There are, quite apparently, many things that traditional Amish cooks have pretty much mastered. Among their talents are the production of exceptionally tasty baked goods. These tender rolls, fragrant with dried dill, are a case in point. The inspiration for this recipe, which I customized partly out of necessity and partly to suit my taste, hails from The Amish Cook's Baking Book by Lovina Eicher and Kevin Williams.
This book's humble charm and lack of slick pretension are a respite from much of what one finds these days in the cookbook dept. of big bookstores. Sometimes you crave a fancy book laden with elaborately staged photos and crammed with recipes that don't seem to contain fewer than 20 ingredients each, but then again, there are days when you just can't stomach that. Sometimes simpler is truly better. When I'm feeling that way, I reach for a book like this one. (This recipe, by the way, can easily be made completely by hand. A mixer would just be extraneous. Don't you love that?)
Lovina Eicher, who lives in rural Michigan, is a member of the Old Order Amish. She pens a syndicated column, called "The Amish Cook," that appears in dozens of mainstream community newspapers (Kevin Williams is her editor and collaborator on several books). Her writing voice is warm, open, and companionable.
They say that Amish girls grow up learning how to make the most of what's available while wasting very little, and that they're taught to value meaningful work and a job well done. It sounds, too, as if Amish women on the homefront develop an appreciative awareness of the peace and creativity inherent in daily tasks like baking bread, caring for a garden, stitching a quilt by hand, and so on.
In reading Eicher's book, I kept thinking that we "Englishers" (one term for us non-Amish folks), could likely learn a thing or two from certain aspects of their down-to-earth approach to life. That they're able to sustain their quiet lifestyle as the modern world swirls around them is kind of astonishing. I wonder if they must be uniquely strong in character, or maybe just really brave, in ways that we can scarcely fathom? What do you think?
About this recipe . . .
What did I change? Well, these rolls were supposed to contain cottage cheese (the original recipe in the book, just fyi, is called Dilly Bread and can make one standard size loaf or one dozen rolls). I, however, am not crazy about cottage cheese and didn't have any on hand anyway, so I substituted a mixture of two-thirds sour cream and one-third cream cheese, and that worked out really well. I also used milk instead of water, clover honey instead of white sugar, and instant yeast instead of active dry. I altered the assembly of ingredients somewhat, and lengthened the rising and proofing times a bit. All in all, things worked out just as I'd hoped and these were extremely delicious, tender, and aromatic rolls. I served them at dinner, warm in a basket, along with seasoned, oven-baked chicken breasts, and fresh cole slaw. Yum.
Dill & Sour-Cream Dinner Rolls
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Yield: 12 medium size rolls or one standard size loaf of bread
2 and 1/2 cups bread flour (I use unbleached.)
1 and 1/2 tsp. instant yeast (or, if you use active dry, 1 package; proof it first)
1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes
1 generous tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. dried dill weed
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup warm milk
2 Tbsp. honey (I used clover honey.)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, large
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter to brush onto rolls before and after baking.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, along with the instant yeast, dried onion flakes, kosher salt, dried dill weed, and baking soda.
In a large bowl, combine the sour cream and cream cheese until the cream cheese is well dispersed and there are no longer any large lumps.
Mix in the honey and butter, then the warm milk and the egg.
Add the flour gradually to the wet ingredients, mixing with a dough whisk or large fork until the dough starts to look somewhat shaggy and uniformly moist.
Lightly flour a clean work surface; dump the dough out onto it and knead the dough by hand for a few minutes, until it's smooth and elastic. (If you like, do the window-pane test to determine when it's ready; pull off a small glob of dough, no bigger than the size of a walnut, and gently stretch it, pulling it very slowly in opposite directions with both hands, while holding it up to the light. When you can begin to see through it without it tearing, then it's done being kneaded.)
Place the dough in a greased (or vegetable sprayed) bowl, turning it so it's lightly coated all over. Cover the bowl with a greased/sprayed piece of plastic wrap, and cover that lightly with a dish towel; place the bowl in a nice warm spot.
Let the dough rise for at least one hour, until it's almost doubled in size. Because this is a rich dough, relatively speaking, it won't rise quickly and dramatically. I let mine rise for about 70 minutes.
Dump the risen dough out onto your floured work surface again and deflate it with your hands, pressing with gentle firmness. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (I typically use a bench knife to do this).
Round each piece of dough into a ball shape, pinching any seams together; you want to create a little surface tension on the top of the ball. Let the balls of dough rest on your work surface, covered by the greased plastic wrap, for about 12 minutes. Again pinch any loose seams on the bottom of the balls and place all 12 of them an equal distance apart on parchment paper (or use a silicone baking mat, as shown here) placed on a half-sheet pan.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly cover the top of the shaped dough balls with the greased plastic wrap, then cover it with the dish towel, and let them proof (have their final rise) in a warm spot for about45-50 minutes. They'll puff up a bit, but not significantly. Brush the proofed dough balls with melted butter.
Bake the rolls for approximately 15 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms are deeply golden. As soon as they emerge from the oven, brush them again with the melted butter; it will soak in almost instantly.
Let them cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then move them to a rack to finish cooling. Or, eat them warm from the oven--they're fantastic that way!
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