If my family takes one thing seriously, it’s tradition. We tell the same stories over and over again, and we reminisce about things more than most. Just ask Sam. We take our Christmas menu seriously, too, and we always have Ham with my Aunt Joy’s “Favorite Sweet Rolls.” Some of the biggest fights that have happened are over whether to change something that has been the same for the past thirty years, so we’re pretty serious about traditions.
This recipe is one of those that is written out in my grandmother’s handwritten recipe book with no clues as to it’s origin and titled “Our Favorite Sweet Rolls.” She also wrote out her Christmas Lunch menu that she served every year for her friends next to each person’s name and who had passed away. In her handwriting at the bottom she wrote, “Whatever you would do for friends, do quickly! Time does not stand still!” Considering my grandmother is no longer able to attend holidays, and is in a nursing home with dementia, it’s comforting to hear her advice now, when she can’t give it.
My Aunt Joy was the one who used to make these, to continue with Grandmother’s tradition. Aunt Joy passed away about fifteen years ago, and ever since, we stopped making these. We talk about them every year and always say that Christmas isn’t the same since no one made the rolls again. But I was determined to bring them back this year. I am probably the only other person with the patience to make yeast rolls.
Since my sister was visiting this weekend, it was the perfect opportunity to recreate our Christmas tradition. We watched Little Women, the best Christmas movie, shopped in downtown Franklin, painted ornaments, and of course, made these yeast rolls! They’re scored, dipped in butter, and filled with cinnamon sugar, so they’re slightly sweet. I used to eat so many of these that I earned the nickname “roll butt” from my cousin.
Let’s get started! Put your patience hat on. First you will melt the shortening in a saucepan with the milk, sugar, and salt. Let it cool before adding the yeast and the egg. Whisk together and mix in the flour a little at a time with a wooden spoon. You’ll get a tacky mess until it’s just right, but you’ll know when it’s ready to knead because it will be difficult to stir.
To know when to stop kneading, feel the dough. Is it lumpy? It’s not ready. If it’s smooth and elastic, it’s where it should be. It also will no longer stick to the countertop. If you poke it, it will quickly jump back. It’s all about really getting to know the dough.
Cover and let it rise for a couple hours in a warm place. My trick to a quick rise is to turn on the oven to 350 and place the bowl near the vent to keep it nice and warm.
Now comes the fun part! You punch it down with your fist and then knead it for a couple minutes. Then roll it out with a rolling pin on a clean surface. My aunts use a juice glass to cut the rolls, but I used a cocktail shaker. If you’re not an animal like me, you can use a cookie cutter.
Get together your cinnamon sugar and melted butter in two bowls.
I flatten out the roll slightly with my thumbs and score the center with a knife. Dip the scored side in butter then cinnamon sugar. Then fold it in half like a taco and press it down firmly until it stays like that.
Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush them with butter. Let them sit for about 20 minutes and bake for 12-20 minutes or until they’re golden and fluffy.
I hope you make these and they become a new tradition at your holidays. What Christmas traditions does your family have?
See the full recipe below.
OUR FAVORITE SWEET ROLLS
makes about 24 rolls
2 cups milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 packets of rapid rise yeast
about 6 cups flour
1 stick butter, melted
another 1/2 cup granulated sugar (for the filling)
2 tsp cinnamon
In a small saucepan, mix together milk, salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and shortening over medium heat until shortening is melted and sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl to cool. Let it sit until it is room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.
Once the mixture is room temperature, add yeast and egg and whisk together. Add the flour, one cup at a time, mixing together with a wooden spoon between flour additions. Once the mixture is tacky and difficult to mix with a spoon, turn it out onto a clean surface to knead. Add a little flour to the surface and knead for about 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s been kneaded enough when the mixture no longer sticks to the counter without the help of flour and it’s smooth and elastic. If you press it with your finger, it will spring back.
Roll the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with saran wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. Once doubled, remove the saran wrap and punch down the dough with your fist. Turn the dough onto your clean surface again and knead for a couple minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin to about a half inch thickness. Using a juice glass, cut circles out of the dough and place on a parchment lined baking sheet or a greased baking sheet.
Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Using your thumbs, gently flatten the circle and score a line down the center of the circle with a butter knife. Dip the scored side into melted butter and then dip into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Fold over like a taco on the scored line and place onto the baking sheet on its side, pressing down gently so that it doesn’t reopen. Brush the tops with the remaining melted butter. Let the rolls sit for another 20 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake for 12-20 minutes or until lightly golden and puffy.