I’ve always had a reputation as a good cook and a better baker. I credit that to a childhood spent in 4-H.
4-H has evolved considerably over the past two decades, but even in the 1990s, it was about a lot more than baking, sewing, and livestock. My first public speaking competition was not in high school, but as an 8-year old in a 4-H contest. It’s where I learned about first aid, budgeting, meal planning, and more.
But, when it came town for county and state fairs? Well, those were still forums that showcased more “traditional” skills. Fairs are designed to showcase tangible products for a period of several days: livestock, clothes, vegetables from the garden, model rockets, entomology displays… and yes, baked goods.
I didn’t have a garden, and I didn’t learn how to can foods until I was an adult, but I could sew and bake with the best of them. Somewhere in an attic are the boxes of trophies and ribbons to prove it.
I wish I could say this recipe has been with me since those early 4-H days, but I actually came across it a year ago. Still, it’s exactly the kind of recipe I would have made . The knotted shape makes them look more difficult than they are, and the egg wash gives them a beautiful, golden color. These have purple ribbon written all over them, and they stole the show on my Thanksgiving table.
Measure your flour with a scale if you can; it’s much more accurate than trying to use measuring cups.
Knotted Dinner Rolls
From Fine Cooking, October/November 2011
Makes 18 rolls
1 1/2 cups whole milk; more as needed
1 packet (1/4 oz. or 2-1/4 tsp.) instant or active dry yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil; more as needed
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 lb. 7 oz. (5-1/4 cups) unbleached bread flour; more as needed
1 1/4 tsp. table salt or 2 tsp. kosher salt
1 large egg
Vegetable oil spray
1 large egg
1 Tbs. water
Poppy or sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
In a small saucepan, heat the milk until lukewarm (about 95°F). Remove from the heat and whisk in the yeast until it dissolves. Add oil and butter (the butter may not melt completely), and then whisk in sugar. Let rest until the yeast just begins to float to the surface, about 5 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl), combine the flour, salt, and egg. Add the yeast mixture and mix on low speed (or with a large spoon) until a coarse ball of dough forms, about 1 minute. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed (or knead by hand on a lightly oiled work surface) until the dough feels soft, supple, and pliable, about 3 minutes; it should feel tacky to the touch, but not sticky, and pull away from your finger when poked instead of sticking to it. If the dough is too sticky, add 1 Tbs. flour at a time, kneading to incorporate. If it’s stiff, knead in 1 Tbs. of milk at a time. Don’t overwork the dough.
Rub a little vegetable oil on a work surface to create an 8-inch circle and put the dough on this spot. Stretch and fold the dough over itself from all four sides to the center, crimping it where the folded ends meet, to form it into a tight, round ball.
Lightly oil a bowl twice the size of the dough. Put the dough seam side down in the bowl; tightly cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment or nonstick baking liners and lightly mist them with cooking spray. Divide the dough into eighteen pieces (about 2-1/4 oz. each).
With your hands, roll one piece into a 12-inch-long rope. If the dough starts to stick, mist your work surface lightly with vegetable oil spray or wipe it with a damp towel. Don’t use flour.
Wrap the dough around your fingers into a loose knot; there should be about 2 inches of dough free at each end. Wrap the left end of the dough up and over the loop. Wrap the right end down and under the loop. Lightly squeeze the two ends of dough together in the center to secure them.
Gently squeeze the whole piece of dough into a nice rounded shape. Put the roll, pretty side up, on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Mist the top of the rolls with vegetable oil spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Let the rolls sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
Thoroughly whisk the egg and water; brush all over each roll. If desired, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.
While the oven heats, let the rolls continue to rise at room temperature, 20 to 40 minutes. They should be 1 1/2 to 2 times their original size before they go in the oven. (Once in the oven, they will rise about 20 percent more.)
Put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees and swap their placement on the racks. Continue baking until the rolls turn rich golden-brown on top and develop some browning underneath, another 6 to 8 minutes. Let the rolls cool on the sheets or on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.