Lots of people have a special family food that underpins their holiday meals. Whether it’s a particular stuffing recipe, jello salad, or baked good, there’s often something that appears once a year to make revelers feel connected to tradition. For me, this is my grandmother’s orange yeast rolls. Every Christmas I looked forward to them – rich, golden, lightly sweet, you could smell them the minute you opened the front door. Unfortunately, we lost her in 1990, so for years, these were just a memory.
While I was in graduate school across the country, it was hard to get home for all the holidays. One year when I was not traveling, I decided to try and make grandma’s magical roles. I wasn’t an experienced baker, but I had had some luck with a few pies. Why I thought that would translate to yeast bread, I have no idea. But, I went for it in any case.
I heated the milk, mixed it with the shortening, sugar, and salt. Added the yeast, eggs, orange juice and zest, and flour, and left it to rise. About 30 minutes later I went into the kitchen to check and see if it was rising, and I found myself blinking through tears. The sweet, yeasty smell of my tiny kitchen in Boston transported me years back and miles away to my grandmother’s kitchen in Phoenix.
Since then, making these rolls has been an important part of my holiday rituals. My success has varied, but this year Grandma was with me, and I think it was my most successful batch yet. The rolls were tender, sweet, and just what you hope for when you pull a bread roll apart.
Something to know—these have NO shelf life. So go ahead and have a second (or third!). If you do find yourself with some left over, warm them in a toaster oven, and enjoy with some jam in the morning.
Things I learned:
- Practice making bread really pays off—developing a feel for the dough consistency yields superior results.
- An oven thermometer helps, too, to make sure each roll bakes evenly.
- Baking can bring more rewards than just tasty treats. It can connect you to those who came before.