Let the young and the vain worry about buns of steel while you rake in the compliments for buns that are plump, warm, and - frankly - squishy.
I'll bet your buns will get more second looks at family dinners. Honey, nothing accessorizes a big festive dinner as prettily as homemade buns still warm from the oven. If you need a reason to make buns from scratch instead of buying a tube of dough, here are four:
1. Cranberry-pecan cornmeal rolls.
2. Biscuits so tender a mean look could crumble 'em.
3. Sweet potato biscuits with cinnamon and ginger.
4. Yeast rolls as good as Anthe's.
Our bun recipes are divided into two categories, yeast rolls and baking powder biscuits. Even the double-rise yeast rolls can be made with no sweat by dividing the work into two sessions. If you have 15 minutes or so to spare, mix up one of our yeast roll doughs, let it rise while you do something else, and then stash it overnight in the refrigerator. Tomorrow, bring the dough to room temperature about two hours before you plan to serve dinner. Shape the rolls and let them rise an hour.
Baking powder biscuits are so easy to make it's a wonder anyone buys biscuit dough in a tube. At its most basic, the dough is a mixture of flour, salt, fat, baking powder and liquid. In our not-too-sweet sweet potato biscuits, mashed sweet potatoes sub for the liquid.
The star of our biscuit duo, though, is Touch of Grace Biscuits, a recipe for meltingly tender biscuits developed by Atlanta food scientist Shirley Corriher. She spent years trying to duplicate the texture of her grandmother's feather-light biscuits, and finally hit on a combination of self-rising and cake flour. Using cake flour, which is low in protein and gluten, increases the tenderness of the biscuits. So does moisture - the dough is almost a batter - and minimal handling of the dough.
Don't mix baking powder biscuits until you're ready to bake them. The chemical reaction that makes the biscuits rise begins when the dry ingredients are moistened. Mixing the dough too early can result in flat biscuits.
You can make the rolls and biscuits any shape or size you want. Just keep an eye on the oven to make sure smaller rolls don't burn. Remove them from the oven when the edges begin to brown.
Use a light-colored baking sheet or cover a dark one with greased parchment paper to prevent the bottoms from turning black before the buns are done.
Whatever size you choose for the Touch of Grace Biscuits, make sure the balls of dough are touching in the pan. Otherwise, the biscuits will spread rather than rise.
Although it's not necessary, brushing rolls and biscuits with butter before baking will help brown the tops and make them crisp. If you prefer soft yeast rolls, skip the pre-baking butter brush and instead brush them with butter as soon as they come from the oven. This will give the rolls a soft exterior.
The dough for our luscious yeast rolls is easier to make than most yeast doughs. That's because the flour is added a little at a time and, while the mixture is still soft, it is beaten for several minutes with a mixer. This activates the gluten and cuts down on the time you must knead the dough by hand. In less than five minutes, your dough should be bouncy and smooth.
A key to making good yeast dough is ensuring the water that activates the yeast is at the correct temperature. The water should be between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's cooler, the yeast will not react. If warmer, it will kill the yeast. Run warm tap water into a measuring cup, allowing the water to overflow. Place an instant-read thermometer in the cup, and use it to adjust the temperature of the water coming from the tap. When the water in the cup is the proper temperature, turn off the tap and pour out all but the amount of water you need for the recipe.
All four of the following recipes are winners, and could be the hit of your dinner. You can bet your soft, squishy buns on that.
TOUCH OF GRACE BISCUITS
(Makes 10 biscuits)
1 cup self-rising all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, mix the self-rising flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda until blended. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or your fingertips until lumps are no larger than peas.
Stir in cream and buttermilk and let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Dough should be very wet. If not, add more cream to achieve a sloppy consistency.
Pour all-purpose flour onto a plate. Flour hands, and spray an ice-cream scoop with cooking spray. Scoop out a hunk of dough and drop it into the flour. Pick up dough and gently shape it into a soft round by passing it back and forth in your hands, shaking off excess flour. Place in middle of prepared pan.
Repeat with nine more biscuits, arranging them in pan so that they touch. (Unless dough touches, biscuits will spread rather than rise). Brush tops with melted butter.
Bake at 475 degrees F for 16 to 18 minutes, until biscuits are evenly golden brown. Cool in pan slightly before serving.
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
(Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch biscuits)
2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
In a large bowl, beat together sweet potatoes, butter and vanilla. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix well with a whisk. Add to sweet potato mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Pat out to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.
RICH YEAST ROLLS
(Makes 24 cloverleaf or 27 pan rolls)
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
4-1/4 to 4-1/2 cups unbleached flour
In a large mixer bowl, sprinkle yeast and one-half teaspoon sugar over warm water and stir until dissolved. Add milk, shortening, salt, eggs and 1/4 cup sugar. Add 1-1/2 cups flour while beating at low speed of mixer. Beat until smooth. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes.
Slowly mix in an additional 1 cup flour on low speed, then increase to medium speed for 2 more minutes. Stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Place dough in a greased bowl and turn dough over to grease all over. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate dough overnight or continue with recipe. After refrigerating, let dough warm to room temperature.
To continue, divide dough in three pieces, cover and let rest 10 minutes to relax gluten. For cloverleaf rolls, cut each dough portion into 24 pieces, roll into balls and place three balls in each of 24 greased muffin pan cups. For pan rolls, divide each dough portion into nine pieces, shape into balls and arrange in three greased 8-inch cake pans (one ball in the middle and the rest in a circle around it).
Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Brush tops with melted butter. Serve warm.
CORNMEAL ROLLS WITH DRIED
CRANBERRIES AND PECANS
(Makes about 2 dozen)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar over warm water. Let stand until frothy, about 5 minutes.
In a mixer bowl, combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, salt, 1 cup of the flour and the cornmeal. Beat in yeast mixture and oil, then cranberries and pecans. Beat or stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a large greased bowl, turn over dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing with recipe.
Gently press air bubbles out of dough. On a lightly floured surface, pat dough into a circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into circles with a floured, 1-1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 450 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until biscuits are golden.