Guest Attempt: Mama Merle's Versa Rolls

Three things I'm into right now:
1. Grandmas in the kitchen. (More on this in a forthcoming mega-post!)
2. Friends tackling gorgeously photographed and very tricky-looking Martha Stewart recipes. (More on this coming soon too.)
So when my friend Ashley (a poet), after having witnessed my failed attempt at Martha's dinner rollsemailed me with her Grandma's recipe and techniques, I practically blew a gasket. I couldn't be happier to share this guest attempt for her Grandma's dinner rolls. Here's Ashley!


Recently I saw that Bon Appetempt and I have been having similar dinner roll woes. I have been trying to mimic my grandmother's yeast rolls lately, to no avail. So when I went home to Alabama for Christmas, I said, "Mama Merle, you gotta show me."And lo and behold, after watching my grandmother go for it, I have been able to mostly-successfully recreate the smoothly rounded, fluffy yeast rolls of Merle lore.

When I gave it a shot, now far away from the warm-melty-butter-glow of my grandmother, I was sure I would lapse back into dense non-balls as a finished product. But I am happy to report I’ve now got the knack.

Mama Merle's “Versa” Rolls:
Keep handy a bag of all purpose flour (indeterminate total amount. One thing I noticed watching Mama Merle in action was she, of course, ignored her recipe years ago and intuited her flour needs.)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 pkg dry yeast (I use Fleischmann's Rapid Rise)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs (room temp)
In a large bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.
Combine milk and butter in saucepan and heat to very warm (melt butter).
Gradually add milk/butter to the dry ingredients. Beat 2 minutes with electric mixer.
Add enough flour to make soft dough. (Wooden spoon at this point.) I only add
enough flour until I can successfully lift the mass out of the bowl and onto the board.
Knead on floured board. (Whoa there, cowgirl! I initially was giving it a deep-tissue massage. Now in my wiser stage, I go gentle into that good dough. Also, I don't add more flour at this stage, only enough to keep it workable and non-sticky.)

Place in buttered bowl, and also butter the top. Cover. Let rise.

This "let rise" thing was too vague for me. Mama Merle's house is perpetually 98 degrees in winter and boy did that dough double on up. My apartment's thermostat said "47" this morning. So my dough takes way longer to double than does Merle's. Likely no one other than me is letting it get down to 47 inside. But I turn on the oven and let the dough sit on top of the oven with a towel covering it.
When it has beaten the odds against my frugality, it's now time for "pinching it off" (Mama Merle's phrase, not mine). But first, pound that fluffy, risen yeast ball down.

Now, what Mama Merle does is takes a smooth surface of the dough mass in her hand between the thumb and index finger in the crook there, and she pinches off a little bulbous heap. Sort of looks like a khaki mushroom.
She sets that pinch-side down onto a buttered pan. They are fine to sidle right up along side one another in the pan but you can arrange for those lovely bulbous tops to not touch so much by giving them a bit of space if you want. I sidled these.
The key here is uniformity. You will want all the bulbs the same size so there are none taller than the others so that they will bake evenly and all have the opportunity to have the same golden-brown. It's worth being careful to make that happen. Mama Merle makes that happen. I am not yet a consistently uniform pincher.

Let those rise a second time, covered, in a warm environment, doubling in size again.
Then, bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. When done, brush tops with melted butter.

Tasty to note: Lately I have been turning this recipe into cinnamon rolls. Rather than "pinching one off," you pound your risen yeast ball and flatten it with a pin into a rectangle, coat it with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. Then you roll that long-side to long-side in a long swirled log, cut uniformly into the individual rolls, and let that have its second rise. Bake the same way. Cream cheese icing recommended, on the side. I've found people like coating their own roll. (Mama Merle likely has an inventive phrase for that as well...)

Hope this helps!


Amelia Morris said...

"When it has beaten the odds against my frugality" -- I love this. Sounds very MFK Fisher to me. And maybe, just maybe, I'll give dinner rolls another shot, Merle-style of course.

Sunday Taylor said...

Those look so good!

Alex said...

Love these buns and can't wait to attempt in my own kitchen!
p.s. "Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, but in selection." - 1796 Edmund Burke
Love to MFK. Word.

Heather Taylor said...

cinnamon rolls??? get outta town. loveeee!!!

Mary Anne said...

Hilarious!! Love this post.

Just remember, Mama Merle has had many long years of practice "pinching it off." You'll get there!

Matthew said...

Those look delicious! I would like to meet Mama Merle.

Rebekka Seale said...

Oh my gosh...those look PERFECT!

Unknown said...

To Asley - I know Mama Merle is soo proud of you! I am going to put this recipe right along with the semi-famous sour dough recipe. I too loved your phrasing. Made me laugh out loud. Quick tip for dough rising - Turn your oven on for 15 seconds then turn it off. Turn your oven light on and place your covered dough in the oven. It will rise beautifully. Love you little girl! Wish I could see you! - Paula

jeana sohn said...

omg it looks amazing!

Brock James said...

Nobody does it like Ashley....i bet she has a whole "file folder" of these secret recipes.