Cranberry rolls. I imagine most families have a recipe or two that define Thanksgiving for them. In our family, this is it. I have never seen them anywhere else, although they do show up at our family functions at Christmas and occasionally even Easter. But the cranberries make them quintessentially Thanksgiving fare. When my Irish-American grandmother was alive she brought them to every family feast and she is the one who taught me how to make them. They aren't very complicated but it's one of my greatest satisfactions: Grandma taught me how to set a yeast dough and make cranberry rolls and coffeecakes. I'm a lucky girl.
I feel kind of strange sharing this recipe with the whole world, but I think my grandmother would have been tickled. In any case, I'm copying it below for anyone who would like to give them a try. They are delicious - sweet bread and tart cranberries in a festive little disk. I have never been able to decide whether they should be classed as a starter, bread course or dessert; when I was little they were put out when the guests arrived and eaten as all three really. Before, during and AFTER the meal, especially if you were a growing child with an expandable stomach.
Grandma Kehoe's Cranberry Rolls
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups (or more) of flour
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp lemon juice
Cook the cranberry filling ingredients over a medium flame until the cranberries have mostly "popped" and you have a thick red sauce. Taste for sweetness and add lemon juice or sugar as necessary. Set aside to cool.
Add butter to scalded milk, to melt it. While the scalded milk is cooling and the butter is melting, combine the yeast with warm water and a bit of the sugar. After ten minutes, the yeast should be frothy and double in volume and the milk cooled to luke warm. Add the sugar and salt to the milk, then the yeast, then the eggs, vanilla and two cups of the flour. Mix well and allow to rise for 20 minutes in a warm place, covered with a dish towel. (If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, this is perfect. A spot near a warm radiator will also do, or you can turn on the oven for just a few moments to warm it a bit.) The dough should increase in bulk, but it will still be very soft.
Punch down the dough with a spoon and start adding the rest of the flour. When it is too difficult to work with a wooden spoon, pour a generous amount of flour on a clean counter and turn the dough out onto it. Knead in flour until the dough is tight and elastic and has taken as much flour as you think it can reasonably handle. Put the dough back in the warm place with the dish towel and let it rise until double in bulk (40-60 minutes).
Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down and knead it again until it is elastic. Set it aside and get out the cookie sheets you'll be using. Grease them lightly with butter, margarine or Crisco. Take half the dough and roll it out to a 1/2 inch thickness on a floured surface. (Letting it rest for 5-10 minutes while you do the greasing of the sheets should have relaxed the dough a bit.) Work from the center outwards and don't be afraid to be firm with the dough! Using a glass or a cutter, cut circles of 2 1/2 to 3 inches in the dough and place them on the cookie sheets with an inch or two between them to allow for the final rising. Repeat with the second half of the dough and the scraps until you have used up the dough.
Put the cookie sheets in a warm place and let them rise another 30 minutes. Using a small cup or a shot glass (depending on your lifestyle) make a small depression in the center of each of the rounds and fill it with a heaping Tablespoon of cranberry filling. Allow the rolls to rise a bit longer and then start baking them at 375F (175C) for 15 minutes.
When you remove them from the oven you can cool them on racks and store in an airtight container. They keep for a few days at room temperature or for a few months if you freeze them. (If freezing, rewarm them in the oven, covered with tin foil to keep the moisture in.)
Obviously this is a weekend project, not something you can throw together after work. However, you can fit other things into the spaces where the dough is rising and I can guarantee that the end product is well worth the time and work involved in production. You will find yourself working out the "best" way to eat them, so that you preserve a bit of cranberry sauce for each bite. Or maybe you are the kind of person who prefers to eat the sweetened bread dough alone, saving the cranberry part for one glorious sweet mouthful? It's like Oreo cookies: everyone has a theory!
If you decide to try this, please do let me know how they turn out! I would be more than happy to give more details or (in the case of my European readers) even to pop a packet of dry yeast in the post for you. Unfortunately, I've never worked out a satisfactory replacement system with fresh yeast, mainly out of superstitious fear of what might happen to one who tampers with The Recipe.