If Paula Deen is the queen of Southern cooking, then Edna Lewis is God. Edna Lewis ran Cafe Nicholson in New York--where greats such as Truman Capote, Harper Lee, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams were frequent guests.
Her essay, "What is Southern?", the cornerstone of Gourmet's January 2008 issue profiling Southern cuisine, is only the beginning of our love affair. She says in the essay, "Southern is a great yeast roll, the dough put down overnight to rise and the next morning shaped into rolls and baked. Served hot form the oven, they are light as a dandelion in a high wind." Need I say more? The recipe--which calls for mashed potatoes--was intriguing enough to be my first foray into the kitchen this semester.
The dough (in the top photo), rose overnight in the fridge, completely filling the bowl which you see pictured there. Like the soft pretzel experience, I found myself completely inept at shaping the dough. The middle photo should show neat, even rows of six, four across. The good news is they still taste good, though they may not be aesthetically pleasing. It was the perfect recipe for the snowy day we had today, and a good excuse to blast the heat--the dough rises better when its warm.
Featherlight Yeast Rolls
Makes 24 rolls.
1 russet or baking potato (.5 lbs, or so), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1/4 oz) package active dry yeast
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1. Cover the potato with cold water in a medium saucepan (more than 2 cups for sure). Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until very tender (about 10 minutes). Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid (I used a ladle), then drain the potato well.
2. Melt 2.5 tablespoons butter. Mash 2 tablespoons of the butter with the potato. Stir in milk, salt, and sugar.
3. Cool 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid (I put mine in the freezer just after gathering it) and add yeast. Let stand for five minutes until foamy (you'll know). Stir into potato mixture.
4. Stir flour into the potato mixture with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.
5. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, dusting surface and hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (This is a sticky dough, so keep the flour handy).
6. Brush a large bowl with the remaining .5 tablespoon of melted butter, then turn the dough in the bowl to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.
7. Punch down dough (No--really--punch it down, it is so fun. Do not knead, punch) and halve. Roll each half into a 12 inch long log on a very lightly floured surface with lightly floured hands. Cut each log into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Arrange into rows of 6 by 4 in a buttered (I under-did the butter--really grease that pan. I'm thinking about trying parchment next time) 13x9x2 baking pan. Cover pan with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth, though).
8. Let rolls rise in a warm room until doubled (they will fill the pan), about 1 to 1.5 hours.
9. Preheat the oven to 375 with the rack in the middle.
10. Brush the tops of the rolls with the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of melted butter. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Loosen edges with a sharp knife, then transfer rolls to a rack to cool slightly.