I was one of those kids who loved camp! I loved being away. I loved all of the activities. And I loved the food!
Well, at least I loved the homemade yeast rolls that graced the table at every meal. I ate them in pairs, hot out of the oven, their tops salty with butter and the aroma so heady that I would inhale as deeply as I could before devouring them. To this day, yeast rolls can transport me. They are like a warm blanket that envelopes you in pure comfort.
I have tried a lot of rolls in my adult life trying to find one that would come even close to my camp experience. But each one has come up short. That is, until I walked into the Harrison Smith House, a small restaurant in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Bardstown is famous for bourbon. Several distilleries ‚Äî including Jim Beam, Heaven Hill Distilleries and Maker’s Mark ‚Äî operate in and around Bardstown. But it is now famous to me for the best yeast rolls I’ve had since camp. And believe me, they are worth the trip! But while you’re there, you might as well also partake in a little Bourbon exploration.
The rolls are the handiwork of Josh Smouse, who is the chef de cuisine of the Harrison Smith House. Like the owners, Newman Miller and Justin Hughes, he previously cooked in Louisville and Chicago. The three have been friends, roommates and colleagues throughout their culinary careers. Now back in their home state of Kentucky, they are bringing a travelled palate to their Southern table.
But the rolls, offered as a side dish, never travelled out of state. Josh started making them first for his family at Christmas. He later decided to try them out at the restaurant, where he substituted them for the more common cornbread, and the rest is history. Smouse makes a minimum of 60 rolls a day, but my version of his recipe will produce a more reasonable 16. If you want to make more, no problem; the recipe doubles easily.
This recipe is pretty foolproof and doesn’t need very much attention or kneading. The real secret is patience, as you will have to go through four rises and lots of waiting to make these tender, flaky and delicate buttery yeast rolls. Just remember what your mother said: “Good things come to those who wait!”
BUTTERY YEAST ROLLS
Start to finish: 6 hours (30 minutes active)
Makes 16 rolls
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 envelopes instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces, plus 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted
2 egg yolks
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Set aside.
In the microwave or a small saucepan over low, heat the milk to 110 F. Add the 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter and stir to combine and melt the butter. Once the butter is completely melted, whisk the egg yolks into the butter-milk mixture. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture. Mix well to completely incorporate all ingredients. The dough will be loose and very sticky.
Once your dough is well combined, place a clean towel over the bowl and set it in a warm spot (such as over a heated oven) for 2 hours. After 2 hours, punch down the dough to deflate it, then knead in the bowl a few times. The dough will be sticky, but resist the urge to add any more flour. Gather all the dough into a nice ball and transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover with the towel and let rise again until doubled, about 2 hours.
Once doubled, portion into roughly sixteen 2-ounce (roughly 2-inch) pieces. Shape by rolling pieces of dough in a ball between your hands and stretching the top under the ball. Place the dough balls on ungreased baking trays. Cover with a towel and allow to rise for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 325 F.
Just before baking, brush the rolls with a bit of the melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove them from the oven, brush liberally with butter, then bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven and brush once more with butter. Let the rolls rest on the pan for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per roll: 200 calories; 100 calories from fat (50 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 170 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 3 g protein.
(Recipe adapted from Josh Smouse at Harrison Smith House Restaurant in Bardstown, Kentucky)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”