Monday, December 22, 2008

Serendipity: Aunt Sissie's rolls

Terry Eastland, publisher of The Weekly Standard, author and a leading light in the world of conservative thought, didn't live in North Carolina long but he made a big impression on readers of The Greensboro Record, where he wrote lively, provocative and witty editorials before moving on and up in the world of serious commentary.
Terry Eastland has many talents and a great curiosity, among them his search during the 1970s for a recipe to use to make doughnuts as good as Krispy Kremes. He discovered a solution in a family recipe that belonged to his Aunt Sissie, a Texan with whom his parents had stayed when they were courting long ago. We never tried making the doughnuts because we regarded the rolls -- a somewhat simpler product -- as a measure of perfection.
Alas, we misplaced the recipe a few years ago, and though we came close, we couldn't quite replicate from memory the genuine article. Then last week while looking for something else, we came across a stash of our favorite recipes in a corner of a standup desk in our kitchen -- no doubt squirreled away while hastily straightening up the place for company.
These are the best dinner rolls we know of. Eastland described them as light, fluffy and slightly sweet, and he's right. We've made them for sit-down affairs, for stuffing with chopped barbecue for a buffet and for Christmas morning rolls with currents and frosting added.
Here's what you'll need: 1/2 cup of Crisco, 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 eggs, 2 packages of yeast to dissolve in 2 cups of lukewarm water, and 6 cups of plain flour. (You can use other flours, too, as you see fit, but use plain the first time).
Here's what to do: Cream the half-cup of sugar with the half-cup of Crisco. Dissolve the two packs of yeast in the two cups of lukewarm water. Add that to the creamed sugar mixture, along with the two eggs. Add the six cups of flour and two teaspoons of salt.
Knead the dough and then set it in a warm place until it has doubled in size -- usually around two hours. Roll it out thin -- about 3/8 of an inch, according to one copy of the recipe from the old Greensboro Daily News, and cut out with a round cutter. Put butter on one side, then fold it back on itself. Give the rolls plenty of time to rise (one recipe called for two hours!), then place into an oven preheated to 500 degrees, and immediately reduce the temperature to 450. The rolls will be ready in 5 to 7 minutes.
If you want to try the doughnuts, the recipe says to cut out doughnut shapes, dip in melted shortening and put it on wax paper to rise for an hour or more. Then fry in deep, light shortening 30-40 seconds on each side, then dip in glaze made of milk and sugar while it's still hot.
The doughnuts may have been perfect, as Eastland used to say, but we never made them because Aunt Sissie's Rolls were what we liked best. As Garrison Keillor croons every week in another context, "If your family's tried 'em, then you know you've satisfied 'em."

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Anonymous said...

Jack, thanks for posting this, it looks YUMMY (and not awfully hard either, which is a big plus). I'm going to try this over the holiday season! I hope you'll ask Kathleen to post this recipe on the Observer database. People will forget that they saw it in your blog and they'll assume they saw it in hers.

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