experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘rolls’

I Made German Mennonite Zwiebach (and I’m not German)

Most families have favorite recipes that have special meaning for all the kids and grandkids. In family, there’s the iced Christmas cookies my mom had us make every year and which now my sister Jenny makes with her kids and any of the nieces and nephews who are around. There’s the family brownie recipe, the family five-minute fudge recipe, the broccoli-cheese-rice casserole recipe, the chicken gumbo recipe (a mild version that suits my bland Anglo-Saxon palate), the pineapple jello salad recipe, and so on.

In my husband’s family, thanks to his mother’s side of the family, family favorites comprise an entire menu of German Mennonite dishes. To be more specific: Germans-from-Russia Mennonite dishes.

Now, my family has been in North America for so long that we don’t have any ethnic dishes in our family recipe treasure trove. Our recipes all have American names and no special ethnic history. I love our family foods; but in my husband’s family, the names themselves are unique and beloved:

Cherry Moos


Vareneke …

Borscht …


I’ve been learning to bake bread lately, focusing on rolls (let’s hear it for rolls!), and every time I talked about baking in the past couple of months, my husband would say, “You should make zwiebach.”

“What on earth is that?” I asked.

Or my mother-in-law would say, “Have you tried to make zwiebach?”

And my father-in-law would say, “And there’s always Oma’s zwiebach …”

I wasn’t even sure how it was spelled. Curious, I googled “zwieback” and found recipes for something like Melba toast. Then I looked up “zwiebach,” and I found it. Sure enough, it was a roll—a “double bun,” or a roll with a topknot on it.

So when the date rolled around for my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday, and I found myself searching for something special I could make, the answer was obvious.

I called my mother-in-law.

“Do you have a recipe for that zwiebach?” I asked.

Mom Nichols had her grandmother’s recipe in a family cookbook she worked on a few years back, so I borrowed the book and read the recipe. It raised a lot of questions for me.

Did I need to knead the dough? When exactly did I shape the rolls? What size should they be? How many rolls would the recipe make?

Because Oma went to heaven a long time ago, and since my mother-in-law has never made zwiebach herself, I scoured the Internet for advice. I read five or so zwiebach recipes, garnered tips from most of them, and then added a sheet containing the best advice to the cookbook containing Oma’s recipe.

As I looked over all the recipes, I realized I was going to have a timing problem—I wouldn’t be home most of the night before the party and wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the dough for the first rise. Could I refrigerate the dough?

That sent me on a whole new Google adventure. I researched “refrigerating bread dough” until I had a good plan worked out.

  1. Friday after work: Mix and knead the dough and put it in the fridge.
  2. Leave for in-laws’ house for dinner and family trip to Boo at the Zoo event.
  3. Three hours later, return from Boo at the Zoo and remove dough from the fridge.
  4. Warm the chilled dough and complete the first rise.
  5. Stay up really, really late shaping dough, completing a second rise, and baking the rolls.

I own three cookie sheets, and I decided to bake all the rolls at once. I wound up with about 36 rolls. All golden brown, plump double rolls with an aroma that drew Chris into the kitchen.

He had to eat one away.

“Is this what they’re supposed to be like?” I asked.

“They taste like Oma’s!” he said.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Really?”

“Although these are bigger than hers,” he said.

“Are they supposed to be small? Oh, dear,” I said.

“Oh, it’s fine,” he said. “Try one!”

Oh, yes, they were good. But I never had Oma’s zwiebach, so I didn’t know if I’d done what I wanted to do: reproduce a favorite.

The next morning we got into the car with two bags of rolls and drove to Abilene, Kansas, for the birthday party. We got there at noon, and I realized right away that the news that I was bringing zwiebach had spread.

“Heard you brought zwiebach,” said one of the uncles.

“Looks like zwiebach,” said someone else.

But the big test remained. As I watched the zwiebach disappear from the serving table, I also looked around the room to find people eating it. Chris’s grandma had one. Great Aunt Noreen had one. Uncle Kevin had one. Aunt Becky had one. In fact, almost everyone had one.

Had I done it?

I started walking around the room, stopping at each table for just a moment.

“Good zwiebach!”

“Nice job.”

“These taste just like Oma’s.”

“ALMOST as good as Oma’s,” said Uncle John.

“Keep making the zwiebach,” said Uncle Kevin.

Well, Uncle Kevin, I will.

I don’t have any German blood, I’m not one of the family, but what better way to let them know I love and respect my husband’s heritage? And my boys are a quarter German. They and their future wives are going to know about zwiebach—with an “h.”

Oh, and Grandma said I can make the zwiebach any size I want.

Oma’s Zwiebach Recipe, revised by her great-granddaughter-in-law

1 cake compressed yeast [equates to 1 packet or 2 ¼ tsp]

½ cup warm water

1/3 cup sugar

3 ½ c scalded milk [I didn’t know how to scald the milk so I microwaved it until it was hot]

1 cup shortening [I used ½ cup shortening and ½ cup butter]

4 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water with part of the sugar. Pour milk on shortening. When cool, add salt and rest of sugar.

Add the yeast mixture and 10–12 cups of flour [enough to make a medium dough that may be sticky. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.]

Let rise until double (about two hours at 80 degrees). SHORT COLD RISE: I let it rise in the refrigerator for three hours. When I took it out, it was almost double. At this point I boiled 1–2 cups of water in the microwave, then put the dough in the microwave with the hot water. The bread was raised double in less than an hour.

Knead down, then pinch off small to medium-sized of dough and put on greased pan. For every ball you roll, roll a second smaller one and set it on top of the first roll. Press down lightly with the knuckle of your index finger to meld the two rolls. Let rise for 30 minutes. Now bake at 375 for 20–25 minutes.

Never Knew How to Knead (French Rolls)

I’ve been so swamped this week that I’ve had no time for a post, even though I did get to cook several new things last weekend. My next few posts may be fairly short.

Saturday I tried a rolls recipe from my friend Iris. They’re called Petits Pains Au Lait, which translates to “rolls made with milk.” She sent me the recipe by email, and then I had to send about a half dozen follow up questions, because I know so little about making bread. Iris says bread is forgiving … but I’m doubtful.

A moment of fun: using the flour sifter my mother-in-law gave me because she doesn’t use it, and finding it was great fun to use. I used to sift flour for my mother, years ago. I never knew why.

A moment of worry: I found that in working with the dough, I didn’t use all the flour the recipe called for.  My friend Iris didn’t seem to think that was a terrible thing. Apparently you don’t always need all the four.

About the only real difficulty I encountered was that I got to the stage where I was supposed to knead the dough for 8–10 minutes and realized I had no idea how to knead. Absolutely no idea. I was nervous to put down the dough for long, lest it start rising or hardening or, God forbid, exploding. But I quickly washed my hands and opened my Joy of Cooking hoping there was a section on kneading bread dough—and it was my lucky day: full instructions on how to knead bread dough.  

Still, though, I couldn’t figure out exactly what the instructions meant. After 10 minutes of some odd pushing, pulling, and poking the dough, it still wasn’t elastic as my Joy of Cooking said it should be.

I worked on it a few minutes more, praying to find some kind of magical movement, some kind of expert rhythm, and finally found my hands doing something that seemed to be making the dough more elastic. Then, since I was afraid to work the dough too long, after a few more minutes passed I called it quits and set the dough aside to rise.

And I can’t tell you how excited I was, one hour later, to see that the dough actually had doubled in size! I’m not sure I believed it would really rise for me. I tell you, I was elated.

I baked the rolls at 400 degrees for just under 15 minutes. Iris said they would probably be done shortly after they started to smell fragrant, and she was right. I used a pizza stone as Iris recommended, and as it was the first time I’ve ever used a pizza stone to bake, I was pleased that I didn’t burn the rolls or ruin the stone. Yay for me!

The rolls were a big hit with our steak dinner that night. Chris ate three, and our dinner guests, friends from church, each ate at least two. Also, they were fun to look at, as they puffed up into fantastic shapes.

I’m looking forward to trying them again soon. I bet I can do better next time. Now that I might know how to knead.

French Petits Pains Au Lait From Iris Goodding

4 cups white bread flour (all-purpose flour is fine)

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup powdered milk and 1 cup warm water or 1 cup lukewarm milk (about the temperature of baby bath water)

¼ cup butter, softened

½ ounce fresh yeast (4 ½ teaspoons)

1 tablespoon extra milk for glazing 

  1. Lightly grease 1–2 baking sheets. Sift (sifting is optional) 2 cups of the flour and salt together into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar. If you are using powdered milk, stir it in too. Run the softened butter into the flour (I use my fingers to “mush” the butter into the flour).
  2. Mix the yeast with the milk or, if you are using powdered milk, with the warm water.  Let yeast and water sit about 5 minutes.  The mixture will begin to look “frothy.”  Pour into the flour mixture and mix to a soft dough.

1        Mix in as much of the flour as it takes to make the dough manageable to pick up and begin   kneading. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 8–10 minutes until smooth and elastic (adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a light-weight towel and let rise in a warm place for 1–­2 hours (until doubled in bulk). If you are going to bake on a pizza stone, preheat the oven before step 3.

  1. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and gently punch down. Divide into 12, shape into balls.

If you are using a baking sheet (or baking dish):

4        Place rolls on the greased baking sheet (or baking dish) spaced about an inch apart. (Let them touch if you want pull-apart rolls, but barely touching as, put closer, they will rise into each other and get too thick where they touch and possibly not bake evenly.) Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise, in a warm place, for about 20 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5        Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the rolls with milk and bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note on using a baking dish: If you use a glass baking dish instead of a baking sheet, keep a close eye on the rolls as they bake so that you take them out at the right time. Using different materials for baking can slightly alter your bake time and the texture of the finished bread.

If you are using a pizza stone:

  1. I like to bake these on a pizza stone.  If you want to do them on cookie sheets, see the original recipe.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with the pizza stone in the oven.  Once stone is heated up, carefully place the rolls on the stone (I do this while it is in the oven) and bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note on using a pizza stone: If you are using a stone, check the bottoms of the rolls to make sure they are not getting over-cooked.

Note: Pay close attention to rolls while they’re baking as the baking time can vary from day to day.  One good indicator that they are getting close to being done is that they begin to be fragrant.

The Michelangelo of Rolls

Before starting to assemble and bake my first apple pandowdy this past Saturday, I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to have homemade rolls with dinner?

Only, I’d never made my own rolls before.

I wasn’t sure where to start. I bought some quick-rise yeast recently, but I didn’t have a favorite recipe of my own, or even one I was sure I could do. Then I remembered that Angela Zeller, a student who worked in an office with me several years ago, was proud of her family’s favorite roll recipes and had photocopied a page from an old Home Economics Teachers’ Cookbook for me. On it I found a recipe titled “One-Hour Rolls.”

That’s the recipe for me, I thought.

Here is the recipe:

One-Hour Rolls

2 pkgs dry yeast

1 ½ cup lukewarm buttermilk

¼ cup sugar

½ c. melted shortening

1 tsp salt
4 ½ cups sifted flour
½ tsp baking soda
Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water.

Combine buttermilk, sugar, shortening and salt in bowl. Stir in yeast, mixing well.

Sift in flour and soda, mixing well.

Let stand for 10 minutes.

Shape into rolls and place in greased baking dishes.

Let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15–20 min until brown.

As I set out everything I would need to make the rolls, I realized the recipe said nothing about what type of dish to bake the rolls in. I decided to use a baking dish and bake the rolls with their sides touching, as pull-apart rolls. But I didn’t know what size to use.

First I pulled out a 8-inch round dish, but it looked too small. Next I set out an 8×8 square dish, but it looked too small too. So I set out a 8×11-inch dish and sprayed it with canola oil, then set to work making my dough.

When I had the dough ready, I began rolling it gently into balls and dropping them in the baking pan. After one row of rolls was in the dish, I got a feeling this dish wasn’t going to be big enough either. So I set it aside, pulled out my largest cake pan, and put the rolls into it instead. To my surprise, in a few minutes, I had filled the big cake pan with rolls and was filling the previous dish too. I guess with most older recipes, you were cooking for a crowd—not a family of four, including one child who gags on rolls because they might be gross.

I wondered if the rolls would rise much, since the recipe calls for letting them rise for just 30 minutes. But, they did rise, albeit not to twice their original size. And it was a good thing I hadn’t crammed them all into one baking dish.

In just 20 minutes at 400, the rolls were done—golden brown and smelling delicious.

The finished rolls tasted slightly biscuit-y, because they aren’t allowed to rise long and contain buttermilk. But they are definitely real rolls. They remind me of rolls I’ve had at many little Baptist church potluck dinners over the years.

Is it wrong that I feel so proud of myself? I mean, I made rolls! I rather feel that now, I am one with my ancestors, with my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and my father’s mother’s mother’s mother … Are they looking down on me now, pleased about the baking talents of this female descendent of their line?

Oh, to be honest, I suppose that if they do see me, they’re probably laughing—because they could have made rolls in their sleep. While churning butter, trimming the kerosene lamp, and the sow out of the kitchen. And here I am, thinking I’m Michelangelo of the kitchen.

I know, I know.

But, hey, I made rolls!

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