My bread baking skills were slow to evolve. As a Pratt County 4-Her, I was lucky if my yeast bread entry earned a red ribbon. And, back in my day, 4-H judges didn't mind handing out white ribbons either. I certainly got my share of those in the yeast bread department.
I learned more as the 4-H parent than I did as the 4-Her. When Jill and her friend, Holly, got interested in yeast breads, my personal education began in earnest.
Pretzels provided their first foray into the world of yeast breads. They gave a demonstration called Fit To Be Tied for county 4-H club day and an enterprise was born. Their purple-ribbon talk earned them the right to give the demonstration at regional club days and at the Kansas State Fair. Then they sold pretzels - hundreds of them - at Stafford's Oktoberfest. (Jill's 4-H book says each girl made around 300 giant pretzels.) It was a learning experience for all of us - for Jill and Holly and for me and Tami, Holly's mom. (I recommend pretzel making as a first step for beginning 4-H cooks who want to try yeast breads.)
From Jill's 4-H Foods and Nutrition story that year:
We showed how to make cloverleaf, crescent, Parkerhouse and rosette rolls. We made somewhere in the neighborhood of 864 homemade dinner rolls while we practiced for county and regional club days, made rolls for our families and prepared entries for the county fair.
I'm still not a master at it, but I have become my family's bread baker for the holidays. I still prefer making crescent rolls, and I have some step-by-step photos to help you conquer fear of yeast roll shaping, plus other links for recipes and videos.
Because of preferences for some of the extended family, I make some white rolls (and that's what is pictured in the step-by-step photos). But for better nutrition, use at least half whole wheat flour. You can use hard red winter wheat flour. Now there is also white winter wheat flour available, which is often more appealing to white bread fans.
A little investment of time and effort will have your holiday guests over the (crescent) moon when you serve them homemade rolls.
Classic Crescent Rolls2 pkg. dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
2/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup margarine, melted
2 tsp. salt
3 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add dry milk, honey, margarine and salt. Stir well. Using a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat in whole wheat flour until well blended. Let the batter rest for 5 minutes to allow the whole wheat flour to absorb moisture. (If you do this, you won't have to add as much additional flour and you'll have a lighter dough, so a little patience is warranted here!)
Add 3 cups of all-purpose flour and use a dough hook on the mixer to incorporate the flour. After it has been mixing for awhile, add additional flour, a little at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Using the dough hook, knead the dough mechanically for 4 to 7 minutes.
Turn out onto very lightly floured surface and knead for just a few more minutes until smooth and elastic. Take care to not add more flour than is needed. (If you don't have a heavy-duty stand mixer, you may knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes.)
Place dough in a lightly-greased bowl, turning it over once to allow the dough to have a little of the oil (or cooking spray) on its surface. (If a skin forms on the dough, it hampers its stretch and it may cause streaks in the finished bread.) Cover the bowl with a lightly dampened tea towel while the dough rises.
Allow to rise in a warm place (80 to 82 degrees) until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. To test dough for doubled bulk, press two fingers lightly and quickly about 1/2 inch into dough. If the dent remains, the dough is doubled.
Punch down and turn onto a board for shaping. Do NOT have additional flour on your board. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before shaping. For crescent rolls, use a knife to divide the dough into four equal pieces; you want to cut the dough, rather than tearing it. Roll 1/4 of the dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut the circle into 8 equal parts. Pick up each triangle at the wide edge and roll up tightly. Pinch the point to prevent unrolling and lay it point side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Curve ends of each roll on baking sheet to make the crescent shape. Repeat for each of the 4 parts of the dough, making a total of 32 rolls.
Cover the rolls and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes or until light, golden brown. Turn out onto cooling rack. Brush hot rolls with butter, if desired. (A note to 4-H bakers: Don't put the butter on your hot rolls for the fair. Just use that for rolls for home use!)
Roll shaping 101 via photos:
This is how the dough looks after it has doubled in bulk after about 1 hour.
Turn the dough out onto a NON-floured board. I never add more flour at this stage as it will cause streaks in the finished dough. If you've incorporated the right amount of flour when you were mixing, you don't need more flour.
Divide the dough into four equal parts, using a knife. Don't tear the dough - cut it.
Roll each 1/4 portion into a 12-inch circle using a rolling pin. It will make it about 1/4-inch thick.
Cut each into 8 equal parts using a pizza cutter or knife. (I like a pizza cutter.)
Starting at the wide end, roll toward the point, keeping the roll as tight as you can. Tuck the point under the roll and squeeze it so that the point won't come undone as it rises. Curve the roll toward the center to form the crescent shape.
After the rolls have risen for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, they'll look puffed and ready to go. If you look at the close up photo above, you can see at the curve how the dough has stretched and risen.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes. Keep a close watch. You know your oven. You don't want to go to all this work and then burn them in the end!
For more information about shaping (like shaping into these pan rolls), go to Recipe Tips: Shaping Rolls.
Want other ideas and recipes? Winter is the perfect time of year for experimenting with yeast breads and yeast rolls. You won't mind heating up the house when the winter winds are blowing outside.
Here are some links for you to explore the world of bread baking:
America's Bread Basket (includes recipes from the National Festival of Breads)
Homemaking Association and its link to videos that show step-by-step the how-tos of making bread and rolls.