, cover the mixing bowl and set it in a warm place to rise. When it's risen to double it's size (give it a couple of hours), roll the dough out onto a countertop or cutting board.
  6. Punch down the dough and knead it. I usually do this with the stand mixer and give it another five or ten minutes with the dough hook.  
  7. Get out your roll pans. These should be "seasoned" or have a nonstick surface. My grandmother never used her roll pans for anything else and didn't wash them between batches. She just wiped them down with a little oil and stored them. The rolls always just rolled out when they were done and never stuck to her pans.
  8. Pinch off a little handful of dough that will just fit in your curled up fingers. Cup your hand over the dough ball and then roll it lightly around in circles, guiding the dough with your fingers and thumb. Keep gently rolling in round and round till it forms a smooth ball about two inches apart.
  9. If you're not sure of your roll pans, spray them with a little cooking spray to prevent sticking. Then place the dough balls side by side in the pan. Lay down a circle around the edges with the sides of the dough balls not quite touching. 
  10. Cover the pans of unbaked rolls with dish towels. The recipe makes about two pans. You'll need them. People scarf these things down like candy and two pans of rolls will not last long, especially at a potluck.  Set the pans in a warm place to rise if you are going to cook them the same day. If you're preparing for Sabbath on Friday, set them on a shelf in the refrigerator. They'll start rising overnight and be ready to complete in the morning. 
  11. Let the rolls rise until their sides are touching and tops are rounded and sticking up above the edge of the pans. Give them a couple of hours to warm up to room temperature. If you've got a sunny windowsill, they rise really well there.
  12. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
  13. Once the oven is ready, put the rolls in the oven to bake.
  14. When they are almost done, take them out of the oven and brush the tops of the rolls with margarine or butter. Then, put them back in and bake them until the tops are a nice golden brown.
  15. Take the rolls out of the oven and turn them gently over onto a plate. I take a second plate, put it over the bottoms of the rolls and then flip them back over. Put the rolls out and cover them with a cloth till you are ready to eat.  
  16. Don't forget to swipe one while it's hot, butter it and eat it. I know hot, just baked bread is not supposed to be good for you, but let me tell you, these puppies are good for the soul, whatever they might do for your digestion. 
Final note:

It may take some practice, but if you master making these rolls, you'll never have to take home any leftovers from potluck. I've seen family members stuffing their pockets with Honeymom's rolls on their way out the door after Thanksgiving dinners.


© 2015 by Tom King

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