Anne Byrn's overnight yeast rolls
In this edition of Anne Byrn's Taste of a Place column, the bestselling author prepares overnight yeast rolls, breaking down how the yeast works, offering tips to add even more moisture, and explaining why they're always better the next day.
As much as I love crusty bread baked in a wood-fired oven, one of my favorite breads isn't crusty at all. It's those soft and Southern yeast rolls, which are as much a part of my food story as cornbread or biscuits.
My mother made yeast rolls each and every time company came to visit. And when she was in a hurry, she made overnight rolls.
Overnight rolls, refrigerator rolls, icebox rolls, sometimes called "Frigidaire" rolls, this do-ahead bread dough goes by myriad names. It's an age-old concept, perfected in the 1930s when women were busy in the workforce, so meals were planned ahead. And with a little forethought, and a refrigerator, bread was freshly baked and served warm at each meal.
Just like it was prepared decades ago, you combine the ingredients in a big mixing bowl and let the dough rise one hour in a warm spot in the kitchen. Then, punch down the dough with your fist and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to bake the next day or the day after, you spoon out some of the dough onto a lightly floured counter, shape it in a nice rectangle, and cut out rounds. Place the rounds in a buttered pan, or if you like Parker House rolls as much as we do, dip the rounds into melted butter and fold them over (like a pocketbook), and place them side-by-side in a buttered pan. Those rolls will rise in a warm place in about 30 minutes, and then they're ready for baking.
How Do Overnight Rolls Work?
The concept of setting dough aside for a longer, slower rise has been around for generations, or at least, until refrigeration came on the scene. You see, cooler temps slow down the growth of yeast, which means the rising dough stands still in the fridge until pulled out and placed in a warm spot to begin rising again.
And the added bonus is that while the dough seems not to rise, it is developing flavor and its texture is improving. Dough that has been left to rest in cold temperatures overnight will be easier to work with the next day. It will be less sticky and require less flour for rolling out, and thus, you have a more moist roll, since the more flour you work into the dough while rolling and cutting, the harder and heavier those rolls will be after baking.
Overnight rolls just taste better, too. They have a more developed yeast flavor, something akin to sourdough. And lately I've been adding mashed potato and the water from cooking potatoes to my roll dough, to create an even moister bread. This was something my mother used to do. She learned in Ireland how nothing goes to waste and even the water from cooking the boiled potatoes could be added to the bread.
I've also been substituting whole wheat flour for some of the white, and this gives this old-fashioned roll recipe a modern touch, and makes them more flavorful. They're still Southern, but they're fresher and seem healthier.
Overnight, icebox, refrigerator - whatever you call them - these rolls are an important addition to your baking repertoire. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to three days. And after baking, the rolls freeze well, too. If there are any left!
Anne Byrn's Overnight Rolls
Serves: Makes about 4 dozen
Hands On Time:
1 1/2 cups cubed, peeled potatoes (from 1 medium russet potato)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more, melted for brushing and greasing
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 cup whole-wheat flour
In a small saucepan, cover the potatoes with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.
Place the reserved cooking water and the butter back into the small saucepan and heat to 110 degrees over low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the yeast to dissolve.
Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large bowl and mash. Stir in the sugar, eggs and salt. Stir in the yeast mixture, followed by the flours. Continue to mix with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until smooth. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, place in the fridge at least overnight, and for up to three days.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a shallow baking pan or two, depending on the number of rolls you are baking.
Remove as much dough as you like from the bowl, and, on a lightly-floured surface, press into a round about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut into rounds.
For round rolls, place the cut rounds side-by-side in the prepared pan and brush the tops with melted butter. For Parker House rolls, dip the rounds in melted butter and fold the dough over as if you are closing a book. Place side-by-side in the pan, and brush the tops with additional butter. Either way, place in a warm place in the kitchen to rise for about 30 minutes.
Bake until the rolls are golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve warm.