There's a mug of tea steaming on the windowsill to my left. It’s quiet in my apartment but cheerful noises from the street outside drift up through my open window on the warm breeze. Children shout from the school next door. A delivery truck rumbles past, then another. A far-away siren, the thump of trash cans hauled to the sidewalk, a girl giggling as she waits in the long line outside the bakery downstairs.
I’m sitting cross-legged on the couch, eating my way slowly through a mug of chicken soup, and reading Ruth Reichl’s excellent new cookbook My Kitchen Year. She makes me want to cook everything, and I fold down the corner of page after page: a slumped-down apricot pie with a sturdy streusel topping, buttery angel hair pasta, three-day short ribs stewed in red wine.
In a recent radio interview about the book, Ruth said she wanted to give people a reason to cook at all, when so many cookbooks are all about instructing you to cook perfectly. We should be less results-oriented, she says. It’s the process, not the perfection.
And anyway, pie tastes just as good when the crust is cracked.
Urged on by her words, I’m myself trying something that could have dubious results: sweet potato rolls. This yeasted dough has a touch of sugar and calls for mashed sweet potatoes instead of a smooth potato puree. As I knead my dough, I notice chunks of sweet potato strewn about. Can that be right?
Onwards. The dough gets kneaded, it rests, it rises. I shape the dough as instructed into twelve rolls in a 9” x 13” pan. I dutifully weigh each piece so every roll is equal in size. The rolls look tiny in the pan—vast amounts of space are left. Again, is this right?
I forge on.
The sad little rolls get a second rise in the pan to proof (about forty minutes). Glorious! They’re puffed and round, almost touching with no space left in the pan. I slip them into a hot (350 degree) oven.
Twenty-five minutes later, I pull out a tray of golden rolls. The texture is beautiful, the interior light and airy. Had I faltered partway through, concerned with the steps not looking right, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon such success.
Truthfully, they taste so delicate and tender that I could eat the entire pan even if they'd been hideously misshapen. The inside is just doughy enough. The texture reminds me of a hot dog bun -- it squishes together if you press it between your fingertips. They're slightly sweet and very good with a pat of salted butter.
I love these rolls, and I’d highly recommend auditioning them in the few weeks to see if they earn a spot on your Thanksgiving table.
Sweet Potato Rolls
Adapted from Fleischmann's Yeast
1 cup milk, warmed to about 110 degrees F
1 package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
In a small bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm milk and set aside to proof for about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl (I used a stand mixer), whisk together 3 cups of the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the melted butter, egg, mashed potato, and yeast mixture. Stir until combined.
The mixture will be very sticky! I mixed mine a lot to get the mashed sweet potato well-incorporated. Add enough flour to make a soft dough (it's okay if still feels pretty sticky, but it shouldn't be liquidy at all or too sticky to handle). Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth.
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled. It should take about 1 hour.
Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan. Punch down the dough lightly to deflate it, then divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (I suggest using a scale here: Weigh all the dough, then divide by 12 and weigh each piece as you go. They will look more uniform!).
Roll each piece into a ball and place it in the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 40 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on the top.
Remove from the oven and let cool.