Potato rolls were the only rolls I remember my grandma Lula Mae baking. Baking requires two qualities Grandma didn't have: patience and precision. No one would argue that she could cook the hell out of a side of pork, but make a cake or bake bread? Let's just say flour was not her medium. As I remember, it was quite a production even when she was thickening gravy. When she finally did find the flour tin (it was not allowed to take up counter space), she would open the top and scrutinize the contents, pushing the flour from left to right with her abnormally long index finger. It wasn't until much later in my life that I realized she was looking for weevils.
Lula Mae had a big garden behind the barn where she planted, among other things, rows and rows of potatoes. The potato rows yielded enough each year to feed her large family and pack a Missouri root cellar so full that there would be no chance of our survival in the event of a tornado. Along with pork, there was a bowl of potatoes at every meal. Mostly boiled and buttered, or mashed. Sometimes fried. Never baked. Grandma had rules.
Leftover potatoes were never thrown away. They were placed in the "leftover potato bowl," a frog-green, oddly shaped Tupperware bowl with a lid that was supposed to make a burping sound when it was closed. It never did. As a kid, I saw Grandma transform the contents of the leftover potato bowl into everything from pancakes to dumplings, meat pie toppers and my favorite: potato rolls. The one baked thing even Grandma couldn't screw up.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer (removed from the mixer), combine the potato, brown sugar and milk and stir to make a paste. Mix in 2 cups of the flour, the salt and yeast (plus any spices you are using if using one of the variations listed below) and mix by hand until thoroughly combined (it's okay to have a few lumps of potato here). Place the mixing bowl on the standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed for about 5 minutes, adding 1⁄4 cup flour at a time and mixing well after each addition until the dough is soft and tacky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough becomes firmer but is still soft and elastic.
Shape the dough into a single ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, divide into twenty-four equal pieces, and cover the pieces with plastic wrap. Working with one piece of dough at a time (keep the rest covered with plastic wrap), form it into a smooth, tight round. (To make a round dough ball, set the dough on a nonfloured work surface and grab loosely with your hand. With your fingers lightly wrapped around the dough, move your hand in small circular motions.)
Arrange the dough balls on the prepared baking sheet with the sides of the rolls touching. Brush any extra flour off the rolls and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 40 minutes, or until the rolls have doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Brush the rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle them with the seeds if you like. Bake for 25 minutes, until the rolls are a rich golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before buttering the tops. I like to just rub a slightly softened stick of butter on the warm rolls, or you can melt the butter and brush it on.
Add 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1⁄8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the dough with the first 2 cups of flour.
2. Roasted Garlic Potato Rolls
Use russet potatoes. Add 2 tablespoons roasted garlic to the dough mixture when you mix in the potatoes.
3. Rainbow Rolls
If you're feeding a crowd, make one batch using each type of potato (russet, sweet and purple). Then intermix the different types of dough balls on your baking sheets. The mixing of the flavors and colors is a mouth-dropping stunner.
Libbie Summers first earned her culinary chops below deck as a chef on private yachts--honing her baking skills under extreme weather and guest conditions. Today, Summers is an award-winning producer of imaginative lifestyle content for print and film clients including Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Huffington Post, Gilt, Southern Living and Paramount Pictures. Her blog Salted and Styled (co-created with photographer Chia Chong) won the 2013 Best Food Blog award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Other Works: The Whole Hog Cookbook
Photography: Chia Chong
Publisher: Rizzoli New York
Penned: April 2014
What's Inside: Dozens of creative recipes for baking tasty and adventurous homemade goodies. Focusing on fun, new flavor combinations, these super-imaginative ideas include cakes (think Habanero Carrot Cake), sweet and savory breads (like nutmeg- and red pepper-laced Hot Spiced Donut Holes), pies (I gotta try macadamia nut-infused Wahini Pie), and much more. There's even a chapter devoted to made-from-scratch treats for your favorite canine companion.
Both newbies and experienced bakers will enjoy this anything-but-boring collection. It's loaded with humor, pretty presentation-inspiring photographs and helpful tips for everything from frosting layer cakes to crimping pie crusts (using a string of pearls no less). Want more? Recipes marked with a bicycle symbol are tied to online videos with additional instructions. Nice bonus!
Time Out: 224 pages
Available: $37.50 hardcover at Amazon and other retailers
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