Dinner rolls: Thanksgiving essential and group activity

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be a wonderful experience, albeit one that challenges our ability to multitask. 

A festive table must be set before guests arrive. As for the meal, you need to not only prepare a vast array of traditional dishes that defines your holiday meal, but do so in a manner that allows them to come out of your kitchen at the right times. 

So, you may ask, why complicate an already complicated day by adding yet another task: homemade dinner rolls?

I have four compelling answers. First, they are far healthier than the store-bought option. Second, they are easy to make. I promise. Third, you can make their creation a fun, shared experience with your guests. And finally, nothing is quite as special as a basket of homemade, warm-from-the-oven, melt-in-your-mouth rolls.

Check out that mysterious list of ingredients on the packages of frozen rolls at your supermarket. The list includes high fructose corn syrup, malt, sodium stearoyl lactylate, yeast nutrients (calcium sulfate, ammonium chloride) and ascorbic acid(an enzyme added for improved baking). 

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But when you make rolls from scratch at home, the list is short and familiar: flour, water, salt, honey, yeast, and, in the recipe I have included below, a boiled potato and oil. 

These rolls are fast and easy to prepare. Once you have boiled the potato, the dough can be made in a food processor in less than 10 minutes. You can also make it by hand in a large bowl in about 15 minutes. After you have prepared the dough, let it rest in the refrigerator for up to two days. You don’t even have to think about it until you are ready to form that dough into rolls. 

The foolproof recipe I have included below will guide you through every step of the process. Alternatively, if you have a challah dough recipe you would prefer to use, simply make your dough and then follow steps 8-14 of my recipe below. I guarantee this will work.

While you continue juggling the various parts of the meal, engage your guests, spouses and young children in forming the dough into whatever shapes they or you prefer. Liken the experience to messing around with Play Doh. Everyone will have fun and take pride in his or her contribution to this special meal. To re-create some of the roll shapes in my photos, simply follow my “Directions for Shaping” included below. 

Finally, you will be surprised by how easy and gratifying baking bread from scratch will be. Who knows, you may like it well enough to turn this into a family holiday tradition or perhaps even something you do on a weekly basis. 

You can use the recipe below to make larger rolls for sandwiches – think day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches piled high with stuffing, cranberry sauce and topped with a fried egg. 

Enjoy the holiday and your family.

 Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].