Hours Toll for Golden Dinner Rolls: Poetry Notes for Thanksgiving Recipe

Golden Dinner Rolls: “These beautiful, gossamer soft rolls make the perfect complement to any dinner. Mashed sweet potato is responsible for the moist texture and gorgeous color.”

I believed in you, Epicurious, and in the delicious responsibility of the sweet potato. But I knew no tuber could help with the time — the recipe hours would be mine.

Dough starter (sponge): minimum 1 hour, maximum 4 hours
Minimum rising time (including starter): about 4-1/2 hours
Oven temperature: 400?F
Baking time: 12 minutes

Yield: Makes one dozen dinner rolls

kitchen recipe

Preparation: The first step in the recipe is to bake the sweet potato for to mash it, requiring an additional hour not mentioned in the time schedule. I was starting this recipe the night before Thanksgiving, but let’s just say not too far before. Time was ticking.

Preheat oven to 375?F. Using fork, pierce sweet potato in several places. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake until easily pierced with fork, about 50 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash. Reserve 1/2 cup mashed potato for recipe (remainder can be saved for another use).

Confession: I left on the peel while mashing (more vitamins! more natural!), then regretted it (gossamer, damn it, gossamer). Leading to more regretful mashing. Regret regret. Mash mash. Remnants of peel still remained, but at least somewhat smaller and more abashed. Next step: The Sponge (“you/cheeky, crusted chump”).

Make dough starter (sponge):??? In large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon flour, 1/3 cup plus 4 teaspoons water, 1-1/2 teaspoons honey, and 1/4 teaspoon instant [a.k.a rapid-rise a.k.a “bread machine”] yeast until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Sponge should be consistency of thick batter. Scrape down sides of bowl.

In medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 1-1/2 Tablespoons non-fat dry milk powder. Sprinkle this mixture over first mixture (sponge) to form blanket on top of sponge. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at least 1 hour, preferably up to 4 hours.

Confession: I don’t really know what dry milk powder is. It sounded scary. So I used unsweetened soymilk (which to some may seem equally scary) — using it in place of the water called for in the first sponge mixture. (Begin off-recipe nervousness here.) I also quadrupled the batch.

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” (Groucho Marx)

Tucked under its heavy blanket of flour, I hoped the sponge would do its magic spongy thing in the next (at least) 1 hour.

“I stood waiting” “for some minutes” “in this very” “alive darkness–”
“the air so vibrant,” “the trees awake” “There were flowers,” “mixed
grasses,” “growing lower” “in the dark,” “& I was relieved” “to be
near them” “after so much time” “where nothing grew” “Then” “I heard a…

(From The Descent of Alette [“I stood waiting”] – Alice Notley)

* * *

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

(Verse 12 of The Rub??iy??t of Omar Khayy??m – creatively translated by Edward Fitzgerald)

* * *

And what was there to do in the hours
of the boiling fowl, of bread dough
swelling in the bowl? She could make

another batch of ink, dye another dress
she’d only wear on Sundays. Violet, or blue,
this time, she thought, but didn’t rise

from the chair….

(From Illumination: Mary Pearson’s Recipe Book, 1755 – Sarah Kennedy)

Arise, you sponge!

I gave my dough baby 2 hours and some change. Thankfully at this point something seemed to be happening — some lift had occurred, some loft (“It is better to have loft and lost than never to have loft at all”), some deep fissures appearing in the snowy hemisphere.

Mix dough:??? Add mashed sweet potato and 1 Tablespoon softened butter to starter and mix until rough dough forms (about 1 minute). Scrape down sides of bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.


“There is read butter. A loaf of it is managed. Wake a question. Eat an instant, answer.” (From Tender Buttons – Gertrude Stein)


Sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt over dough and knead on lightly floured surface until dough becomes smooth, shiny, and slightly sticky to touch. If dough is too sticky, knead in small amount of flour. If too stiff, add small amount of cold water and knead briefly.

First rise: ???Lightly oil large bowl and transfer dough, lightly oiling top of dough. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm place (75?F to 80?F) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Now one must coax. The Epicurious Chef Notes note: “If your house is on the cold side, you can set a container of very hot tap water near the rising dough and cover the dough and the hot water with a large plastic container or bowl.” I shrouded my bowl of hot tap water and bowl of dough with another plastic bag, and placed the pair in proximity to my living room heater. That seemed to do the trick.

Second rise: ???Transfer dough to lightly oiled work surface. Gently stretch bottom of dough and fold up to center, then repeat with left side, right side, and top.

“which is to say / i believe origami arrives / when we need it most.” (From “A History of Origami” – Bob Hicok)

Round dough package then transfer to bowl, smooth side up, and lightly oil or spray top of dough.

“it would be free and look like a bird, an actual bird / or a dollar folded into a bird, a dollar bird / in a dollar boat.” (Hicok)

Using tape, mark outside of bowl to approximately double current height of dough.

“i can’t prove this but i can’t prove / you’re a good person though i suspect / you’re a good person.” (Hicok)

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm place until doubled in size and depression holds when gently pressed with finger.

“i thought it was the crying bench and cried / on the crying bench / when it became available.” (Hicok)

About 1 hour.

At this point I put the dough in the fridge and went to bed. (The Chef Notes assured me this would be OK — the slow cold rise of sleep taking the place of the warm second hour.)


“Wake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night / Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight” (Alternate version of Verse 1 in The Rub??iy??t of Omar Khayy??m – Edward Fitzgerald)

Bring the dough to room temperature at least 1 hour before shaping and baking.

(Another hour not accounted for in time schedule.)

Lightly oil large baking sheet. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Divide each piece into 3 pieces.

“At the round earths imagin’d corners, blow / Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise / From death, you numberlesse infinities” (John Donne)

Using lightly floured [or oiled] hands, roll 1 dough piece between palms [or using the curve of one hand and the table] to form smooth, 1-3/4-inch-wide ball. Repeat to form remaining rolls. Dip each dough ball into melted butter, coating all sides, and transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Roll, roll, roll.

(Music to roll by, brought to you by Unbunny)

Gently cover pan with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rolls rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 400?F for 1 hour and position rack near bottom of oven.

(The recipe also calls for some other antics involving foil-lined cast-iron pans, baking stones, and ice cubes — which I ignored.) And then, at last:

Bake rolls: ???Quickly transfer baking sheet with rolls to hot oven. (For proper texture, it’s important for the bread to get a blast of heat as soon as it goes into the oven. When transferring the dough, be sure to shut the oven door quickly.)

Rotate pan 180 degrees halfway through, and bake until rolls are golden brown, about 12 minutes.

(For my oven, rolls averaged 20-25 minutes before done.)

Transfer rolls from baking sheet to rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slow, delicious, time-consuming, and worth it (at least once, anyway). Happy Holidays!