An easy no-muss method for making homemade yeast rolls with my mother's favorite bread recipe and favorite bread bowl, a plastic ice cream pail!
This column was written in 2003, just a few months after we lost my mom. It was published online for the first time in 2009 to help celebrate Kitchen Parade's 50th anniversary.
When my mother was 35, she and her mother were diagnosed with breast cancer only days apart. Luckily, they had survivor genes too. Both recovered and lived long, full lives.
While Mom was recovering from her mastectomy, she made bread every few days. Years later, she confided that despite the pain it caused, making bread was get-well therapy. Her chest and shoulder muscles needed exercise and her family needed nourishment. By making bread, she accomplished both at once. Still, I remember her standing at the kitchen counter kneading the dough, pain etching her face, tears on her cheeks.
Modern-day bread machines are ever so convenient and when a hot loaf of bread pops out, it’s just magic! But I’ll likely never have one, in small tribute to my mom and the way she endured pain in order to heal herself and nourish her family both at the same time.
Mom had dozens of favorite bread recipes and often created her own. For awhile, she even ground her own wheat. ICE CREAM PAIL BUNS were a particular favorite – just a few ingredients mixed and kneaded and left to rise in a gallon plastic ice cream pail so very little mess. The buns are wonderfully light and airy and she used the same dough for cinnamon buns, caramel rolls, tea rings and more.
The instructions are written for new cooks so please, don’t be put off by their length. I promise, these are easy, easy and take just four steps: (1) Mix and knead in an ice cream pail, (2) let rise, (3) shape buns and let rise again (4) bake. Oh yes: (5) devour!
Last year we lost my Mom to metastasized lung cancer. Until her last whisper breaths, she was a high-spirited, passionate woman who told a friend only three days before her death, “There’s more laughs than bad stuff.”
This week, we’d have celebrated her 73rd birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. We miss you.
For bread, “warm water” means the temperature of a baby bottle, that is, warm but not hot to the inside of your wrist. If the water’s too hot, it’ll kill the yeast; if it’s too cold, the yeast won’t grow. If you’re in a rush, fast-rising yeast will cut the rising time by about half. Especially in winter, do find a warm spot for rising. At my house there’s a sunny place in the dining room away from drafts. To save on heating bills, I keep my house on the cool side during the winter, too cool for bread to rise in a couple of hours. So after much experimentation with creating a warm space for both the first and second rises, I've settled on a small space heater set at 70F or 75F that blows air into a wire mesh waste basket, upside down, with the dough on top. It's finagled, but it works! If other bread-makers have ideas, I'd love to hear them. If your baking sheets aren’t non-stick, they should be lightly greased.
HOMEMADE YEAST ROLLS:
MY MOM's ICE CREAM PAIL BUNS
Rising time: 1½ – 2 hours
Baking time: 50 minutes
Makes 2 dozen medium-size buns
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup dry milk powder
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1/3 cup (60g) vegetable oil
- 1-1/3 cups (320g) warm water
- 4 cups bread flour
- Additional flour, as needed
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, for the bowl
- Butter, for brushing the tops
PROOF THE YEAST In a small dish, combine yeast, ¼ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let rest for 5 – 10 minutes, “proofing” the yeast to ensure it grows. If it doesn’t, the yeast may be old (and needs replacement) or the water was too hot or cold (and you should start over).
MIX & KNEAD THE DOUGH Meanwhile, whisk the egg in a one-gallon plastic ice cream container. Add all the remaining ingredients except the flour and combine well with a wooden spoon.
One at a time, add 2 cups of flour and stir well. Add the proofed yeast and stir in gently. Work in the remaining 2 cups flour.
From here on, how much flour needs adding depends on the flour, the wetness of the dough, the humidity in the air, etc. Gauge how much by the "feel" of the dough, adding more a bit at a time, working it in completely before adding more. The dough will start off very sticky but can be mixed (it's not quite ready for kneading) right in the ice cream pail, just use one hand to work in the flour, the other to turn the pail and add more flour. After a bit, the dough will become less sticky and begin to take shape without being a sticky mess.
KNEAD THE DOUGH Once the dough begins to hold together, knead right in the ice cream pail for about four minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough looks and feels like a balloon filled with water.
FIRST RISE Lift the dough from the pail. Pour in 1 teaspoon oil and rub the dough in the oil on all sides. Cover the pail with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place. Let dough rise until double in size, about 45 – 60 minutes.
DEFLATE & SHAPE ROLLS With a fist, gently deflate the dough. Place a baking sheet on a work surface and place the dough on the baking sheet. With a knife, cut the dough in eight pieces (that is, cut in half, then those pieces in half again, then those in half again). Cut each of the eight pieces in three and return all 24 pieces to the ice cream pail. One at a time, form 24 round buns, using your fingers to fold the dough over itself, placing seams at the bottom.
Arrange the rolls on two baking sheets or a baking sheet and a pie tin or a square pan. For individual rolls, leave plenty of space between the rolls. My favorite, however, is to place them closer together, so that once they rise, the buns will butt up against each other. Once baked, those soft sides are addictive!
SECOND RISE Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to rise, about 45 – 60 minutes or until almost double in size. Remove towel.
BAKE Bake at 350F until golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and brush lightly with butter.
TO SERVE Serve warm, if possible. Otherwise, let cool and then cover and serve on the same day.
No Mess, No Fuss
A plastic ice cream pail isn't required, of course. But it sure does make for easy mixing, kneading and rising!
Cinnamon Rolls, Anyone?
This dough makes excellent cinnamon buns! I usually use half the dough for buns, the rest for cinnamon buns. Roll flat a piece of dough into a thin rectangle. Spread with soft butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and currants. Roll along the long side, then use dental floss to cut spiral rolls about 1 inch wide. Place in a buttered baking dish and let rise, then bake until golden for about 15 - 20 minutes.
I've also made savory buns, spreading a thin layer of pasta sauce on the dough, then sprinkling with grated Parmesan.
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