Uncle Bill’s Aunt Hazel’s Hot Rolls

This is actually the name my family associates with this recipe. If hot rolls are to be served at a family get-together, everyone knows that the rolls will be Uncle Bill’s Aunt Hazel’s Hot Rolls.

Aunt Hazel was an extraordinary woman, one of those ladies who could do anything. Make breakfast on the wood-fired stove, feed the chickens, paint the barn, fix the well pump, make lunch, take leftovers to the poor, sew a wedding dress for a friend, make dinner and wait on Uncle Ran hand and foot…laughing and singing all the while.

She lived on an Indian reservation near Ship Rock, New Mexico for many years and noticed one day that the squaws were all wearing tattered dresses. She sewed a beautiful new dress for each one of them, but to her surprise, they simply put the new dresses on right over the old torn ones!

Years later after the couple had moved to North Texas, one day an old Native American man drove up into their front yard in a beat-up pickup truck. He used to cut Uncle Ran’s grass back in New Mexico, and he had driven all the way to Texas to ask Uncle Ran to help him buy a new truck because he didn’t trust anyone else. While he was there, he asked Aunt Hazel to make him some of her hot rolls, which were still legendary back in New Mexico.  You just can’t imagine how famous Aunt Hazel’s hot rolls were, and it was rumored that the reason was that darned wooden spoon that she always left in the batter as it was rising. It makes sense. Natural yeasts collected on that spoon and it acted kind of like a primitive sourdough starter. If you get hooked on this recipe, use the same wooden spoon each time you make it, and you might notice the rolls getting better and better…

1 package active dry yeast

1 handful bread flour

¾ cup sugar

1 Tablespoon salt

2 eggs, slightly beaten

4 Tablespoons melted butter

3 cups warm water

Whisk all these ingredients together until smooth. Then add:

6-7 cups flour

(I suggest substituting a cup or two of whole wheat pastry flour for extra flavor and heartiness!)

Start on the low end, with 5 cups, and go up from there, stirring with a wooden spoon. You’re aiming for a stiff batter, which is softer than a soft dough. When you tilt the bowl, the batter should look more like it’s running than like it’s a single mass that’s going to fall out of the bowl.

Leave the spoon in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishcloth, letting the batter rise until double, around 1 ½ hours.

Stir the batter to let out the air. Then turn out the batter onto a heavily floured countertop, roll out to 1”-2” thick using a well-floured rolling pin. Add flour to the surface of the dough, if necessary, to keep things from being too sticky.

Cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Place the rolls into a large glass or metal baking pan that has been sprayed or oiled with canola. Spray the tops of the rolls with canola, cover pan with plastic wrap, and let rolls rise until double, around 45 minutes.

Use a glass or pyrex pan for best results. Obviously you’ll have to use more than 1 pan to bake all the rolls in this recipe at once. I’m sure Aunt Hazel had two pans in the oven at a time, and more pans went in when the first batch came out done. Halve the recipe if you’re not cooking for a crowd.

Preheat oven to 450F.

Bake rolls in preheated 450F oven for around 15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool inside pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans. Serve warm for the ravest reviews.

As you eat these incredible rolls, imagine all the people who have also enjoyed them, from poor families on the Indian reservation in New Mexico in the early 1900s, to church potlucks on countless Sundays, to generations of my family at every Thanksgiving get-together since then.

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