Like so many of the rest of you, we are locked in for the duration–or in my case, until I have to drive up to Boston and help my Dad get settled when he’s released from cardiac rehab.
(The duration, she said. Why are we all suddenly talking like we’re at war? Oh, right, because we are, with something one billionth of our size).
The other day it occurred to me that for the first time in my life, I am living as my grandmothers did, cooking three meals a day, every day.
It’s not that I don’t like to cook. But during the week, the Official Blog Spouse and I are normally lucky to squeeze in two meals together. He’s out, or I’m out, or (surprisingly frequently!) we’re both out at the same think-tank policy discussion. So I never do that nifty thing where you shop for two weeks and carefully budget everything so that you use last night’s roast beef in tonight’s hash. Our schedules never have that kind of predictability.
Only now, they do. Now I know that come 6:30 pm or so, both of us are going to be in the house. And that at 4:30 pm, I will be present and able to take the refrigerator rolls out of the fridge, roll them into balls, let them rise for a couple of hours, and bake at 400F. Then I will be able to serve my husband a warm, fragrant, crusty roll hot from the oven to go with our main course.
Every cloud has a silver lining, my grandmother used to say. This lining may be thin indeed, and the cloud rather ominously large, but if we’re going to get through the next few months without going insane, we’re going to have to stare hard at those silver linings and remember how pretty things can be.
This little glint of light is a really pretty bit of bread. First of all, it is easy, and while I enjoy throwing together a Dobostorte as much as the next girl, I also like delicious things that can be tossed together in a trice, because they make me feel like a minor-grade superhero. Second of all, it’s got a nice soft texture inside, and a crust that turns a glorious brown, rather like a brioche. And third, because it’s meant to go in the refrigerator, and used a little bit at a time, you can have fresh bread three times a day if you’re willing to do just a tiny bit of work.
Work? I can already feel many of my readers shrinking back in horror. Bread baking is hard! All that kneading … but au contraire, mon frere. Refrigerator rolls almost literally couldn’t be easier. There is no kneading required, and no special equipment. All you need is a few simple ingredients you already have on hand, and a largish mixing bowl. Let me repeat: there is no kneading on this exam.
Okay, you also need yeast, which, if you are afraid of bread baking, probably isn’t sitting in your pantry right now, pining for some action. But lucky for you, yeast is the one thing the hoarders haven’t cleaned out of the supermarkets. Also, you can, in extremis, buy it in bulk from Amazon–and once you’ve tasted these refrigerator rolls, you may well decide that bulk is the way to go.
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 packets or 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup very soft butter
- 1 egg
- 7 cups (740 grams) all-purpose flour
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together water, salt, and sugar.
- Add yeast, and allow to stand for five minutes
- Stir in the butter and egg, whisking well to blend as well as possible. Frankly the butter simply isn’t going to blend all that well, and that’s okay.
- Now the messy part: add the flour, then get your hands in there and start mixing. Yes, I know it feels funny. I promise it will wash off.
- Mix the flour into everything else until the little lumps of butter seem to have disappeared. That’s it, you’re done: you made bread dough!
- Refrigerate for up to 5 days
To make the rolls
- Butter a baking pan
- Take some dough out of the fridge and roll it into balls roughly an inch and a half to two inches across.
- Place in rows, three inches apart, on your baking pan.
- Cover loosely with a towel and set it to rise in a reasonably warm place, for 1.5-2 hours.
- A half hour before you plan to bake them, preheat the oven to 400 F (375 F convection)
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they sound just a little bit hollow when you flick them with a fingernail.
- If you have never baked bread before, and that last step sounds a little opaque, don’t worry–eventually, it will make sense. In the meantime, just bake one more roll than you think you’ll want. Then around 12 minutes, take out one roll and crack it open. Does it look like a roll inside, with a nice, white expanse of bread inside the encircling crust? Or does the center collapse towards the outer shell so that it appears to be mostly crust? If the latter, it needs a few more minutes, so keep the rest of the rolls in the oven until the full fifteen minutes have passed.
Just before you put your balls of dough in the oven, brush their tops with some melted butter or olive oil (for soft rolls), or a beaten egg white (for stiffer, shiny rolls), and then sprinkle on any of the following:
- Caraway and kosher salt
- Kosher salt by itself
- Herbes de provence
- Cinnamon sugar
- Aleppo pepper and parmesan
Or just whisk a clove or two worth of minced garlic straight into your butter or olive oil for garlic rolls.