My mother made these wonderful yeast rolls for every occasion -- sometimes Sunday dinner was all the occasion she needed! They really are easy to make (easier than they sound!). They can be made a day ahead, and left in the fridge until you're ready to prepare and bake them. The smell of yeast bread baking has to be one of the most comforting aromas on earth!
Notes from the Test Kitchen:
The aroma of these homemade rolls baking really made my mouth water. Hot out of the oven with some melted butter, these are going to be a hit with your friends and family. I love the option to make the dough ahead of time - I'm always looking to save a bit of time at a holiday dinner. These are easy to make and wonderfully delicious!
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Follow directions on yeast package.
Cream sugar and shortening together.
Add HOT water to sugar/shortening mix and allow to cool. If your water is too hot, it will kill the yeast when you add it in the next step.
Add the dissolved yeast (with the water) and the eggs, and whisk lightly.
Add 4 cups of flour and the salt, and stir into liquid. Add more flour if the dough is sticky. I usually end up adding at least another cup of flour, sometimes two or three, at this point. The dough will be a little tacky, but shouldn't be very sticky. It should be just past the "sticky" stage and feel a little bit "elastic."
Put the dough into a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed right onto the dough), and refrigerate until needed. The dough can be left in the fridge at this stage for as much as 2 or 3 days --just be sure it's not exposed to the air.
Several hours before you want to bake the rolls, take the dough out of the fridge. Punch it down (it will have risen some in the refrigerator), and let it rise double.
Punch the dough down again, flour a bread board generously, place the dough on the board and sprinkle lightly with flour. Fold the edges into the middle and knead with the heels of your hands for several minutes until it begins to feel "elastic." Start rolling it out with a floured rolling pin (or use a "stocking" on your rolling pin). Fold the edges in again, and repeat the kneading process.
Pinch off about 1/4 of the dough to work with, and set the rest aside. Start rolling the dough out with your floured rolling pin. Keep turning the dough over and around as you roll it. It will be very elastic and resist flattening. Add flour to your board as needed to keep dough from sticking to the board or rolling pin.
When the dough is about 1 inch thick, cut out circles with a biscuit cutter and lay them on an ungreased baking sheet, just touching. (This way, as they rise and bake, they will "merge" and the inside edges will be soft and high.)
Repeat steps 10 & 11 three more times until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together, kneaded a little more and re-rolled to make more rolls.
Cover the rolls with lightweight cloths, like cotton dish towels, and allow them to "rest" on the baking sheets and rise before baking. The time for this varies according to how warm the room is. In a warm kitchen, they may rise double and be ready to bake in 15 minutes. If they're sitting on the table in a cool dining room, it could take an hour. When you see that they've risen some, but they're not rising anymore, bake them.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but time will vary with different ovens. Take them out when the tops are getting golden-brown.
Brush the rolls with melted butter while they are still hot.
I often make these rolls far ahead of time and bake them right to the point where they are just about to start browning. I put them in the freezer on sheets until they freeze and then put them into freezer bags. When I'm ready to serve them, I take them out frozen, put them into a 350-degree oven and bake them until the tops are golden brown. They taste even better than when I make them all in one day. Freezing seems to enhance the "yeasty" flavor.