Let Them Eat Bread!

There was a time when the dinner roll was ubiquitous fare with evening meals throughout America. In the early half of the 20th century, most popular was the Parker House roll, that fluffy darling known for its addictive sweetness.  The cloverleaf roll and other flavorless knock-offs followed, and by the 70’s and 80’s the dinner roll had morphed into throw-away status, a mere place-holder for the most ravenous.

Before we knew it, our evening bread threatened to drift into obscurity.  For those conforming to diets and health regimens, the dinner roll was typically viewed as not worth the carb outlay and restaurateurs were forced to take a serious look at the role bread played on the plate. They recognized the value of bread: it bought time and was an affordable meal extender.  On the other side, diners’ palates were becoming more sophisticated. “Either give us something worth eating, or forget about it,” they demanded.

Enter the army of artisan breads. Apparently, the French knew what they were doing with their beloved baguette. It wasn’t long before delightfully innovative loaves had fully captured our attention and claimed a well-deserved place at the table. We made the turn from soft and fluffy dinner rolls to artfully crafted bread—worth eating every crunchy, chewy, tangy bite.

Me?  I’m somewhere in the middle. I enjoy a slice of crusty bread dipped in flavored olive oil. Currently on my counter?  I’ve got my own light, yeasty rolls cooling on a rack; they’re enriched with sweet potato, accented by fresh sage.

sweet potato rolls

Shades of Parker House rolls!  These slightly sweet copper-tinged beauties serve a dual purpose:  they are both nutritious and delicious.  The sweet potato provides a good hit of valuable nutrients like vitamins A, C, manganese, calcium and iron, plus it brings a touch of sweetness and adds fiber for the dough’s structure.

This particular recipe is actually reworked from a gluten-free one by Erin McKenna in her excellent cookbook, Bread & Butter.  In my version, the dough is quickly mixed by hand to bring the dry and wet ingredients together. I use instant dry yeast which cuts down on rising time. Best news here, no kneading is required. The scooped dough is dropped onto a baking pan with limited space between the rolls. Within the hour they double in size, ready for the oven where they rise up and support each other to form light pull-apart rolls.

These rolls have real character; they are a match with a simple smear of butter and they can stand up to big flavors.  I’ve used them as sliders with sausage, kraut, and spicy mustard.

They are perfect for breakfast with eggs and such. They are just right with minestrone soup, and the dough makes fantastic pizza!

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You get the idea, they are dinner rolls worth eating.

Sweet Potato and Sage Rolls

Adapted from Erin McKenna’s Sweet Potato and Sage Pull-Apart Rolls from Bread & Butter

Ingredients
1 tablespoon cornmeal for the baking pan
½ tablespoon butter for baking pan
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat, spelt, or teff flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sweet potato puree (from 1 small)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon dried sage or 1 tablespoon fresh, mince

Instructions

  1. Ahead: Prepare the sweet potato puree: bake 1 small for 6-8 minutes in microwave, turning once half way through. Let cool, scoop out the pulp, mash it well, and reserve ½ cup for puree. Butter the sides of 8×8” or 9×12” baking pan, line the bottom with parchment, sprinkle with cornmeal.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flours, instant yeast, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a 2 cup measure or small bowl, combine the puree, 1 tablespoon butter, milk, agave, sage, and warm for 40-60 seconds in microwave to melt butter and bring it to 110-120°.
  4. Make a well in the dry and pour in the liquid; with a spatula stir to combine, until it is the consistency of a sticky dough.
  5. Using a 3-tablespoon ice cream scoop, measure portions into pan with no more than 1/2 inch between each roll on the pan. Cover the pan with a towel and let the rolls rise until light, 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the rolls for about 16 minutes–half way through rotate the pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the rolls cool on rack for 10 minutes before unmolding. Yield: 9-12 rolls.

Sweet Potatoes à la carte

It’s unlikely they will ever truly replace good old reliable potatoes, but sweet potatoes have really hit main stream. Everyone is getting on board, trying to give them a chance, and I couldn’t be happier. From French fries to pancakes, they are everywhere.

There’s no question, a nutrient-rich baked sweet potato is incredibly filling and satisfying in a pinch. I’m known to pop one in the microwave for a fast meal and top it with whatever is loose in the fridge, from chutney to chili.

Of late, one of my favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes is in latkes.  Add a little onion, some binder, and they are worthy of a place at either the breakfast or dinner table. In mini portions, they make a handsome appetizer with a dab of sour cream and chives.

Unlike potatoes that turn color when prepped ahead, sweet potatoes grated a day in advance will still hold beautifully. With the holidays headed our way, consider latkes as part of your party entertainment fare.

Sweet Potato Latkes
Inspired by Gale Gand’s Brunch!

Ingredients
1/2 yellow onion
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled (3 to 4)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 bunch green onions or chives, sliced

Instructions

1. Grate the onion with a box grater into a mesh strainer and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

2. Either grate the potatoes on a box grater or use a food processor.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, onion, flour and eggs until well combined. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Make little balls and flatten them into about a 3 inch disc.

4. Pour about 1/4 cup oil into a skillet and heat over medium high heat. Put a few latkes in a pan at a time, press down firmly with a spatula, and fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Move to paper toweling to drain and hold in a warm oven.

5. Top each with a small dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chives. Makes 8 large or about 36 mini-latkes.