When I was in seventh grade, my family moved from New Jersey to Texas. I had obviously spent too many Friday nights curled up in my parents' bed watching Dallas, because I expected everyone to look like Sue Ellen and J.R., decked out in ten-gallon hats, boots, and diamonds, with big ranches and even bigger hair. Well, some people wore boots, there was the occasional hat, and yes, the hair was big (you should see my prom pictures), but I was relieved to find out that, for the most part, the girls in Houston and Jersey girls looked pretty much the same.
Despite the fact that I didn't need to do a sudden fashion overhaul, there was a bit of culture shock, which needed some getting used to. First of all, everyone was so darn friendly. I mean, people in New Jersey are nice enough, but if you've ever been to Texas, then you understand my point. These people are really friendly. I had to come to terms with the fact that someone might greet me on the street, even if they didn't know me. What?? It really is, as Martha would say, a good thing, and I wish that people would do this everywhere. Second, there was the issue of the accent. Some people didn't have one, but others would say something and I had to suppress the urge to ask for a translator. Terms like "fixin' to", "y'all", and "movie thee-AY-ter" were new to me, but I adopted them pretty quickly (except the thee-AY-ter one.)
Lone Star cuisine also had its differences from a slice of pizza and salt water taffy at the Jersey shore. Some of these items were great culinary discoveries, and others, not so much. Frito Pie falls into the latter of the two categories. Yes, you read correctly, Frito Pie. This was a hit in the school cafeteria, but as popular as this concoction of cheese, meat, beans, and Fritos seemed to be, I could never wrap my brain around it. Chicken fried steak was everywhere, as was barbecue, some of the finest that I'd ever tasted.
The little out of the way places, the sort mom and pop establishments that Jane and Micheal Stern write about in their Road Food column, are the best places to go for authentic barbecue. Drinks are served in mason jars, and all of the items are set out family-style on the table, including those fresh-from-the-oven hot yeast rolls. I love to pull one apart and watch the steam rise up, bringing that yeasty aroma along for the ride. A dab of salty butter, and you've got perfection. These heavenly rolls are hard to find if you're not in the South, but now you, yes you, can make them at home, with the assistance of this easy recipe. Baked in a muffin tin, these rolls rise tall, their tops billowing over the edges. One bite and you might blurt out that you're "fixin' to" go in for seconds! Here are some extra tips for these fragrant and fluffy rolls:
- Low-fat milk may be substituted for the whole milk, but the rolls will be more moist if prepared as directed.
- Depending on the humidity and heat in your area, you may need to add extra flour to the mixing bowl while kneading the dough. The dough is ready to rise when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a smooth ball.
- Rising times may vary depending on heat and humidity conditions in your kitchen. When putting dough aside to rise, I like to turn my oven on preheat for about 1 1/2 minutes, shut it off, and then place the covered bowl in the oven. This creates an environment just warm enough for the dough to rise well.
- Instead of using muffin tins, the rolls may also be free-formed into round balls and set on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced 2 1/2 inches apart.
- Roll are best eaten the day that they are prepared, but they can be wrapped, frozen, and reheated.
Yeasty Texas-Sized Dinner Rolls
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons butter, in pieces
4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer and whisk to blend. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk to 180F degrees. Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter. Let the milk mixture cool to 115F degrees. Stir in the yeat and let sit for 10 minutes, until foamy. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the eggs and knead the mixture, using the dough hook, on medium speed until a dough forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes. While kneading, add up to 1/4 cup extra flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if necessary for allowing the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Grease a nonstick muffin pan with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. On a smooth, flat surface, cup your hand over 1 dough piece and gently roll it against the surface to form a smooth ball. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Divide the dough balls between the muffin cups. Cover with a towel; let rise in a warm pace for 30 minutes. Uncover; let rise until the dough rises 2 inches above the pan, about 1 1/2 hours more.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Bake the rolls until they are puffed and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly in the muffin pan before serving.