Who invites friends over for dinner rolls?
On Thursday night, I did that very thing. I texted our friends who live in our building and said, “Hot dinner rolls and honey if you want right now!” It was a strange text, one that I thought might be met with radio silence. But one friend, our friend Rob, said “Yes!” and came over moments later to experience the best dinner rolls I’d ever made. And he was not disappointed.
The rolls were inspired by the rolls that we ate at Cochon. You may recall this picture:
Those were some of the best dinner rolls I’d ever had. And when I asked the waiter about them he said, “The secret is they’re made with lard.”
Fast forward to me, a week or two later, flipping through my latest cookbook purchase, “Real Cajun” by Donald Link (the chef at Cochon). It’s really a terrific cookbook, a treasure trove of secrets from one of New Orleans’s best restaurants. And, of course, on pg. 168 is the recipe for Cochon’s rolls; titled here “Linda Zaunbrecher’s Homemade Rolls.” (That would be Link’s aunt Linda.)
The recipe does, indeed, call for lard but you can substitute an equal amount of shortening. Surprisingly, making these at home requires very little effort. You make a simple dough with shortening, hot water, yeast, sugar, salt and flour, knead it for a bit, let it rise for a fairly short amount of time (30 to 40 minutes), shape into rolls and then let rise one more time (another 15 to 20 minutes). At that point, they’re ready for the oven and 20 minutes later your house will smell as good as it ever has and you’ll have a tray of piping hot rolls ready to be slathered with butter.
Don’t skip that butter. As Link says, “On a recent trip to Cajun Country, I had the honor of tasting a batch that Linda made. They were amazing–I think she brushes a little more butter on the tops of her rolls than I do.”
Go crazy with that butter.
* * * * *
The Best Dinner Rolls of Your Life
from Donald Link’s “Real Cajun”
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup shortening or lard
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, use a small whisk or fork to combine the shortening, sugar, salt, and boiling water. Allow this mixture to cool for a few minutes. (Alternatively, you can combine the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat for 2 minutes using the paddle attachment until combined, then cool.)
3. Use a fork to stir the beaten egg and yeast into the shortening mixture, then add 3 cups of the flour (add the remaining 1/2 to 1 cup as you knead). When the mixture pulls together into a dough and you can no longer stir it with a fork, use your hands (lightly flour them first).
Lightly flour a work surface, turn the dough out…
…and knead until the dough has a smooth sheen and does not stick to the surface, about 5 to 10 minutes. (You may need to add more flour to make it not sticky, but don’t add too much. You don’t want the rolls to be heavy.) The dough should still be soft, but not sticking to the counter or your hands.
4. Cover the dough and set it in a warm place to rise for 30 to 40 minutes, until it has risen by 25 to 30 percent.
Punch the dough down, knead very briefly (30 seconds to a minute), shape into 2-inch rolls or squares*, and let rise another 15 to 20 minutes.
* I did this by flattening the dough into a wide sheet and then cutting it up with a large knife.
5. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
6. Bake the rolls on a buttered sheet pan or in a 8 X 12-inch casserole dish for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. (Took me a bit longer to get them brown.) When you take the rolls out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter.
Eat ’em hot!
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