“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
Omar Khayyam had it right. Bread elevates the soul.
Studies conducted in the United States and in the United Kingdom indicate that baking bread reduces anxiety and increases happiness. Research by Boston University brain science professor Donna Pincus, for example, has shown that the act of simply mixing the ingredients for bread together can have a calming effect on the brain. She writes, “Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure and focus physically on rolling out the dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction.” It all stops negative thoughts in their tracks.
Sarah and I must be outliers in these bread studies, though.
Sarah is my neighbor and a fellow cooking enthusiast. We’re the two tamale divas of an earlier post (Here) . We know our way around the kitchen. Collectively, we have more than a hundred years working in our kitchens. (We both started cooking as toddlers.)
But making bread….yikes! No calming mindfulness for us. Our hands shake as we wait for the yeast to kick in and make the dough rise. Sarah’s southern accent gets way more pronounced, and I start compulsively washing dishes. Juliet just hides under her favorite blanket to wait out the storm.
We call it bread stress.
Sarah and I know we need help. (I could make a bad knead joke here but I’m a better person than that.) After all, as M.F.K. Fischer wrote, “The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” Who doesn’t want a kitchen chock full of innocence and delight? Sarah and I do. It’s just…hard.
So, this week, in our quest for better mental health, Sarah and I were off in our search for the perfect dinner roll–culling through recipes, measuring ingredients, searching for the dough hooks for our respective antique KitchenAid stand mixers… and facing down our bread stress demons.
First, we tried an Amish dinner roll from the King Arthur Flour site. The recipe has a gazillion positive reviews–raves really. We could do this.
But, alas, while our rolls were mostly pretty, they were sort of cakey and the dough was borderline sweet. We wanted airy, yeasty-tasting rolls. You know. The kind of rolls that just beg you to slather on more (and more) butter and taste so good that you eat five at a sitting.
Here is a photo of one of the Amish rolls. That photo has breakfast roll written all over it–not dinner roll. Yes?
So we continued our search for the perfect dinner roll. This time we found this King Arthur recipe for soft dinner rolls. It looked perfect and the baker reviews were quite good. And, when we had questions, the ever-patient MaryJane was waiting in the wings.
MaryJane is one of the real-life baking gurus on the baker’s hotline at King Arthur Flour in Vermont (855-371-2253). Her job is to cheerfully answer telephone inquiries that come in from all over the world about bread making. It is an amazing free service to be able to talk to a real live baker in an era when most telephone inquiries throw you into the abyss of telephone hell–recorded messages and endless options to listen to ever more recorded messages. King Arthur’s bakers are kind, too. They don’t snicker when you confess to them that you forgot to add the butter.
Here is a link to KAF’s web page about the baker’s hotline: King Arthur Flour Baker’s Hotline.
The King Arthur Flour Company has quite a backstory, too. Their website proudly boasts of their historic ties to America and American food: “We’ve been providing bakers with superior flour since 1790: from Martha Washington’s apple pie through the invention of the chocolate chip cookie, from flour in wooden barrels to bags at the supermarket, we’ve been there. Simply put, King Arthur Flour and American baking have been close companions since the very beginning.”
Thank you (and happy Thanksgiving) to MaryJane and The King Arthur Flour Company. You saved our day, calmed our jagged nerves and buoyed our lagging self-confidence. Juliet came out of hiding, too. It’s all good.
This is an adaptation of a King Arthur Flour recipe from their website. Here is the link to the original recipe: KAF Soft White Dinner Rolls
- 2 1/2 t. instant yeast
- 7 to 9 ounces lukewarm water (I used nine ounces)
- 12 3/4 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 1/4 t. salt
- 1 1/4 ounces sugar
- 3 ounces unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 5/8 ounce nonfat dry milk powder
- 1/4 C. potato flour (or 1 3/8 ounces instant mashed potato flakes)
- Melted butter to brush the tops of the rolls
- Put your dry ingredients and the butter directly into the bowl of your stand mixer. Use a whisk (or the paddle of your stand mixer) to blend the ingredients together. Put the dough hook on your mixer and then slowly add the lukewarm water to the dry ingredients. (Be sure your water is lukewarm (100 degrees or less). Water that is too hot will kill the yeast.) Knead for 5-7 minutes in your stand mixer. Your dough should be sticky when the kneading is finished.
- Remove the dough from the mixer bowl onto your counter or a lightly-floured cutting board. Knead briefly by hand until your dough is smooth and soft (like an ear lobe). Form the dough into a ball and put it into a greased bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap Let the dough rise until it is doubled. This will take about an hour.
- Gently deflate the dough (press your finger into the center of the risen dough) and turn it out onto a lightly greased surface. Press the dough down gently.
- Gently divide the dough into 12 to 16 pieces.
- Shape each piece of dough into a round ball, being careful not to work the dough too much. Place balls of dough into lightly greased muffin tins. Cover the tins with lightly-greased plastic wrap and set the muffin tins in a warm place for about an hour. You want the dough to rise until it is very puffy.
- Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls in a 350 degree F. oven for 25 minutes. You want golden brown domed tops and slight-colored sides for the rolls.
- Remove rolls from the oven and cool on a rack. Brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter. You may choose to sift a little white flour on the tops of the muffins.