My family most often gathered around my Grandma and Grandpa’s table for Thanksgiving. Grandma’s table was never fancy looking and never had a swank tablescape. To the best of my recollection, I don’t even think any of the dishes matched. We all dressed comfortably and most definitely casually. Here’s the thing, though. NO ONE who sat there and ate her food cared one little bit because everyone who walked through those doors could smell the feast that awaited them and felt the love that had invited them to dine together on Grandma’s finest fare. It was a case of love goggles at the table, folks. Everything took on a magical glow. Now just imagine you’re sitting at that stretched-to-capacity-table with all the leaves in place. What do you go for first after Grandpa says grace? Do you grab for the platter of turkey? The mashed potatoes and gravy boat? The cranberry sauce? I can tell you without fear of exaggeration that every single Thanksgiving of my life, I reached first for the rolls. Carbs and I go way back. Grandma’s rolls were the stuff of legend. She served two kinds every year: Honey Potato Wheat Rolls and Buttery Crescent Rolls. Her rolls were known far and wide for their stellar buttery softness. Grandma always kept a few aside in a little bread basket on top of the refrigerator for me not because this picky kid deserved it, but because she loved me and she had to be a little moved by my unwavering enthusiasm for her breadstuffs. I think the bread was the only item at the table that got a fancier serving vessel. It was always in a cotton towel lined bread basket or bread bowl, and where it was you would find me.
The Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls I’m sharing with you today are a variation on Grandma’s Famous Honey Potato Rolls, using sweet potato in place of the regular potatoes and maple syrup in place of the honey. The result is a easy-to-work-with-dough that can be shaped into simple, clover-leaf, or parkerhouse shapes and yields gently sweet, pillowy soft dinner rolls. My gosh, friends. These are magnificent. I do believe Grandma would approve!
- The supreme moistness of these rolls come from two fronts: the mashed sweet potatoes and the maple syrup. The syrup is easy enough, measure it and pour it into the bowl. The mashed sweet potatoes require a little extra attention, but it’s not at all difficult. Simply jab two medium sized sweet potatoes all over with a fork, wrap in a moistened hand towel, and microwave for 7 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife or fork. Cut in half, scoop out the flesh and mash until smooth. You don’t have to add anything else to it! Of course, you could also just toss the jabbed sweet potatoes into the oven the day before cooking if you happen to be roasting something. The same doneness test applies when baked!
- Do take your time to smash the potatoes up well until they’re smooth. Otherwise, you’ll get little pieces of sweet potato in the rolls. That doesn’t bother me, but some of the texture-phobes might get their dander up over that. The old fashioned way is to use a potato masher. The new-fashioned way is to put the flesh of the sweet potatoes in a stand mixer or mixing bowl and mix the tar out of them with a batter blade or whisk until smooth as silk.
- Please be sure your mashed sweet potatoes are lukewarm when mixing up your dough. They should neither be too hot (which will kill the yeast) nor should they be too cool (which will slow the action of the yeast to a crawl.)
- Here’s a bonus: These rolls are whole wheat even though they behave like white rolls. Using white whole wheat flour in the amount specified in the recipe helps keep the texture light and airy, but still delivers the added nutrition of whole grain.
- There’s really no getting around it, you need to let the dough have a long, slow rise in the refrigerator to help develop the flavour. There’s a relatively small amount of yeast in the dough for the quantity of dough it needs to leaven, so the cool environment of the refrigerator helps keep it from exploding quickly and then having no oomph left for the oven rise (overproofing).
- You have shaping options! I find the easiest ones to be regular Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls or clover-leaf rolls. For regular dinner rolls, you’ll split the dough into half, then each half into 20 balls. The 40 total balls will be split between two generously buttered 9-inch by 13-inch pans. If you want to go with cloverleaf rolls, you’ll need to cut each of those balls into 3 smaller pieces. Each piece will be rolled into a ball, swirled in melted butter, and deposited 3-to-a-muffin-cup in a greased standard sized muffin tin. Whether making regular or cloverleaf Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls, you’ll need to let the dough rise until puffy, then bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and set.
- For the ultimate Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls, brush the tops with butter BEFORE they go into the oven and AFTER they are finished.
Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls
- 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast. Active Dry Yeast or Instant are both acceptable or one packet
- 1 1/2 cups warm water for best flavour, use the water in which you cooked potatoes
- 2/3 cup maple syrup preferably dark
- 1 cup lukewarm mashed sweet potatoes
- 2/3 cup butter softened to room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 5 to 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
To Make the Dough:
In a large mixing bowl, the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water and maple syrup, stir gently and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add everything but the flours and stir well (using a sturdy spoon or dough hook) to combine. Add the white whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all purpose flour and stir well until even. Add the remaining flour and stir it in. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to knead it. Otherwise, turn onto a generously floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about five minutes. Transfer the dough into a large clean mixing bowl or dough bucket, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.
To Shape the Rolls:
Grease or butter two 9”x13” rectangular or four 8” round baking pans or 3 standard sized muffin pans and set them aside.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and punch it down. Divide in half, then portion each half into 20 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
If making standard dinner rolls, place the dough balls into the prepared pans (5 rows of 4 in each rectangular pan or 10 rolls in each round pan.) If making cloverleaf rolls, divide each ball into 3 pieces, roll them into tight balls, toss with melted butter, and put 3 balls in each prepared muffin tin. Either way, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until puffy in appearance and nearly doubled in size, about 2 hours.
To Bake the Rolls:
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Bake the rolls for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. If desired, brush the finished rolls with melted butter.
This post was originally published November 14th, 2014.