Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

Big, fluffy and tender yeast rolls, reminiscent of those old school cafeteria rolls so many of us loved.
Big, fluffy and tender yeast rolls, reminiscent of those old school cafeteria rolls so many of us loved.

Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

If you're a parent or grandparent who has had the occasion to attend a child's elementary school lunch in recent years, you know that kid's school lunches are nothing like the ones we used to enjoy as children. Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school, lunches were home-cooked meals, and many my age have fond memories of cafeteria favorites - brownies, goulash, even sloppy joes seem to top the list, but the one I find most often mentioned are those homemade yeast rolls.

Many of us have been on a quest for a roll that is as close to those amazing homemade yeast rolls from our elementary school memories, but in more reasonable batches. Fresh baked in the morning, you could smell those rolls all over the school, getting a symphony of tummy rumbling going.
For several of my early school years, my Mama was a cafeteria lady and I went to school extra early and helped out. Three of my duties were to push the dirty dishes into the gigantic commercial washer, punch holes into the milk cartons and put in straws and brush butter on those rolls when they came out of the oven and were headed to the warmer.

Of course, I always got one, fresh and hot right out of the oven. I'm pretty sure that was the beginning of my bread addiction! Now, it's been a long time, but they had a certain texture and appearance, and I have made so many recipes that tried to tell me it was the one, only to leave me disappointed. I think this recipe is finally the one that I've gotten the closest, yay!
When I set out to make these, The Cajun had, as usual, drank all the dang milk! This man drinks milk like a 10 year old boy, I swear. Anyway, I didn't realize it until I was into the recipe, so I rooted through the pantry and found a can of evaporated milk, and wrote the recipe using that. Whole milk is what I usually use for rolls, but I really liked this result so I may stick with canned!

When it's time to knead, you'll find the dough to be gooey and sticky - that's normal and what you're looking for with this dough recipe. Once you knead it and begin to draw a bit more flour, it turns into this absolutely gorgeous dough. Speaking of kneading, since I wanted a light, airy roll, I thought I would fold the dough like I do with biscuits, just before forming them into rolls. Wow was I happy with the results!

There are a few different kinds of yeast, dry active yeast being the most commonly used for rolls. You can interchange instant yeast for that, though some will tell you that you don't need to proof instant yeast. I am of the school of thought that says, proof your yeast, no matter what! That's the only way you will know if it's still alive and active. Why would you want to invest all those other ingredients and time, only to find in the end, your yeast was dead? That would be a bummer.
To do that, I first combine the yeast with a portion of the sugar from the recipe and then add another portion of the warmed liquid the recipe calls for. Stir it up and leave it sit for about 5 minutes.

When it puffs up like this, you know it's alive!

Southern Style Hissy Fit: The temperature of the liquid you're using for making bread and rolls is critical. Too hot and it will kill the yeast, too cold and it won't activate it. You'll often see talk of using the water for a baby's bath as a reference point for temperature. Well, let's just dispel that rumor right here! While feel may work occasionally, yeast needs a temperature of about 110 to 115 degrees F to activate correctly. A baby's bath water should never be much more than warm, about 75 degrees and 90 degrees is already getting close to being too hot for a baby's bath. If you judge water for yeast by touch, the water is probably actually too cool. Invest in an inexpensive, instant read thermometer for your baking and cooking needs. Problem solved!

Look how tender... oh my gosh, just seeing them again makes my mouth water for one!

So airy, tender and delicious!

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Recipe: Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 2 hours 40 min
Cook time: 20 min

Total time: 3 hours
Yield: About 12 rolls

  • 2-1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 oz can evaporated milk, heated to 110 degrees F
  • 4 cups bread flour*
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

Combine yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1/4 cup of the warmed milk. Stir together and let rest until puffy and doubled, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, aerate flour before measuring, then spoon into measuring cup and level, placing into large bowl. Whisk in remaining sugar and salt. Add remaining evaporated milk, oil, one of the eggs, yeast and butter; stir until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel, set aside for 15 minutes.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead by hand for 20 minutes, or until dough is elastic and can be stretched without tearing, or add dough to mixing bowl with dough hook and knead on speed 2 for 8 to 10 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to bowl, return dough to bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and towel and let rest in a draft free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Butter a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan and set aside. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 times, drawing in flour if too sticky. Use rolling pin to roll into a rectangle and fold the sides into the dough, as with biscuits, rolling and folding 4 more times. Roll out to rectangle again, cut dough in half lengthwise, then into 12 equal squares. Shape into balls and place into buttered pan. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat remaining egg and gently brush tops of rolls with beaten egg. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and transfer to a cooling rack as soon as possible to prevent bottoms from getting soggy.

Cook's Notes: I prefer bread flour for this recipe, which is higher in protein and gluten and produces a lighter crumb but chewy result. All-purpose will be more dense and a different texture but can be substituted if that's all you have. May also substitute 1-1/2 cups whole milk. I made this batch into 12 large rolls, though you could certainly shape them smaller. I also baked them using the convection setting on my oven. At 350 it took about 10 minutes.

Tip: Measure the flour by first aerating the flour container, then spoon flour into a measuring cup without shaking the measuring cup and level off with a straight edge knife. This will help to keep from using too much flour, which happens when you scoop the measuring cup into the flour container to measure. That packs down the flour, meaning you use too much, creating a more dense and dry roll. To assist rise, bring water to a boil in a saucepan or microwave in a 4 cup or larger Pyrex measuring cup. Turn on the oven light only, and place heated water into unheated stove before adding the covered dough bowl. This will help to create a steamy, warm environment. Line baking pan with parchment paper leaving enough overhang to easily remove rolls from pan to assist removal and avoid soggy bottoms.

Source: http://deepsouthdish.com

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Check These Recipes Out Too Y’all!

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Old Fashioned Pan Rolls

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  1. I was just telling my kids about the rolls at my elementary school! They were just like you described and I've never been able to duplicate them. A group of us actually wrote to the newspaper in our hometown to see if anyone could remember the recipe!I cant wait to try this recipe. Thanks for posting!

    1. Please let me know what you think Karin!

    2. Mary, I want to say thank you for sharing your recipe. They were exactly as described, and were tender, rich, yeasty, and delicious.

    3. You're so welcome Jason & thanks so much for taking the time to stop back by and let me know you enjoyed them!

  2. Hi Mary, I enjoyed your story. I actually loved school cafeteria food and you're right, the rolls were delicious! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family 🦃🦃

  3. I use to love the homemade school lunches in my elementary school in SC. They were good, very different from the ones served today.
    Thank you so much for the Yeast Roll recipe. I still dream of the Hamburger Vegetable soup and the Chicken Pot Pie we were served for lunch.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. So many good memories back in those days! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving too Elsa!

  4. My mom has always raved about some of the food she was served at elementary and high school back in the day. I'm going to share this with her, thanks!

  5. I haven’t tried this recipe yet but was wondering since your mom worked in the cafeteria (lunch room as we called it in LA) if you might have a recipe for the homemade hamburger buns they made. They were the best and tasted different from the yeast rolls they made.

    1. I don't, but I'm betting they used a similar dough. I'll have to see what I can find!

  6. I loved these rolls in school too. The second recipe I ever made of yours is the baked spaghetti. Baked spaghetti, green salad with ‘Italian’ dressing, green beans and my version of school cafeteria rolls. (Which is the same except I use buttermilk and 1/2 sugar, 1/2 honey. These are my holiday rolls too, so there chilling in the fridge right now!). You are a straight up treasure Mary, thank you for sharing.

    Now, if I could figure out my school’s pizza...

  7. I followed your recipe, checking the yeast first, but I didn't see when to add it to the flour mixture so I added it with the other liquid ingredients...was that right? My dough is resting for the first time right now. Thanks.

    1. Hi, Roselyn. I am making the rolls right now, in the oven. Look again at the bottom of the ingredients list. The first words are "Instructions" followed just below it by "Combine the yeast." We all slip up like this. Hope yours were great.

    2. Roselyn, that is correct! Let me check how I typed that up and clarify. Thanks for letting me know!

  8. Will be practicing with your recipe. Thanks for your tips also.

  9. Mary, these are delicious! Brings me back to my childhood. I was wondering if you have a recipe for New Orleans French Bread. Everything I buy here that they call French Bread is heavy and doughy...nothing like Rieslings French Bread which is crusty on the outside and light and airy on the inside. I guess that's what I get for moving from New Orleans to Abbeville...lol. Thanks!

    1. Hey Bonnie! Have you seen the pistolette rolls on the blog? You can find them at this link. Check out the directions about spritzing the rolls & the oven! They really are good rolls though I don't know the full secret of the Rieslings bread.

  10. If I didn't know better, I'd think we were married to the same man. Mine ALWAYS drinks all the milk FAST...you'd think we had five young'ns in the house, but we just have one...my 33-year-old husband! He also eats tons of sweets, including Little Debbie cakes...he'll eat a box in a day or two.

    I can't believe that *I* am the fat one in this house!!

    Anyway...this roll recipe really brought back memories! Our lunch ladies could throw DOWN! On "fried chicken day," some of the cool teachers let us go to lunch a minute or two early so we could get in line first. Some kids brought their own hot sauce from home. It was seriously an event.

    So much of the stuff they made was soooo good, and these rolls look JUST LIKE their rolls. I'm usually scared to mess with yeast (I always mess it up!), but I'm gonna try because none of your recipes have failed me yet!

    1. What a great memory Linda and yes it sounds like our fellas were surely separated at birth! Please let me know if you get around to trying these rolls & what you think!

  11. I SOOOO remember the smell of those rolls cooking as we were in class. I always begged my tablemates for theirs if they didn't want them. So soft, fluffy, delicious! Thanks for the recipe.

  12. Happy HOLIDAZE from the eastern midwest y'all...

    My absolute favor elementary school lunchtime meal was their homemade chili and their CINNAMON rolls!! Oh my gosh, it was the prefect meal for our Midwest winters out on the playground..

    Im very new to baking so when i saw the title, i had to come and investigate. Looking very forward in trying this "old school" scratch dinner roll recipe... thank you and blessings to you and you all!


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