Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rolls: Serena Worthington

(editor's note: Serena used Dishes Mother Used to Make (1942). This was from a series of thematically linked cookbooklets published in the 40s.)

For the dinner, I was assigned bread. My girlfriend says it because I’m a baker but I really don’t feel like one. I can’t even say that I enjoy baking because usually it stresses me out. I think I just like foods that fall under the category, baking.

So with my limited baking skills, I embarked on Parker House Rolls from Dishes Mother Used to Make. I picked them because no one I asked had made them and I thought it would be funny.

I ran into trouble right away when the recipe asked me to stir the yeast, salt, sugar and shortening in warm water until the shortening melted. I don’t know a ton about baking but I do know that water the called for lukewarm would not melt the shortening and water hot enough to melt shortening would certainly kill the yeast. Perhaps this would have worked with cake yeast but I was using packaged yeast. I doubt it though. So I melted the shortening in the microwave on low and set it aside to cool a bit. I rebelled a bit here and mixed up the water, sugar and yeast and waited for the yeast to bloom. Them I added the shortening and salt and finally the flour. I viewed the result with great skepticism. It was really, really wet and didn’t resemble anything I would call dough. With a shrug I covered it and waited for it to double in bulk. This brings me to the weirdest part of this recipe; I was to add an egg after this first rise. So, I have a big, wet yeasty mass and I am supposed to stir an egg in? Whatever. I stirred in the egg, complained to Terri and left the thing to double again.

I spent the rising time wondering what I was going to make when the rolls inevitably failed. After the second rise, the mixture was only slightly less wet and I had to shrug both shoulders when I dumped this soupy mixture on the counter to “knead” it. By “knead” they must have meant, “add tons and tons of flour until soupy mixture become something resembling dough.” So “knead” I did. With lots of swearing and expressing of disgust and indignation. WTF, was, I believe, heavily featured as in, “WTF is this?” “WTF am I supposed to do with this mess?” Purely rhetorical questions since Terri was no longer answering me at this point.

Here was my second bit of trouble. The instructions were not clear about how to turn the dough into a “pocketbook.” What did this mean exactly? After parsing each word of the recipe and staring at the picture I decided to cut the dough into squares and fold it to form a pocketbook. No way was I going to try a biscuit cutter on that mess. I went ahead with pressing a dull knife into the middle of each one although I was really just going through the motions. The knife depression disappeared almost as soon as I made it. I brushed the dough with butter (the saving grace as it turns out) and folded them in half onto their sides and then I “pinched” the sides. By “pinched” they must have meant, “push the sloppy wet sides of the roll together until the melted butter nearly stops leaking out.” Then I put some more butter on them as instructed. Here again there was not actually quantity of butter listed so I used my judgment.

I let them rise again. I really wish I had some guidance from the recipe about how long to let them rise. Without this information, I just called them good when they had puffed up a bit.

I put them in a preheated 400 degree oven and baked them until they had some color, about 20 minutes. I was enormously relieved when I took them out and they resembled a bread product. I served them at room temperature. They got good reviews at the dinner, which was a surprise. I have to say it must have been the butter.

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