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LOST ITALIAN: Homemade crescent rolls perfect for bread baking beginners

Giovanni Nasello, 10, rolls out dough for crescent rolls with his grandmother Marilyn Anstett. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 3
Tony Nasello removes crescent rolls from the oven. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 3
Crescent rolls made from a family recipe. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO -- Baking fresh bread has been one of my food resolutions for the past several years, but up until last week I was too intimidated by the process to even know where to begin. Fortunately, my mother started a tradition of making homemade crescent rolls nearly 40 years ago with a recipe that is perfect for the novice bread baker.

She found a recipe for “Rich Hot Rolls” from a Farm Journal cookbook called “Homemade Bread,” and they’ve been a perennial favorite at our Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts ever since. There’s even a cinnamon roll variation. When asked why she chose these rolls, she said that she loved Farm Journal recipes and wanted one that looked easy enough to make with kids.

Over the years, my four siblings and I have all enjoyed making these rolls with my mom, and our son, Giovanni, began the tradition eight years ago when he was just 2.

“I love that this is my special time with Grandma,” he said.

Last week was the first time I’d helped make a batch in more than 30 years, and I was delighted by the wonderful results I received from this simple recipe. With just eight basic ingredients, the only challenge in making these rolls is in finding time to do it.

The recipe begins with directions to scald ¾ cup of milk, and we found that 2 minutes in a microwave set on high worked well. Shortening is then added to the milk and stirred in with a bit of sugar and salt. The shortening will not dissolve completely, so expect it to be clumpy at this stage.

The recipe calls for 4¼ to 4¾ cups of sifted flour, but my mom recommends using just four cups in our dry climate this time of year, with another ¼ to ½ cup used to dust the work surface when kneading. We used Dakota Maid all-purpose flour, which was light enough to skip the sifting altogether.

We mixed the flour in by hand using a wooden spoon, first adding 1½ cups and then beating in two eggs and a yeast/water mixture. We added the remaining flour in stages starting with one cup, followed by a half-cup and then the final cup.

Next, we turned the dough out onto a floured work surface and Gio kneaded it for about eight minutes until it transformed from a sticky clump into a soft and satiny ball of dough.

“My favorite part is kneading the dough,” he told me, “because it feels so soft and comfy. My hands are made for forming the dough.”

The dough is then placed in a bowl, covered and left in a warm place to rise for about 1½ hours until doubled in size. Gio then punched his fist into the center of the dough, divided it in half and rolled out each half into (rough) circles approximately 16 inches around.

He cut each round into quarters and then cut each quarter into four triangles. We brushed each strip of dough with melted butter, and rolled them into crescent shapes, starting at the widest end, then set them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brushed the top of each roll with more melted butter and then covered them to rise for another 45 minutes before baking. We found that a 350-degree oven provided more even baking than the recommended 375 degrees.

“I love these rolls because they are so delicious and easy to make,” my mom said. “And I have always loved making them with kids.”

Marilyn’s Crescent Rolls

(Called Rich Hot Rolls in Farm Journal’s Homemade Bread Cookbook)

Ingredients

¾ cup milk

½ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 packages active dry yeast

½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

4¼ to 4¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 eggs

Directions

Scald milk; add shortening, sugar and salt. Cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast on warm water; stir to dissolve.

Add 1½ cups flour to milk mixture; beat well by hand or electric mixer at low speed 1 minute. Beat in eggs and yeast.

Gradually stir in enough remaining flour, a little at a time, to make a soft dough that leaves the sides of bowl. Turn onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth, satiny and no longer sticky, 5 to 8 minutes.

Place in lightly greased bowl; invert to grease to top. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, 1 to 1½ hours. Punch down and turn onto board. Divide in half and shape as desired.

Brush tops lightly with melted butter; let rise until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 30 rolls, exact number depends on shape and size.

Cinnamon Roll Variation

Roll each half of divided dough into 16-by-8-inch rectangle. Combine 1 cup sugar, ½ cup melted butter and 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Spread half of mixture on each rectangle. Roll lengthwise for jelly roll; seal edges. Cut in 1-inch slices. Place, cut side down, in 2 well-greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, 30 to 40 minutes. Bake in moderate oven (350-375 degrees) 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to wire racks. Makes 32 rolls. Frost as desired.

Marilyn’s tips

Four cups of flour is recommended for drier climates.

To scald the milk, heat in microwave on high for 2 minutes.

For crescent-shaped rolls, roll out each half of the divided dough into 16-inch circles, cut into quarters, and then cut each quarter into triangles. Brush each strip with melted butter and, starting at the widest end, roll upwards to make crescent.

Excellent for freezing up to at least 2 months.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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