Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

August is coming to an end, and it’s already feeling like fall. Besides associating the fall with anything and everything pumpkin, fall to me means quality carbs. I’m talking bread, cookies, pies, muffins, scones and anything in between. I mean, how can you not associate fall with carbs? It is the beginning of the baking season; starting with Halloween. Besides it marking the beginning of the holidays, the fall also brings a welcome chill into the air that can be easily remedied with a warm, baked treat. Naturally, humans tend to bulk up a bit for the coming cold season and anything carby and baked is obviously the right answer.

Bread!

I started baking bread two years ago. At the request of my mom, I baked dinner rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I looked for recipes that seemed easy enough for me to do in an afternoon and that did not require a mixer. I did find recipe gems that required a mixer but I attempted them anyway, even without the luxury and ease of one. While I am still pining for a 5-quart tilt head KitchenAid (in either Cobalt Blue or  Silver Metallic) with all the accoutrements, I brave these recipes and complete them by hand.

Bread dough is a finicky thing; more so if you’re a beginner, are sans mixer, and still don’t know what you’re doing. The most difficult step for me is the kneading. Besides not having any counter space (at all) to actually roll out and knead dough, my dough always comes out stickier than required. I know that with a little more kneading, the dough will stop feeling tacky but I find it hard to do so with a hand covered in dough whilst kneading in the bowl. I have to say, despite the challenge, I have learned how to knead dough in a bowl and figure out when it’s ready to rest and rise.

Even though dealing with dough can be problematic, I love making bread. My favorite part is blooming (proofing?) the yeast. It’s amazing to see this little envelope of powder come to life in a dramatically foamy and aromatic way. I love how these little foamy bubbles become bread. This is one of the things that keeps me going back to making bread every time, despite many failed attempts (most recently, two). The other is obviously the delicious results 😉

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

This recipe is usually my go to. It’s easy for beginners with or without a mixer and is easily adaptable. I have tweaked it many times, each with deliciously fluffy and sweet results. It’s great with a little softened butter, or by itself, straight out of the oven. There’s nothing like the warmth of freshly baked bread to welcome the incoming fall (and baking!) season.

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Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls – adapted from Allrecipes.com

Makes 16 dinner rolls

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110F/45C)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  1. Dissolve yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm water with 1 tbsp of the measured sugar. Proof for 10 minutes
  2. Place milk, 1/3 cup of butter, the rest of the sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan. Cook on low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Set aside
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Then, add the warm milk mixture and the proofed yeast
  5. Add in the flour mixture to the wet mix a little bit at a time, until fully incorporated.
  6. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is no longer sticky.
  7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rest for 1 hour.
  8. Punch dough down and portion into 16 rolls. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let rise for 1 more hour.
  9. Preheat your oven to 375F. Brush dough balls with melted butter and bake your rolls for 10-12 minutes.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • The original recipe calls for only all-purpose flour and only 1/4 cup of sugar. Feel free to use either amounts of sugar, or types of flour. 
  • I weighed my dough prior to portioning, to ensure even rolls. You don’t have to but if you’re a stickler for accuracy like I am, you totally can. 
  • Make sure your water is not too hot! Water above 110F/45C can kill the yeast. Test the water by touching it, making sure it’s only a little warmer than body temperature. Or use your thermometer, if you have one. 
  • These rolls can easily be frozen. Flash freeze your rolls on the baking sheet after forming them. Thaw and let rise an hour before baking. 
  • The original recipe also calls for heating up your oven to 400F. I advise against this because it has led me to burnt bottoms and pale tops. Check the temperature of your oven to make sure it doesn’t run as hot, and keep an eye on your rolls!
  • If they still have pale tops, put them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. 

Carrot Cake and Mistakes

I actually wasn’t going to make this post. I messed up a part of the recipe and it didn’t exactly come out ‘picture perfect.’ I thought about it and realized that there was probably a lesson in this failure, which reminded me of how I even started baking in the first place.

In my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to go to art school. Of all places I could possibly end up, I thought that was where I belonged. Despite not having a single artistic bone in my body, I wanted to go to art school to explore one of my favorite hobbies: filmmaking. I had never even made a film in the first place; the only thing I had really done with a camera was record kids’ birthday parties and graduations. Honestly, I wasn’t even really good at it. I still wanted to pursue it because it was something I liked and people always said; “do something you love and it’ll never feel like work.” I had always loved taking pictures but video was new to me. I fell in love with it in middle school, where I had a film class as an elective. That Christmas, I asked my dad for a video camera and was basically on cloud nine. I loved taping everything and felt that this could have been my future.

Carrot shreddies

I applied for the film program at the School of Visual Arts and actually got in. Surprised as I was, I really thought this felt right. I went to orientation and got this weird feeling in my chest. I ignored it. “I’m just nervous,” I said to myself. Then came the first day of school. I really was nervous but as I introduced myself in an exercise for my first class, and was laughed at by everyone there, the feeling came back. I wanted to die of embarrassment. The kids in my class already knew each other because they lived in the dorms. I commuted to school so I didn’t have that luxury. I was visibly an outcast. I didn’t look like these kids or share their hobbies. They were really into filmmaking and I was really just a dabbler (by definition, these kids were actually hipsters but apparently, I was too “mainstream” to fit in with them). After spending my years in high school trying to blend in, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was uncomfortable and cried every chance I had. In class, I sat by myself. No one even wanted to sit next to me. I had never felt so unwanted in my life.

I lasted two days at SVA before I told my parents I wanted to leave. They all wanted me to stick it out but I couldn’t do it. I was unhappy. I cried all day, save for those times I was in class. I took bathroom breaks so I could cry and took advantage of those long breaks between classes to cry more. I lost my appetite and couldn’t even sleep. I only slept at night because my eyes were tired from all the crying. I stayed home from school and wrote my official withdrawal notice and sent it. I felt like a failure. My dad was disappointed in me. I felt ashamed and the ‘I told you so’ look from my dad just added insult to injury. I spent a couple of weeks sitting with this feeling and continued crying.

My parents tried to get me to take my mind off things by asking me to make something. I had always liked being in the kitchen but I had never made anything.  My dad was talking about carrot cakes one day and I took it upon myself to make one. I went to allrecipes.com, chose a recipe, and got started. I made several cakes in the four months I stayed home. I started making other things too, but this carrot cake was now my signature recipe. It felt good making something and having everything come out right.

Cake batter

Save for this weekend, where I messed up the recipe. Everything was going great until I was ready to pour the batter into the pan. I overfilled my poor 9″ round cake pan because I did not have a 9×13″ available. The cake’s edges were overbaked, sinking in towards the middle which was underbaked. I was disappointed because I knew better than to do that.

Cooling cake; obviously overfilled and overdone

Cooling cake; obviously overfilled and overdone

Thinking back to how I even got started and my baker’s mistake from this weekend made me realize that even though things may be going wrong, it’ll be alright in the end. I did fail at art school but it led me to a path where I did find something I genuinely have interest and success in. I ended up at the City College of New York; where I studied advertising and graduated this past May with honors. And while I did overfill and overbake this cake, it was still a delicious mistake.

YUM

Carrot Cake – adapted from allrecipes.com

Makes one 9×13″ cake or two 9″ round cakes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan or two 9″ round pans. Grate your carrots.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the oil with the white and brown sugar. When light in color, incorporate one egg at a time. Add vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves. Toss raisins and nuts, if using, in a small amount of the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
  4. Add the dry mix into the wet mixture slowly until incorporated. Fold in the raisins and nuts with the remaining bit of dry mix just until incorporated. Fold in the grated carrots.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • You can sub half of the flour with whole wheat flour
  • I have also used margarine, and unsalted butter in place of vegetable oil. Either one works great
  • If you don’t have light brown sugar, all white sugar also works. You can also make your own with some white sugar and molasses. 
  • I tend to add a little more cinnamon than prescribed 😉 use as much as you’d like
  • Remember to mix your raisins and/or nuts in a little of the dry mix; this prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake
  • If using two 9″ round cake pans, fill them halfway
  • Cream cheese frosting is amazing with this cake! My folks are frosting adverse so I don’t frost it. 

Whole Wheat Good Old Fashioned Pancakes

When my sister and I were younger, my mom used to make us a pancake breakfast every Saturday. We’d wake up and watch cartoons, ready to have our delicious weekly special. And special it was! My mom has never been one to follow recipes and this was no different. She’d buy a giant box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and and the accompanying bottle of syrup. Every Saturday, she’d empty a large mountain of dry mix into a bowl, add an egg, and eyeball the milk until she deemed fit. She’d preheat a giant skillet; one with little tiny squares on it, and would melt a glob of margarine. In the giant pan, she’d pour the prepped mix.  The result was a giant, fluffy pancake; complete with the tiny square imprint from the pan, that was perfect to hold a melting mound of margarine. My sister and I would split this massive pancake, and slather it with margarine and syrup while watching cartoons. I still don’t understand how my mom managed to even flip over such a huge pancake, but I guess that’s part of the motherly superpower allure.

As a kid, I used to think everything my mom made was delicious. Actually, that still rings true but as an “adult,” I realized that even though my mom had her own way of making things, it wasn’t always “right.” I am a stickler for following recipes, sometimes to the letter but my mom isn’t. The fact that she didn’t follow the directions on the box doesn’t bother me much because the pancakes came out consistently tasty anyway; it helps that it is box mix. The only issue I have now with our old pancake breakfasts was how she cooked it. Since the pan was so huge and my mom is short on patience; she’d throw all the batter in at once, creating a massive disc of dough. Because of its size, the middle would sometimes come out undercooked and the edges would get slightly burned. The texture of the pancake would go from fluffy to gritty, making us leave more than half of our pieces on the plate.

I watched her make it a few times and noticed she would lid it so it would cook completely. I didn’t understand the error of that method until I was older and actually knew what was happening under that lid. The pancake created steam, which dropped the water it created back into the pancake. A super moist pancake is not the end of the world but it did produce a different tasting pancake. It was still tasty, but it was just weird.

Now that my sister and I are older, and my mom is no longer home on Saturdays, I have taken our weekly special upon myself. I make pancakes almost every Sunday and they are very different to what my sister and I grew up with. I make mine from scratch, using this ultimately adaptable recipe. Apparently, I got snobby with age because I now frown upon anything pre-mixed; including cake and pancake mix. We may not buy the Aunt Jemima pancake mix anymore, but my family is still a fan of the syrup. We usually have a bottle laying around for this exact purpose.

Now, these pancakes are awesome. They may not be my mom’s but I think they’re equally, if not better tasting. I have made this recipe verbatim but here is the modified version I currently use. I’m even positive this recipe could be veganized (something I’m going to have to test). Eating these on the weekends, slathered with margarine and Aunt Jemima syrup, brings back that nostalgia from our Saturday specials. Even though my mom isn’t home on Sundays either, I always make these with her in mind and plan to make them for her the next time she has a free weekend.

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Whole Wheat Good Old Fashioned Pancakes slighltly adapted from Allrecipes.com

Makes 7-8 pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 3 3/4 tsps baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp agave syrup
  • 1 1/4 cups of soy milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsps unsalted butter or margarine, melted
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder,and salt.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, agave, and melted butter.
  3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Mix until the wet and dry ingredients are just incorporated.
  4. Heat up your lightly greased griddle or pan over medium-high heat. Scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  5. The pancake is ready to flip when bubbles appear near the edges. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • All-purpose flour works well in this recipe. You could use a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat or just use all all-purpose 
  • If using all-purpose, 3 1/2 tsps baking powder is plenty. Whole wheat flour is slightly heavier than all-purpose, so the extra baking powder helps lift an otherwise flatter pancake 
  • If using all-purpose flour, sift the dry ingredients together
  • White or raw sugar also works in this recipe. If using raw sugar, I would add a little more that a tablespoon because it is slightly less sweet than regular white sugar. Add the sugar to the dry ingredients
  • I use all soy milk in my recipe but use any milk you’d like
  • If you like a flatter pancake, add 1/4 cup more of milk
  • Remember to plate it on a cartoon plate, for added nostalgia
  • If you beat me to the punch and veganize this recipe, please let me know what substitutions you made and how they came out!