Chef Virginia Willis called grandmother Meme. This is her recipe, but the kneading was usually done by Willis's grandfather (called Dede). He beat the dough with a special wooden spoon that had a small ledge on the end for gripping. He'd cradle the big bowl in his arm and beat the wet dough so it slapped "wap, wap, wap" against the side. All that "muscle" developed the dough's structure, causing the rolls to rise in the oven light as air, slightly sweet and richly sour with the scent of yeast.
Make Ahead: These can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Alternatively, make them a week in advance, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze. When ready to serve, without defrosting, heat them in the foil in a 350-degree oven until warm. Loosen the foil to warm through completely.
Servings: 28 rolls
- 3 packets (6 3/4 teaspoons total) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
- 2 cups hot water (120 degrees)
- 1 cup nonfat powdered milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup corn oil, plus more for brushing
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 9 to 10 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl, stirring to mix well. The mixture should become creamy and foamy after about 5 minutes.
Combine the hot water and powdered milk in a liquid measuring cup; let cool slightly, then add to the yeast mixture, stirring to combine. Add the sugar, oil, eggs, salt and 4 cups of the flour. Use a wooden spoon, hand-held electric mixer or large heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook at medium speed; beat very hard for 3 to 5 minutes, until smooth. Gradually add the flour one cup at a time, beating hard after each addition.
When the dough is too firm to stir, use your hands to work in enough of the remaining flour by kneading and turning the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Use the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat. (The dough is ready if it bounces back when pressed with your fingers.) Return the dough to the bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap or a clean, dry kitchen towel; place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Lightly grease a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking oil spray. Punch down the dough with your hands, then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands and pull off equal pieces of dough about the size of apricots and shape into balls. (If you are using a scale, 3-ounce portions will make 28 large rolls.) Place them on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1/4 inch apart. Brush off any excess flour from the rolls and brush their surfaces with oil. Cover and let rise again in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the rolls have doubled in bulk.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool slightly, then invert the rolls onto the rack to keep them from getting soggy bottoms.
Adapted from Willis's "Bon Appetit, Y'all" (Ten Speed Press, 2008).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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