Our good friends Al and Dardi from Richmond, Virginia, drove us to Shrine Mont many years ago. Shrine Mont is the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, a retreat and conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in the village of Orkney Springs, Virginia, on the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley.
As Episcopalians Al and Dardi have stayed at Shrine Mont many times. It is a beautiful venue for meditation, worship and conferences, and the eastern slope of Great North Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains is a good place to escape the humid air of tidewater Virginia. It is also a great place to enjoy authentic homestyle southern cooking in either one of the dining halls.
Dardi shared the recipe for Shrine Mont dinner rolls when we raved about them on the drive back to Richmond after our visit. The instructions from Shrine Mont begin by saying you should start these rolls at 10 AM or later in the summer, but you can arrange your own schedule. Just give the rolls plenty of time to rise.
2 small potatoes (3 to 4 inch diameter)
Cold water to boil the potatoes
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 T sugar
1 cake or 2 1/4 tsp. yeast
2 tsp. lard
4 to 6 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. butter to brush the tops of the rolls
Stir the sugar and yeast into a half cup of lukewarm water in a small bowl and allow the yeast to proof while you cook the potatoes.
Peel and quarter the potatoes and put them into a saucepan. Add just enough cold water to cover them. Bring the potatoes to a boil, cooking them until they are fork tender, about twenty minutes. Drain but reserve the water. Mash the potatoes thoroughly to make sure no lumps remain. You should have about a cup and a half of mashed potatoes.
Mix the mashed potatoes and lard with the hot potato water in a large mixing bowl. Let this mixture cool to lukewarm, then stir in the yeast mixture. Add a teaspoon of salt to three cups of flour and sift the flour and salt by thirds into the liquid ingredients, stirring well between additions.
Sift in more flour until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out on a well-floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic. This is a sticky dough, so kneading will take ten to fifteen minutes. Grease the mixing bowl, form the dough into a ball and turn it in the bowl to lightly grease the surface. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size.
Grease two nine by thirteen inch baking pans.
Return the dough to the floured surface and press or roll it out to about a three quarter inch thickness. Divide it into equal portions and roll them into balls about two inches in diameter. Place the balls about a half-inch apart in the baking pans, cover them with a damp towel and allow the rolls to rise until doubled in size. A dozen rolls fit nicely into a nine by thirteen-inch pan.
Preheat the oven to 450º while the rolls are rising.
Bake fifteen to twenty minutes until the rolls are lightly browned. Brush the tops with a little butter as soon as you take the rolls from the oven.
NOTES: As copied by Dardi, the recipe says to make the rolls about three hours before serving. This means that the rolls would be rising more than two hours before going into the oven. If you have a cool kitchen, it might take that long, but I just watch the rolls and pop them in the oven when they are ready.
These rolls keep well for up to two days. You can also freeze them, then pop them in the microwave when you want to enjoy “fresh” dinner rolls in minutes.