Oh, boy… just look at these rolls.
I mean, feast your eyes on them. The golden, buttery crust. The soft, tender interior. Can’t you just imagine these, warm from the oven, the tiniest bit of steam wisping into the air as you pull them apart and reach for the butter dish?
Well, imagining is fine. But reality is right around the corner.
It’s called Thanksgiving.
Is there a baking holiday as gratifying, as delicious, as FUN as Thanksgiving? I think not. Thanksgiving is ALL ABOUT FOOD. No gift-shopping; no mall crowds. Just folks gathered together for a long, congenial day of football, friendship, family time… and food.
Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, creamed onions, peas… The delicious double cliché of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole mortared together with cream of mushroom soup and topped with canned fried onions.
Like old friends, these dishes aren’t perfect; they’re a bit tattered and worn, but comfortably so. Thanksgiving food is like that old pair of jeans you slip into when you get home from work. Undemanding; cozy; there for you, like a best friend.
Whichever of your recipes is the first one out of the box Thanksgiving morning, it’s undoubtedly a trusted standby, a guaranteed crowd favorite. For me, it’s these pull-apart rolls. I’ve dubbed around with the recipe over the years, and this is my current favorite version. I’m eager to share it with you here because it’s A) easy, B) delicious, and C) the essence of comfort food.
What better way to celebrate America’s favorite food holiday?
Let’s make Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns.
So, what’s with the white powders here? They’re two of my “gotta have” white bread ingredients: potato flour, and Baker’s Special Dry Milk. The potato flour adds moistness and keeping quality; the Special Dry Milk, a great rise.
Can you make these buns without these two ingredients? Sure, I’ll provide substitutions below. But if you make sandwich bread frequently, I suggest making them a regular pantry item; they DO make a nice difference.
Mix together the following:
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons potato flour or 1/4 cup instant potato flakes
3 tablespoons Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons soft butter
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
Mix everything together to make a rough dough…
…then knead for about 7 minutes at medium speed, till relatively smooth, but still rather sticky.
Gather the dough into a ball, and put it in a greased container to rise. As always, I’m using my 8-cup measure; it’s fun to track the dough’s progress.
Let the dough rise till it’s doubled; this’ll probably take 60 to 90 minutes. Look at those lovely air bubbles around the bottom – the yeast is growing, giving off CO2, stretching that gluten in the flour just like a balloon.
Once the dough is risen, gently deflate it. You’re going to divide it into 16 pieces, which you can easily do simply by dividing it in half, then in half again, etc. You can eyeball the process; or actually use a scale to make perfectly-sized rolls.
The entire piece of dough weighs 812g; don’t fret if yours doesn’t weigh exactly 812g, OK? This isn’t rocket science.
Divided in half: 405g. Remember what I just said – this isn’t rocket science. 405g is close enough.
Continue along the same lines till you’ve made 16 pieces of dough.
Next, shape each piece into a ball. Let’s do one at a time. First, flatten the piece of dough a bit by pulling on the edges, smoothing its top.
Turn it over, and gather the underside into a knot; this smoothes the top side further.
Knot-side down, gently roll the dough in circles beneath your curled fingers. No need to put pressure on it; just imagine the way you roll dice, cupping them in your hands and shaking. Same idea; the ball of dough will move freely under your hands.
You know, when we ever have video in this blog, this shaping technique is the first thing I want to show! It’s so easy to do – and so miserably hard to explain…
Ah – lovely. Sixteen round dough balls.
Lightly grease two 8” round cake pans, spacing eight balls in each. Can you use 9” round cake pans, or a 9” x 13” pan? Sure; the buns just won’t nestle together as closely, so their sides will be a bit more baked. And they’ll be a bit shorter in stature.
Cover the pans, and allow the buns to rise till they’re crowded against one another and quite puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Now THAT’S what I call buxom buns!
Bake the buns for 22 to 24 minutes…
…until they’re golden brown on top and the edges of the center bun spring back lightly when you touch it. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the center bun should register at least 190°F.
Remove the buns from the oven, and immediately brush with melted butter. You’ll need 1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter, depending on how generous you are. Trust me; this is a time for generosity.
You may think that you’ve used too heavy a hand with the butter…
…but it sinks in, leaving a really pretty, satiny sheen. This is why we call these pull-apart buns; they come apart very easily.
Split open; add more butter. WOW.
How about cloverleafs? Divide the original piece of dough into 36 small pieces. You don’t really need to try to make these 36 pieces all the same size; just divide the dough into 12 balls, then each of those balls into three pieces.
Nestle in the wells of a lightly greased standard muffin pan.
Let rise till they’re puffing over the rims.
Bake as directed for the regular rolls, brushing with butter when they’re done.
Festive, huh? And so ’50s…
So OK, I got a little carried away. But trust me, none of these had a chance to get stale. There’s just something about soft white bread that’s eternally compelling. Especially at Thanksgiving. Enjoy!
Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns.
P.S. I notice a lot of you have been asking about preparing these buns ahead. Here’s a couple of suggestions:
To make them a day or so ahead, prepare all the way through a partial bake (parbake). This means bake them, but not till they’re golden, only till they’re set.
How long? Not sure, in your oven. Just keep your eye on them, and when they’re just starting to brown a bit around the edges; and they feel set (not soft and liable to collapse) when you gently poke one, take them out. Cool completely, then wrap in plastic – right in the pan. Store at room temperature. Just before serving, bake in a preheated 350°F oven till golden; it’ll take maybe 10-15 minutes? Brush with butter, and serve.
To prepare more than a few days ahead, shape the buns and let them rise in the pan. Don’t let them over-rise; a bit less than usual would be good. Carefully tent risen rolls with plastic, and freeze. Once frozen, wrap more securely (but not tightly – a plastic bag is good).
The night before you want to serve them, place the pan of buns, still wrapped, in the fridge. Next day, remove from the fridge, and let them warm a bit as you preheat your oven. Bake as directed; they’ll probably need a few more minutes than the recipe says. Brush with butter, and serve.
Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!