Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Mimi Roll Wars, Round 2

I suspected there would be treachery, and I was right.

All families have their special Thanksgiving traditions. One of my family's is "Mimi rolls, " so-called because for years they were the special contribution of my grandmother, whom everyone calls "Mimi." These are puffy white yeast rolls made in a big pan and are as essential to my family's Thanksgiving as the turkey and stuffing. Brown and crispy on the outside and tender soft in the middle, they are the ideal accompaniment for Thanksgiving dinner and taste best when sopped full of gravy and cranberry sauce.

As time passed and the kids grew up and got married and had their own kids, the gathering has gotten larger (this year's totaled 37 people) and Mimi has gotten older. Her energy has faded with age, but her native German frugality has only strengenthed. About five years ago Mimi announced that instead of the traditional two pans of rolls she was making only one, which she calculated out to be one roll per person, which was "all that anyone needs, anyway."

This set off a minor crisis at the dinner buffet, as some in the front of the line weren't aware of the one-per-person rule and took more than their share and some in the back found themselves out of luck. There was grumbling and some accusations of roll-hogging. One uncle was rumored to have secured a small stash of rolls that he was selling to the highest bidder.

Clearly this wouldn't do, and the next year my mother and I hatched a plan to save Thanksgiving. She had gotten the recipe from Mimi several years before, and she passed it on to me, and we each made a pan of the rolls and snuck them into the kitchen and added them to the basket for the buffet. And a good thing, too--with the addition of another fiancee and a few boyfriends to the crowd, one pan wasn't even enough for one-each.

We kept this all on the QT, not wanting to offend Mimi. But, word got out pretty quickly that there had been some roll augmentation, and an aunt or brother-in-law would pull us off to the side and whisper, "Great job with those rolls . . . they taste just like Mimi's!" One cousin, who had tried to replicate Mimi rolls herself in the past and failed miserably, heaped praise upon us for being able to get the texture and shape just right. And this, of course, went straight to our heads.

Within a couple of years, Mimi--now in her nineties--stopped making the rolls altogether, and the torch has now been passed to my mother and me to supply the Thanksgiving staple. And somewhere along the way a relative heard about this and said, in passing, "we'll have to see whose rolls turn out better." And thus a competition ensued.

It's an unspoken competition. My mother would deny that she has even a single competitive bone in her body and could care less who thought whose rolls were better. But I know better, and I'm on to her tricks. Last year, The Wife caught her scrambling the rolls, taking the ones from her pan and mixing them in the big serving baskets with the ones I made, ensuring that no one would be able to compare the two. Clearly, my mother must have sampled the two batches in advance and determined that hers couldn't hold a candle to mine in a fair head-to-head taste test and undertook to ensure the match never took place.

This year there was more treachery. We moved houses over the summer, and when I went to make my batch of Mimi rolls Wednesday night I couldn't find my old handwritten recipe. So, I called my mother up and she read the ingredients out to me over the phone. "I don't even need to look it up," she told me. "I can do it from memory." And she rattled off the list of ingredients and their amounts. "I think I'm forgetting something," she said once finished. "Oh, let me look it up." A little rustling of paper, then a few seconds later. "An egg! That's it. Don't forget the egg."

A clever piece of gamesmanship on her part, the I-almost-forgot-the-egg thing. I followed the recipe as I had written it down--mixing up the dough and kneading it and putting it into a bread bowl to rise. As I was covering it with a towel I had a sneaking suspicion I was missing something . . . and then it hit me: yeast! I'd been following the directions just as she gave them to me and not using my brain, and I'd completely forgotten that risen bread requires yeast. Fortunately, I'd remembered in time. I dumped the dead dough ball into the trash and started over, this time adding in the two packets of yeast that she had so conveniently omitted from the recipe.

They came out perfectly, and Thankgiving went off without a hitch. Better luck next year, Mom.

Here, for posterity's sake and to keep me from being at the mercy of my mother the next time I can't find the hand-scrawled instructions, is the recipe for Mimi Rolls:

Mimi Rolls

2 cups milk
4 T butter
4 T sugar
2 t salt
2 eggs
2 packages rapid-rise yeast
7 - 8 cups of flour

These are all the ingredients, as far as I'm telling

Put the milk in a saucepan and scald it over high heat, removing it from the heat just as it begins to get bubbly but before it starts to boil (watch carefully--it will foam up out of the pot in a flash once it hits the boiling point). Add in the butter, sugar, and salt and stir till melted and dissolved. Allow the milk to cool until it is between 120 and 130 degrees F. You could just let it sit on the counter for a while, I usually speed this up by putting the saucepan in an icebath and stirring it while measuring with an instant read thermometer. Doesn't take but a minute or two to get it to 130 this way.

Combine 4 cups of the flour with the yeast (don't forget the yeast!) in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the middle, and pour in the liquid. Add the two eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon until the liquid is all absorbed, then start adding more flour a half cup at a time until the mixture is too stiff to stir. Lose the spoon and knead the dough by hand, working in the remainging flour until the dough has a smooth, elastic consistency. Knead another five to ten minutes, then form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a towel, and let it rise an hour or so until it has about doubled in size.

Up to this point it's a pretty conventional yeast roll recipe. The trick to Mimi Rolls (according to everyone who has tried to make them) is shaping them correctly. I've never seemed to have much problem with it, but it has done in many a cousin who tried to reproduce Mimi's originals. Here's how I pull it off:

Once the dough has risen, pinch off a large blob about the size of a golf ball. Knead the blob between your hands a few times until it feels soft and pliable. Take the ball with both hands and poke your fingers into one side, then turn the dough inside out on itself. Place the dough between your palms and roll it back and forth until you've shaped it into a smooth, cigar-like cylinder. Place the dough roll into a large Pyrex baking pan and repeat. When you are done, you'll have a pan filled with two rows of little dough cylinders. Cover with a towel and let rise until about doubled again.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until golden brown on top, about 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush the tops with melted butter, and allow to cool on a baking rack.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without them.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Great Thanksgiving story - sounds way too familiar...for us, it's the stuffing/dressing. Messing with the recipe (which isn't even all that good) could start a family feud.

Maybe I'll try Mimi's rolls next year. They look great.

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