Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Old West Baking

by Shanna Hatfield

We've had single digit temps, snow, more snow, an ice storm that knocked out the power for almost two days, and that's just in the last week!

As I sit here sipping a cup of hot, spice-laden tea, my thoughts drift to pioneers who made do with so little. Our recent power outage really made me appreciate what those hardy folks went through during the frigid winter months, especially those who worked out on the range.

I can just picture a cold, tired, hungry cowboy coming home after a long day on the ranch, ready for  a warm fire and a hot meal.

One of my favorite things on a cold day is home-made bread, warm from the oven, dripping in butter.

Yum! There is just nothing like the taste of those rolls, right from the oven, or the delightful yeasty scent that fills your house while they bake!

The recipe for these came from my grandmother. I assume it might have been passed down to her from her mother, too. I love the old recipes I have from both of my grandmothers because they not only remind me of happy times with two women who are no longer with us, but they also make me think of all the women who made these same recipes, baking in a little love.

You'll find all kinds of love stirred into a new collection of old recipes.

Sourdough Biscuits and Pioneer Pies from my friend Gail L. Jenner is a beautiful book of recipes and stories that includes my bread recipe and many more! If you like old recipes that can take you back to the days of the Old West, be sure to check this one out! 

And here's my recipe for dinner rolls:

Home-made Dinner Rolls (or Bread)
2 cups milk
4 tbsp. shortening
1 tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 pkg. yeast
4 + cups of flour
Combine milk, shortening, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until shortening is melted then continue to stir  until milk scalds. Keep a close eye on it because you don’t want the milk to scorch in the pan.
(Note: Scalded milk is milk that has been heated to 180 °F. At this temperature, bacteria are killed, enzymes in the milk are destroyed and many of the proteins are rendered inactive. The bacteria have to be killed off because any “wild yeasts” in the milk can alter the texture and flavor or the bread.)
Once the milk mixture is heated up to temp, pour it into a large bowl to cool.
Pour the lukewarm water into a small cup or bowl. Gently stir in the yeast and let set for a few minutes, working its magic. I love that smell. It takes me back to childhood days when my mom made some yeasty treat on a weekly basis.
Test your milk mixture with the tip of your finger. You want it to be cool, but not cold when you stir in the yeast. Think the temperature of a baby’s bottle for a good point of reference. Stir the yeast into the milk until it is well blended.
Start stirring in the flour, a cup at a time. You might end up using closer to five or six cups by the time it’s all said and done, but four is a good starting point.
Work the flour into the milk mixture. When it gets hard to stir, you can get your hands in there and start kneading the dough. If you’ve had a stressful day, this is a great way to work out some aggression. Punch the dough down with your fist, flip it around and keep going. It’s also a great work-out for those arm muscles! See, you are burning calories, destressing and making something delicious all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking!
If the dough is  really sticky, continue adding flour, about a half cup at a time until you can work it without it globbing up all over your fingers.
Keep kneading until the bread has an elastic feel to it (meaning you can feel it pop and give as you knead).
Grease the sides of your bowl with a little butter, placing your nice ball of dough in the center of the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and set someplace warm to rise. My favorite place is right in front of our fireplace. It’s warm, but not hot, and creates a perfect environment for the bread to rise.
Force yourself to leave the bread alone for an hour. By that time, it should have doubled in size.
Although this seems like cruel and unusual punishment, you are going to punch down the dough and knead it again. Just a couple minutes worth of kneading is fine.
At this point you can do any number of things with the dough – shape it into a loaf in a bread pan, form it into bread sticks or dinner-rolls, make fancy little shapes with it.
I generally make dinner rolls because I can freeze what we don’t eat for another day.
To make the dinner rolls, pinch off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll it around and drop it into a greased baking pan. Leave a little space between each roll because they will expand. In a 9 x 13 pan, I probably end up with about 24 rolls.
Once you have the rolls all shaped, cover the pan with the tea towel and return to that warm spot for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the rolls have doubled in size, pop them in the oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes, until tops are golden brown.
Remove from the oven and immediately slather the tops with butter, while trying not to drool at the wonderful yeasty smell that is filling your home and making your mouth water.
Serve with butter, jam, honey or use to soak up the juice from a hearty bowl of stew.


Wishing you all a beautiful, wonderful, amazing New Year! 


After spending her formative years on a farm in the Oregon desert, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.
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Kristy McCaffrey said...

Those rolls look divine. What a lovely cookbook that turned out to be by Gail!! Happy New Year, Shanna.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Hi Kristy!
The cookbook really is beautiful... and rolls are so good! Happy New Year to you! May it be your best yet!