Mom's Dinner Rolls

When it came to cooking, our mother was hit and miss. When she cooked the dishes from her native Philippines—lumpia, pancit, the amazing stuffed, de-boned chicken—her food was to die for. But these were saved for holidays and special occasions. Our day-to-day fare was less appetizing. We weren’t rich--far from it. In trying to stretch a dollar (and please my father’s American tastes), my mother would buy the cheapest cuts of meat and use her go-to recipe: cover with canned tomato sauce and canned peas and cook for hours. The result was a mushy, tasteless mess. It was even worse the next day as leftovers, because when money is tight, you do not waste food.

No, she wasn’t the best cook. But her baking…her baking was legendary. People actually ate her fruitcakes. And came back for more year after year. At Christmastime, our home was a cookie factory, turning out dozens of cookies every day. Neighbors and friends would come by, knowing they’d be sent home with a plate of delicious cookies and, of course, a fruitcake.

She was an accomplished baker, and an adventurous one. She also was the type of person who would accost (to our complete mortification) random strangers in the supermarket and ask what on earth they were going to do with all the flour they were buying. That’s how she came by the recipes for homemade tortillas and sopapillas. When she was working for a Jewish couple as a nanny, she mastered Hamantaschen and challah and kugel.

Cookbooks filled our bookshelves, and she scoured Ladies Home Journal and the like for new recipes to try. It was in one of these magazines, no one remembers which, that she found what would become her masterwork: the dinner roll. The name was deceptively mundane and didn’t begin to describe their pillowy softness, the buttery melt in your mouth-ness. This humble bread elevated a meal to an occasion. They transformed even the mushy pot roasts into tasty sandwiches.

Since going gluten free, JoAnn and I have experimented with bread recipes, bread mixes, and bread machines. You name it, we’ve tried it. And while we were able to create a passable loaf or boule, we never found anything close to Mom’s dinner rolls. Until we tried the brioche recipe in Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The first attempt was encouraging—good taste and okay texture—but it was a little dense and didn’t have the pillowy softness of the original. I applied the brioche technique I’d learned in culinary school: mix the dough about 15 minutes, until it can dangle like a rubber chicken. Seriously. Doing so creates a smooth, homogenous consistency and also hydrates the dough. I also wanted to make it dairy free, so I replaced the milk with coconut milk, and used grapeseed oil instead of butter. Since I was out of xanthan, I used guar gum and also swapped out the granulated yeast for instant since that’s what I had on hand.

Et voilà! We finally had a winner.


Mom’s Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin tins with paper liners or lightly oil.

80 grams             brown rice flour

60 grams             tapioca starch/flour

240 grams           corn starch

1 tbs                     instant yeast

1 ½ tsp                 salt

1 tbs                     guar gum

1 ½ c                    coconut milk (unsweetened in aseptic box not canned)  

160 grams           honey

2                          eggs

½ cup                  grapeseed oil (or olive oil)

1 tsp                    vanilla (or use vanilla-flavored coconut milk instead)

                            Egg wash (1 egg + 1 yolk + 1 tsp water + pinch of salt)

Combine brown rice flour, tapioca starch, cornstarch, yeast, salt, and guar gum in mixer bowl and stir with the paddle attachment on lowest speed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, honey, eggs, oil, and vanilla until well combined. Slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and increase mixer speed.

Mix on medium for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, until the dough is completely smooth. Cover and let rest until doubled in size and you can see large air bubbles, about two hours.

Drop by large ice cream scoop into paper-lined or oiled muffin tins. Let rest for 60 minutes.

Brush lightly with egg wash. Bake until the inside temp reaches 200°, 20 – 25 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and let cool completely on wire rack.

Note: Gluten-free bread can be wet or gummy if under-baked. If you’ll be baking a lot of bread, invest in a good instant read or probe thermometer.