When I was a child, I enjoyed reading Little House on the Prairie books. I found it peculiar how Laura Ingalls enjoyed bread and butter sandwiches. “Just bread and butter?” I wondered. After all, a slice of plastic-wrapped supermarket bread with butter isn’t all that special. However, thinking about it now, I imagine a slice of Mrs. Ingalls’s homemade bread, no doubt made from freshly milled whole grains and slathered in farm-fresh butter, would be quite spectacular. While I can’t take us back in time, I can assure you that today’s addition of cocoa powder is enough to make this bread recipe sing with just a dab of butter. You could just as easily form the dough into a loaf of bread, but I prefer rolls for tucking into lunchboxes. Go ahead, have a Laura Ingalls day.
Ingredients (makes 14 rolls)
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup lukewarm (not boiling hot) water
1 tablespoon soft (not melted) butter
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups white flour
1/4 cup finely ground pecans
Cornmeal (for dusting the baking pan, optional)
Step 2) In a small bowl, combine butter, egg, cocoa powder, salt, and ground pecans. Mix well.
Step 3) Add butter mixture to yeast and water. Stir gently until well blended.
Step 4) Add flour. Stir together and dump out the contents of the bowl onto a floured table or countertop. Your dough will look like a mess at this point, and that’s OK!
Step 5) This is the fun part… knead your bread dough for five minutes. Don’t just use your fingers, but really put some muscle into it by using the heels of your palms. Turn the dough over a few times, sprinkling the table and the dough with flour if it becomes sticky. After five minutes, your dough should look like this:
Step 6) Grease a large mixing bowl – rubbing the paper wrapper from a stick of butter along the inside of the bowl works well. Place your kneaded dough in the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for 60 minutes or until the dough doubles in size. Hint: If you turn on your oven for one or two minutes (no longer), then turn it OFF, your oven will be just warm enough to provide a cozy place for your bowl of dough to rise.
Step 7) After dough has doubled in size, use a serrated knife to cut the dough into 12 – 14 equal size pieces. Gently pull the top of each piece of dough to smooth the roll, tucking the dough into itself underneath. Each piece should look smooth and round.
*Cornmeal is optional, but it helps keep the rolls from sticking to the pan and also helps create a pleasant bottom crust.
Step 9) Begin preheating your oven to 375 degrees after your rolls have been shaped and are resting on the pan. They don’t need a full “second rise,” but will benefit from the few minutes of resting time it will take for your oven to preheat.