Ladies of Leaven

A treasured roll recipe in the hands of a mother-daughter baking team rises to the occasion

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Beth Brown Ables and her mother, Verna Brown // by Beth Brown Ables / photos by Jessica Barley

When I was first married and spending Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, my mother-in-law asked me what food most meant “home” to me. “Well, my mom makes these rolls…” I started. As I spoke, she produced a basket of three-part rolls my mom had sent for the occasion.

And I started to cry.

For me, no holiday meal is complete without my mom’s “three-part rolls.” Even the name itself is a story. They’re actually potato rolls, but when, as children, my brothers and I discovered the true name and “secret” ingredient, it sounded weird and inedible: How could something so delicious have a vegetable in it? Since Mom shaped her rolls into three dough portions in a muffin cup (a cloverleaf design), the name “three-part rolls” stuck.

A potato bread, as a rule is sweet, with a tender crumb and so texture. They’re unbelievable with homemade jam, and divine twisted into cinnamon rolls.

I’d never baked mom’s rolls before, but asking her to share the recipe felt almost sacred, the handing down of a tradition. Based on an old Betty Crocker cookbook recipe, there were several back and forth phone calls as I worked through the process.

“Did I tell you to use two packets of yeast?” “Do I have to use shortening?” I’m delighted with how easy these are to make, and I love the fact that the dough keeps for a week in the refrigerator. It’s simple to use one recipe to make both a batch of dinner rolls as well a pan of cinnamon rolls for the next morning.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I switched sweet potatoes for the white in the recipe. And so with my culinary wheels turning, I reimagined the rolls as pecan cinnamon rolls. Mom was a little horrified with my idea, but then—isn’t that just like mothers and daughters? Different and the same, new and traditional, side by side at the table.

No wonder food memories are such rich recollections: one taste and we are back in a moment, around a table with those we love.


Potato Refrigerator Rolls (aka Three-Part Rolls)

INGREDIENTS:

2 packages instant dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 cup lukewarm mashed potatoes

7-7 1/2 cups flour

METHOD:
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water for a couple of minutes. Stir in sugar, salt, shortening, eggs, potatoes, and 4 cups of flour. Mix until well incorporated.

Add 3 more cups of flour one cup at a time, mixing completely after each addition. (You can do this in a stand mixer with a dough hook if desired.)

Knead for five minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Dough will keep five days refrigerated, punch down if it begins to reach the top of the bowl)

Punch down dough.

Form into three, small dough balls and place in greased muffin tin. Cover with a cloth and let rise for about an hour, or doubled in size.

Bake at 375 until golden brown.


Sweet Potato Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

INGREDIENTS:

In addition to the potato refrigerator roll recipe, you will also need:

2 cups brown sugar, packed

1 cup butter, melted

2 Tbs. cinnamon

2 pinches of nutmeg

1 cup chopped pecans

FOR THE ICING:

1 bag powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup half and half

1/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup brewed coffee

METHOD:
Make roll recipe as indicated in previous recipe, substituting sweet for white potatoes.

After rising overnight in the refrigerator, punch down dough and divide into two portions.

Roll out dough portion into a rough rectangle. Drizzle with 1/2 cup melted butter. Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pecans.

Sprinkle half the mixture over the butter. Starting from the top of the rectangle, roll dough tightly until an inch from the bottom. Stretch bottom portion over the top, pinching to seal.

With a serrated knife, cut dough log into 1-inch rolls, placing in greased pan, cut-side down. Leave a bit of room for rising.

Repeat with the other portion of dough. Cover and rise at least an hour. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

While baking, whisk powdered sugar, vanilla, half and half, butter, and coffee in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Drizzle generously over hot rolls.

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