Thanksgiving dinner is a celebration of seasonal bounty and life blessings – food, friends, and family. To me, that’s just about the perfect holiday. And, while I love the turkey and all the trimmings, as a baker, the two main attractions are dessert and bread. Dessert is a given – sweet renditions of pumpkin, apples, pears and cranberries. But bread is often relegated to a back seat, something that is picked up at the last moment, or warmed from a frozen state just before dinner. With just a little more forethought and a bit more time, you can serve warm, homemade bread on your holiday table, and I have tips to make it fit within your schedule. There are two directions to go with bread for the Thanksgiving table – the traditional yeast bread route, usually in the shape of dinner rolls, or a quick bread, the favorite of which is cornbread this time of year.
First, let’s talk yeast bread. I suggest an old-fashioned potato roll, tender and soft, piled warm-from-the-oven into a linen-lined bread basket (I’ve offered the recipe below, complete with tips on getting ahead). The potatoes are a nod to tradition, since bakers have long used the water left from cooking potatoes as the perfect medium to encourage yeast. Potatoes can make the dough a bit sticky, but that’s a good thing - sticky doughs are moist and tasty. Besides, I have the perfect solution for dealing with stickiness – chill the dough overnight. This is a much better solution than adding extra flour, which often results in a dry crumb once the rolls are baked.
The overnight chilling of the dough serves two purposes – it alleviates the stickiness, making the dough wonderfully easy to shape, and the dough gets prepared before the big day begins. In the morning, show the kids how to shape the rolls (there are many styles to suit any age – a few examples are given below), and let them take charge. Set the shaped rolls aside to rise and bake them early in the day (you can re-warm them just before dinner, if you want), or pop them in the oven once the turkey comes out and is resting. These soft, tender rolls are perfect for nibbling with salad or mopping up every delicious drop of gravy.
When it comes to quick breads, my first choice on Thanksgiving is cornbread. It’s a direct connection to the original Thanksgiving dinner, and the batter is easy to put together. The mixing method is known as the “muffin method” -- all the dry ingredients are blended, then the liquid ingredients are mixed and stirred into the dry ones. The recipe I like best for cornbread is below, and can be made as a loaf or as individual muffins, though I prefer the loaf. To make life easier on Thanksgiving, blend the dry ingredients a day or two in advance, cover and set aside. You can blend the liquid ingredients, as well, and keep them refrigerated. The day you want to bake, chop the herbs, melt the butter, and in just a few minutes, your cornbread is ready for the oven. In fact, this is another great project for the kids. You could also bake the cornbread a day ahead, let it cool completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic and store at room temperature. Just before serving, take off the plastic, wrap in foil and warm in an oven for 15 minutes. A bit of advance planning means you can start a new tradition of serving warm, homemade bread on Thanksgiving with less stress than picking up rolls from the store.More Breads for the Thanksgiving Table ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Old-Fashioned Dinner Rolls
Makes 9 to 10 rolls
Bread bakers have been using potatoes (and potato cooking water) for many years. Yeast love the starchy carbohydrates in potatoes, and their lumpy texture adds not only flavor and moisture, but also a chewy softness that is ideal in dinner rolls. Serve these at a family dinner and watch them disappear. The recipe can be doubled for a holiday dinner.
Equipment: Small Saucepan, Paring Knife, Potato Masher or Fork, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Dough Hook Attachment, Whisk, 10- to 12-inch Straight-Sided Translucent Plastic Tub or Mixing Bowl, Bowl Scraper, Baking Sheet, Parchment Paper or Silicone Mat, Instant-Read Thermometer, Cooling Rack
- 1 small (5 ounce) russet potato, peeled and quartered
- 1½ teaspoons active dry yeast, or 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
- ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, very soft
- ½ cup (4 ounces) warm whole milk (110° to 115°F)
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2½ cups (12½ ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Cook the potato: Put the quartered potato in the small saucepan, cover with water, and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tip of a paring knife slides in and out easily. Drain well, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water. Return the potato to the pan and mash using the potato masher or fork. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Mix and knead the dough: Warm the reserved potato water to 110° to 115°F and pour into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and whisk by hand to blend. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. Measure ½ cup (3½ ounces) mashed potatoes and add to the bowl. Add the remaining sugar, butter, milk, and egg and whisk by hand until well blended. Add the flour and salt and knead on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until the dough begins to come together. It will seem sticky. With the mixer on low, add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough feels firm, dense, and springy, 5 to 6 minutes. Note: This dough is soft and sticky and will not pull away from the sides completely. Do not overknead or the starch from the potato will break down and make the dough gooey.
- Rise the dough (first rise) : Lightly butter or oil the tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the tub, and lightly coat the surface of the dough with a little butter or oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes (longer if the room is cold). If you are using a tub, be sure to mark the starting level of the dough with a pencil or piece of tape so it’s easy to tell when the dough has doubled.
- Punch down and chill the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles. Chill, covered, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, or until the dough is very cold.
- Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 3-ounce portions (about ¹⁄³ cup) and shape each into a taut, round ball according to the directions on page 69. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and position the rolls on the sheet about 3 inches apart. For additional shaping suggestions, see the variations below.
- Proof the dough (second rise): Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let rise until almost doubled in size, 35 to 45 minutes (longer if the room is cold). They should look like they have taken a deep breath and should pass the “thumb test”.
- Bake the rolls: Preheat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Bake the rolls for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the rolls are golden brown and their internal temperature registers 200°F on the instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Storing: The rolls will keep, uncovered at room temperature, for 1 day. For longer storage, double-wrap each in plastic, put in a large resealable plastic freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 weeks. Thaw on the counter for 1½ hours, or until they reach room temperature. To reheat, return to a 375°F oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until warmed through.
Cloverleaf Rolls: Butter a standard muffin tin. After dividing the dough into portions, cut each portion into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and nestle 3 balls into each muffin cup. Proof and bake as directed.
Dinner Roll Twists: After dividing the dough into portions, roll each one on the table under outstretched fingers until you form a rope 10 to 12 inches long and tapered at the ends. Fold the rope in half and gently twist the dough 2 or 3 times. Gently pinch the ends together. Proof and bake as directed.
Herb Corn Bread
Makes 1 loaf
This is a very simple quick bread made using the muffin method, but the addition of fresh herbs and summer corn takes it to a whole new level. Don’t substitute dried herbs here—they won’t give you the dynamic flavor that fresh ones offer. This recipe can be baked in muffin tins, yielding a dozen tempting corn muffins (see the variation below).
Equipment: Two Medium Bowls, Whisk, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, 9 by 5-inch Loaf Pan, Cooling Rack, Serrated Knife
- 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (4½ ounces) medium-grind cornmeal (yellow or white)
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (2 ounces) sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 large shallot, very finely chopped
- ¾ cup (4 ounces) fresh or frozen corn kernels
- ¹⁄³ cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves (about 2 bunches)
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves (1½ to 2 bunches)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1 cup (8 ounces) half-and-half
- 2 large eggs
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola-oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1 inch beyond the edge of both sides of the pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper to blend well. Add the shallot, corn kernels, thyme, sage, and parsley. Whisk again to blend everything thoroughly.
- In the second medium bowl (or large measuring cup), whisk together the half-and-half and eggs. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the egg mixture into the well, then add the melted butter. Use the whisk to gently combine the ingredients, stirring just until the batter is homogenous and there are no patches of egg or flour. Don’t overmix or the corn bread may be tunneled with holes.
- Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center of the bread feels firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and let cool 10 to 15 minutes before turning out of the pan (it may also be left in the pan to cool completely). Peel off the parchment paper and cut into slices with a serrated knife.
Storing: When the corn bread is completely cool, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Reheat wrapped in foil in a 325°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until warmed through. T o freeze, place inside a resealable plastic freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 month. To serve, thaw at room temperature—still in the bag to avoid condensation—for 1½ hours; then reheat as directed above.
What The Pros Know: For individual muffins, preheat the oven to 375°F. Mix the batter as directed above, then divide it evenly among 12 standard muffin cups that have been well buttered or oiled. Be sure to butter the top of the muffin tin to prevent the muffin crowns from sticking there. Bake for 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Tools of the Trade:
- Things Cooks Love™ Petite Masher
- Instant Read Thermometers by Taylor
- Kuhn Rikon Paring Knives
- Le Creuset® Silicone Loaf Pan
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.