For many of us, favorite family memories are traditions are often centered around a special meal with special food. My mom is an excellent cook who could contribute just about anything to a holiday table. Yet she’s continually called upon to make one item more than anything else–homemade yeast rolls.
Now, I’m far from Joy the Baker or Rachel Tiemeyer when it comes to food blogs. Even so, I thought I’d share this simple recipe along with a few thoughts on what baking homemade bread often points to in my own mind and life.
1. Bread baking is more like Advent than Christmas.
My mom and I recently talked about why people “Ohhh” and “Ahhh” over such a simple dish. It doesn’t have anything to do with exotic ingredients. Homemade bread baking is sort of a dying art but not necessarily because there is a high level of difficulty involved. People shy away from it not because it’s complex, but because it requires something counter-cultural–waiting.
The initial act of combining ingredients and kneading them together isn’t hard. Immediately afterwards, though, you have to let your work rest and rise. You have to wait. Shaping the risen dough into uniform balls isn’t all that difficult. Yet, even after the last piece of dough is placed in the pan the process must be repeated. You must wait yet again before placing them into a warm oven where you will once again, you guessed it, wait.
There are many gratifying things that happen when you follow the recipe below. If you’re looking for something that involves instant gratification, however, you’re probably better off checking out what our friends at Pillsbury have in your grocer’s freezer.
In many ways, homemade bread baking is more like Advent than Christmas. Waiting involves a tension between a past promise and a future reality. It involves patience. It involves angst.
2. Homemade bread baking is messy.
Not only do you have to wait, but you have to clean up flour from your countertops. There is a type of labor involved that is different than unrolling something from a can (not that there is anything wrong with that.) The idea of something not only being more time intensive, but more labor intensive could easily be viewed as “strike two” in the world we live in. Yet, the process can actually be just as beautiful and valuable as the final product if we allow it. It reminds me a lot of what Wendell Berry said in Hannah Coulter:
“It is hard to say what it means to be at work and thinking of a person you loved and love still who did that same work before you and who taught you to do it. It is a comfort ever and always, like hearing the rhyme come when you are singing a song…And as our work shaped our workplaces, our work and our workplaces shaped our days.”
For me, the process of this recipe is greater than the final product. It makes me think of my mom–a person you loved and love still who did that same work before you and who taught you to do it.
Valuing the process frees us up to take a risk without everything riding on a perfect end result. It’s alright if we make a mess and end up with something less than ideal. Valuing the process means that even a bad batch of bread isn’t a waste.
If you want to give it a try, here is what you’ll need:
6 to 6 1/2 Cups of All Purpose Flour (I usually do 3 cups of White and 3 Cups of Wheat Flour)
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Teaspoons Salt
2 Packages of Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Butter Softened
2 Cups Hot Water (120-130 Degrees)
1 Egg and 1 Egg Yolk
Vegetable Oil (To Grease the Bowl the Dough Rises In)
Start the process about 4 hours before you’d like to serve the rolls. If you have an electric mixer with a bread hook, use it. If not, get ready to give your arms a good work out.
In a large bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour with the sugar, salt, and yeast. Add butter or margarine. With mixer at low speed, gradually pour in 2 cups of water between 120-130 degrees. (Exact temperature is important since you’ll want to activate the yeast without killing it.) Add eggs increasing the speed to medium for 2 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup flour at a time mixing for 2 minutes in between. Continue this process until you’ve used the rest of the flour or you’ve created a soft ball of dough.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
Shape dough into a ball and place in a large, greased bowl, turning over so that the top of the dough is greased as well. Cover with a towel and place in a warm area until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours.)
Cut dough into 30 equal pieces. Shape into balls and place in a greased pan. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Brush rolls with melted butter, enjoy, and share.