August 31, 2011
There are many reasons to be excited about today’s guest post—but if I had to pick one, I’d say it’s the fact that Grandma Nettie’s dinner rolls are so ridiculously delicious.
The Grandma Nettie in question is the great-grandmother of Rebecca Masson, a bright star in the Houston food community and contestant on the current season of Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts. I was lucky enough to meet Rebecca before she became a fancy TV reality star, and I was amazed then as I am now by the fact that she is both deadly talented at her craft AND a warm, effervescent, generous human being; all too often, those two things don’t go together.
Rebecca’s professional resume reflects her moxie and talent: a graduate of Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, she worked in several top New York kitchens before moving to Houston in 2006 to take a job at *17 restaurant in the Alden Hotel. After receiving several public honors, among them “Best Pastry Chef” by My Table Magazine and working as a dessert menu consultant with several of Houston’s top restaurants, Rebecca started her own business, Fluff Bake Bar, which stocks local businesses with her whimsical, delicious baked goods.
She’s known for her fluffernutters, macarons (in flavors like German chocolate cake—my favorite—or peanut butter and jelly), and Veruca Salt cupcakes: devil’s food cake with salted caramel frosting. All of Rebecca’s work reflects her personal combination of nostalgia, precise technique, and creative thinking. Simply put, her desserts are ones you can’t wait to eat.
Below is an excerpt from an email interview with Rebecca Masson, as well as her great-grandmother Nettie’s roll recipe. Having baked and made them myself, I can tell you—grandma Nettie knew her way around a damn dinner roll. They are soft and pliant but still sturdy enough to clean a soup bowl. Jill & I drizzled some with honey, warm from them oven, served some with beef stew, threw some in the freezer for safe-keeping, and plan to add the recipe to our family’s Thanksgiving repertoire.
Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing this recipe; be sure to tune into Bravo tonight at 9:00 pm CST to watch Rebecca on the second episode Top Chef Just Desserts!
First memory of being in the kitchen?
I don’t remember what age I was when we started the tradition, but baking spritz cookies and popcorn balls for Christmas. The adults in the family would make the more difficult cookies, but these were the treats that my cousins and I could help with, decorating the cookies & shaping the popcorn balls. I think we ate way more than we decorated…but we always had a good time.
So many home cooks are intimidated by baking. Any advice on where to start? What equipment is essential, in your opinion? What ingredients are worth paying more for?
Baking really isn’t difficult. It’s the patience that is difficult. I hear so many folks say, “I just don’t have the time, nothing I ever bake turns out correctly.” It’s because people don’t take the time. A wise friend told me once that baking is 50% attitude. I really believe that.
I have days where my baked goods don’t come out correctly. If three things in a row don’t come out…I quit for the day. Because it’s just going to get worse and I will become really upset. You have to make the time. Start with cookies or brownies, something simple. Master the recipe, start playing with the recipe by adding spices or different crunchy items. Once you have mastered that recipe, move on up to another. Take a class. It’s always an eye opener when you get into a class and realize how many other people in the world have the same frustrations.
Invest in some good equipment, you don’t have to have it all, but there are a few things that make life easier. A stand mixer for starters, I have had my cobalt blue Kitchen Aid since the mid-90’s. I love that thing. Really good spatulas, mixing bowls and whisks. A really good rolling pin. I brought mine home from France with me. It’s my baby.
Use really good ingredients. For me, cocoa powder & flour are items that shouldn’t be skimped on. Valrhona Cocoa powder is the bomb. It’s dark in color and rich in flavor, really makes a difference. For flour, King Arthur all the way. I use all of their flours, all purpose, whole wheat, bread, etc.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of salt. I know, right? Salt? Yes, salt. It’s one of my go-to ingredients, it can change the flavor profile so quickly. I love salt.
What’s your guiltiest food pleasure?
I am a Whataburger girl. I love their ketchup, it’s fancy. Also, Red Vines. It’s almost an addiction.
GRANDMA NETTIE’S ROLLS
recipe courtesy Rebecca Masson
I am one of few people that can say I am fourth generation Wyoming-born, a fact I’m really proud of. Though we moved to Dallas when I was six, I was lucky enough to still spend my summers in Wyoming. It was like my own personal summer camp.
One of my fondest memories of those summers was going to my Great-Grandma Nettie’s (my mom’s Grandma) house in Saratoga. She was a firecracker of a woman! She kept up with her garden, house and baking until she was the young age of 92. I loved going to her house, parking my behind at her kitchen table and devouring hot yeast rolls right out of the oven. They were so big and fluffy and buttery and I was spoiled from the first bite.
My Great-Grandma made tons of other tasty treats, including the best damn lemon meringue pie, which I have paid tribute to many of times in my dessert repertoire, but those yeast rolls are still my hands-down favorite. These days, I still get to have these rolls once a year at Thanksgiving; my mom makes them every year. They are still just as tasty and I get goose bumps every time I eat them. I know my Grandma Nettie is looking down on us smiling.
1½ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 packet active dry yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 ½ cups flour
½ cup butter, melted
1. Combine milk, shortening, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; set aside to cool.
2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water in a large bowl; set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
3. Pour milk mixture into yeast. Stir in eggs and gradually add flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough gets stiff, and then use your hands (dough will be sticky, so grease your hands with a little butter). Brush a small amount of butter on the inside of a large bowl and on one side of a sheet of waxed paper. Place dough in bowl, cover with buttered wax paper, and lay a damp dishcloth on top. Set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, at least 3 hours.
4. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until elastic, and then portion out into 24 balls. Roll in the butter and place in greased casserole dish. Cover as in step 3, and set aside to rise, at least 2 1/2 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 350°. Brush the rolls with any remaining butter and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.