Mennonite housewives understood both their Bible and human nature. When they read that “Man shall not live by bread alone,” they respected the need to honor their God, but they also knew that people needed something besides bread on their plates.
Namely, rolls. How else can one explain the fact that the recipe for rolls is the third recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook right after “Starter for Liquid Yeast” and “Basic White Bread Recipe”?
These rolls are easy to make, fluffy and tender and have a wonderful flavor. You may want to make them a couple of times to get a feel for just how much flour you need to produce rolls that are light and tender, but once you figure that out, you will be making these rolls often to treat your guests and family.
And of course, the baker needs to test a few when they come hot out of the oven.
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 tsp. (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 cups milk
5 T sugar
1/4 cup butter plus extra to paint the rolls.
5 – 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
As with other breads, you will be kneading the dough, so scrub your hands well as the first step in the process.
Dissolve the yeast in a half cup of lukewarm water and allow it to proof. Heat the milk until it is very warm and pour it into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the butter and sugar and allow the milk to cool to lukewarm. Stir in the yeast and three cups of flour, a cup at a time. Stir thoroughly after adding each cup until you have a smooth batter.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow the batter to rest in a warm place for about half an hour. The yeast should begin working in the batter and turn it into what is called a sponge. Beat the egg until it is lemon colored, then stir the egg and salt into the sponge.
Add the remaining flour a cup at a time, beating the dough well between each addition. If necessary, beat a little more flour into the dough until it just begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Allow the dough to rest for a few minutes, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
This is a sticky dough, so make sure your hands are well floured. Use a spatula or baker’s scraper to turn the dough a few times to coat the outer surface with flour, then knead the dough for three or four minutes. Try not to work too much flour into the dough, but knead until the dough feels smooth and satiny. Let the dough rest and rise slightly for a few minutes on the floured surface.
While the dough is resting, grease a nine by thirteen-inch and a nine by nine-inch baking pan.
Divide the dough in half and roll one half to a rectangle about half an inch thick. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut the rectangle into equal pieces about two and a half inches square. With floured or greased fingers, form the pieces into rolls and place them nearly touching in rows. Roll out the second half and finish the job. You should end up with about two and half dozen rolls.
Set the pans in a warm place and cover them with a damp towel. Let them rise until they have nearly doubled in bulk. Preheat the oven to 400º a few minutes before the rolls have finished rising.
Melt two tablespoons of butter and use a pastry brush to lightly paint the tops of the rolls. Bake the rolls for fifteen to eighteen minutes until they are golden brown.
Rub a stick of butter over the tops of the hot rolls after you take them from the oven. Serve them warm.
NOTES: I prefer to use whole milk for baking. However, my wife buys 2% milk. To get a little more butterfat into these rolls, I put a half cup of half and half into the measuring cup, then fill it to the two cup mark with the 2% stuff.
There are some good explanations on the Internet of how to form neat rolls. but I just tuck the corners of the dough under, make the buggers a little roundish and put them shoulder-to-shoulder in the pan. They taste just fine and even look like dinner rolls.