My mom's potato dough rolls are famous among our extended family and the subject of negotiation, requests, and even squabbling. The relatives insist she bring them to every holiday meal: "Is Sandy bringing her rolls?" is all they want to know. As soon as we arrive plates of rolls get squirreled away for cousins who haven't shown up yet, or for "later." And that's before the meal even starts.
My mother, being a very kind and gracious cook, is not one to be secretive about her recipes. These rolls are an open secret — not hidden away but shared freely. They're perfectly easy to make, and this Thanksgiving, let me suggest that you do.
The dough after an overnight refrigeration. It has risen, although it is not puffy. You can see how shaggy and rustic the texture is.
The first Thanksgiving that the task of making these rolls fell to me, I realized suddenly how easy they are. They had always just been an immovable fact of Thanksgiving and Christmas; they seemed unattainably wonderful, created out of thin air for pure pleasure. But the recipe is dead easy — it doesn't even require kneading!
These are simple, enriched rolls, tarted up with butter, eggs, and sugar, which means they are never dry. They bake in a tightly packed pan for a rustic, pull-apart presentation, and I love how the slightly craggy tops get browned and toasty, while the insides stay moist and soft.
The rolls after rising, brushed with a little cream to help the tops brown.
Their ease comes from the fact that you simply mix them up (no kneading) in a big bowl, and then refrigerate the dough. The dough can be pulled out and baked any time over the course of three days or so. They're very flexible.
The citrus zest in the recipe is optional, but I recommend it: a bit of lemon zest rubbed into the sugar puts these over the top. These are the perfect rolls for leftovers, too; their sweetness complements leftover ham or turkey wonderfully. But if you want your ham sandwich post-holiday, remember to hide a few before dinner starts!
Potato Dough Rolls
Makes 2 dozen rolls
1 tablespoon instant mashed potatoes
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest, optional
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
2 large eggs
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
Milk, cream, or egg yolk, to glaze
Whisk the potato flakes into the boiling water. (Note: You can substitute 1 cup of water that you used to boil potatoes in. If using potato water omit the potato flakes.)
Place the sugar, salt, butter, and citrus zest in a large bowl and pour the boiling potato water over it. Whisk to combine until the butter melts. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool.
In a separate small bowl sprinkle the yeast over 2 tablespoons warm water and set aside until it foams and thickens, about 5 minutes.
Check the temperature of the butter and sugar mixture. It should feel pleasantly warm and not boiling hot. If so, whisk in the eggs, and then the yeast mixture.
Stir in 2 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined, then stir in 2 more cups of flour, or just enough to make a shaggy, wet dough. Beat well and do not knead; it will be very sticky.
Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.
To bake the rolls, lightly grease a 9x13-inch pan with olive oil or butter.
Coat hands lightly with flour. Portion the dough into 24 small balls and place closely together in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the rolls have significantly increased in size.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the tops lightly with milk, cream, or egg yolk. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are browned on top and a thermometer inserted in the center roll reads 190°F to 200°F.
For Quicker Rolls (No Refrigerator Time): You can also shape these directly after mixing up the dough. This method produces slightly smaller, more dense rolls, but they are still very good. Expect to use a little extra flour on your hands; the unchilled dough will be sticky. Place the rolls in the prepared pan and cover. Let rise for an hour or a little more, until the rolls are doubled in size. Proceed with baking.
Multiplying the Recipe: This recipe multiplies very well. In fact, I usually triple it for big holiday meals!
(Image credits: Faith Durand)