I have one explanation for making what our family calls Nana's Rolls: I'm a sucker for tradition and family history. My great-grandmother, Nana, made them often. I remember them being on the table of every holiday gathering at my Grandma Host's house, and Grandma taught me how to make them. The rolls are soft, buttery, somewhat sweet and (if all goes right) delicious.
Still, I'm not sure I'd go to the trouble of making them if it weren't for tradition. The dough is sticky and I'm never certain of whether I've added enough flour or kneaded it for the right amount of time. Since the rolls rise three times, I'm tied to home for several hours. The good news, though, is that one batch of rolls yields six pans, so I end up with two pans for Thanksgiving, two to freeze for Christmas, and two to give away to friends.
A variation of the recipe is to make them into sweet cinnamon rolls that you can serve for breakfast. Also yummy, although I don't do this as often.
I post the recipe here mostly for any family members who want to continue this tradition. Because the written directions were sketchy (like most old recipes), I've added some notes of my own. If any non-family members wants to try them, I'm sure Nana and Grandma would be pleased. If not, you'll likely find some great holiday bread ideas on the upcoming Holiday Bread Roundup on Wild Yeast.
Nana's Butter Rolls
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 scant cup sugar
2 cups whole milk, heated to foaming around the edges but not boiling - about 140 degrees
3/4 cup soft unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 Tablespoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons SAF instant yeast
7 1/2 to 8 cups flour
Beat eggs. Gradually add sugar, then milk, butter, salt and yeast.
Add enough flour until the dough can be easily handled but sticky. (I find it's best to err on the sticky side. The dough will get less sticky as it rises. If you are using a stand mixer, it will not form a ball and clean the side of the bowl.)
Knead a bit. (Yep, that's all the recipe says. I really don't have any idea of how to tell when you're done kneading.)
Put in a greased bowl or pan, covered. (I coat the top of the dough with butter or cooking spray.) Let raise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down and let rise again. Form rolls in 6 greased pie tins or round cake pans (8-9 golf ball-size rolls per pan). Let raise until double (I consider them ready when they touch). Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Brush with a little butter afterward.
These freeze well. Cover each pan of rolls with foil, then put in a gallon sized resealable bag.
Nana's Sweet Rolls
4 pans butter rolls, from recipe above, not risen for the final time
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoon cinnamon
Glaze: Mix together 2 Tablespoons milk, 1 cup powdered sugar, a little vanilla.
Mix together cinnamon and sugar. Dip each roll in butter, then roll in the cinnamon & sugar. Put in pans as above and let raise until double. Bake at 400 degrees 10-15 minutes. Pour glaze over cooled rolls.
Note: For her cinnamon rolls, my Aunt Cathy rolls out the dough, then puts the cinnamon and sugar on top. I think she may add nuts too. She rolls this up like a jelly roll, slices, put cut side up on the pan, then bakes.