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  • Mary Kay

Great Grandma's Buns are the Best!

How can you lose with a recipe that's over 100 years old?

My kitchen right now is filled with the mellow aroma of freshly kneaded and baked buns from my Great Grandma Melissa's recipe. It's the very same aroma I remember greeting us in Mom's kitchen after school. I could tell she had been baking this wonderful treat for us all day. It is such a wonderful and cozy feeling. Just smelling the buns right out of the oven recall many family gatherings where the buns were a main star.

Yes, "Great Grandma Melissa had the best buns." And, Gram H, the teacher (and her daughter), would have a fit with that top headline. She would say that it could be interpreted a couple of different ways. If she were still alive, and I had the guts, I would say to her, "That's how I wanted it to read, Gram, in order to attract attention to Great Grandma's recipe." She would probably say something indignant under her breath and then ignore me. Or, I would ignore her. She and I got along well communicating in that way.

For many years I assumed this was my Mother’s recipe since she made them for every single family affair, Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner, family reunions, Birthdays, friend get togethers, and more. She always made a double or even triple batch just so she could send some home with older relatives who were unable to do much baking anymore. But, a few years ago I found out that it was not originally her recipe, but actually it is her Grandmother's (my Great Grandmother's) recipe. That means that by now, 6-7 generations of our family and extended relations have been enjoying this recipe.

The buns were always in great demand. They were delicious fresh out of the oven, with a little butter. My cousins loved them fresh out of the oven with canned spray cheese melting off the edges. The buns paired very well with turkey gravy at Thanksgiving dinner. They made quick after school sandwiches with tasty tuna fish salad topped with crushed potato chips accompanied by Mom’s homemade dill pickles. I love them toasted for breakfast with butter and blueberry jam. A slice of Christmas ham and mustard makes for a tasty later afternoon Thanksgiving Day snack after a full day of football and family. And, waxed paper wrapped buns with butter and" wiggle" meat waited in brown paper bags as us kids' school lunches. But, I never did tell Mom that I also loved them simply with a thick slice aged cheddar or Gruyere cheese set in the microwave to warm up a little – because she abhorred cheese.

I used to spend many hours with Mom baking these buns for various events, family and public, learning her techniques for rolling and making the individual buns. As a little kid it was amazing to watch as she quickly formed the buns, pulling up the sides and overlapping them to make a perfectly smooth side on the surface of her left palm. Even in her later years rolling bun dough with her mangled, tangled arthritic hands, I could never keep up with her.

This is a recipe that is well worth the time to make, and they're so easy. You just need to allocate enough time in the day to come out with perfect buns. I allow a full day from about 9:00am until 3:00pm to finish up the recipe. The steps are pretty easy and book reading is one thing I love to do while the yeasty dough rises and then the buns rise before they are baked. The bonus is that the kitchen holds that wonderful smell into the evening for all to enjoy. They will probably disappear in the mouths of your family in less time than it takes for you to bake them. However, it's well worth the day of baking. There are so many wonderful memories tied up with this recipe.


- This recipe makes 3-5 dozen depending on how large or small you make them.

- Sometimes I make a half recipe to produce 15-18 buns.

Preheat your oven:

A few minutes prior to baking the buns, set your oven for 350F degrees.

Prep your pans:

Mom always spread lard or shortening on the pans so the buns didn't stick. I use parchment paper to line the pans so they're much easier to clean.

Best Buns Ingredients:

2 Pkges Dry Yeast

2 t Salt

2 C Water, lukewarm

2 C Flour

2 Eggs

1 C Sugar

1 C Water

1 C Lard (I use white shortening)

6 C Flour

Make and proof the bun dough:

- In a medium to large bowl, mix the yeast, salt and 2 cups lukewarm water.

- Add 2 cups flour and stir so all are combined. It will be stringy and sticky.

- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm part of the kitchen 1-2 hours. I help it along on a cold day by placing a heating pad (heated in the microwave) under the bowl. The dough batter should be bubbly. Set aside.

- In a separate bowl, cream the shortening/lard, 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar with a pastry cutter until the everything has been well distributed. Mom and Gram both used lard. Later Mom used shortening, I think simply because it was easier to obtain and store than lard. Lard could be rather messy in it's big block form, stored in the refrigerator as opposed to shortening's convenient plastic lidded cans that could be easily stored in the cupboard. I have always used white shortening.

- Add the 1 cup water and stir so it's well combined.

- Put the two mixtures together in the larger bowl and stir well.

- Add the 6 cups of flour, two cups at a time, and stir well after each addition. The last two cups may be difficult to stir in so I knead it all together with my cleaned hands for a few minutes in the bowl. (If you have a large enough electric stand mixer you may want to knead it together with the paddle.) I like to knead it by hand so I can "feel" when it's ready to let rise again before making it into bun shapes. I even knead it right in the big bowl, adding a little more flour if it's needed.

- If you don't knead it in the bowl, unload the dough onto a floured counter or bread board. Knead it a little more.

- Wash the bowl completely, and dry it. Then lightly brush some extra virgin olive oil or shortening on the bottom and sides of the bowl before putting the dough back into the bowl.

- Cover the dough bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen to raise for 2 hours. The doughd should be satiny smooth on the outside.

- Take the plastic wrap off the bowl and punch down the dough.

- Pull off a ball of dough larger than a ping pong ball, but smaller than a baseball. Form it into a bun by placing it in your left palm (if you're right handed) and pulling one side up and around the ball. As you pull up another side to pull over rotate the ball in your left palm. Repeat this process until you have a smooth ball. The smooth side will end up facing down into your palm while the seamed side will be up.

- Repeat the bun rolling/rotating process to make 3-4 dozen buns, placing them all seam side down on the parchment paper lined baking pans.

- Cover the buns on the pans with lightweight kitchen towels. Let rise for an hour in a warm spot in the kitchen, until they are double in size.

Bake the Buns:

- Bake the buns at 350F degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown. I check them at 15 minutes, rotate the pans and bake for another 3-5 minutes. Depending on your oven's actual temperature, they could take from 18-23 minutes. Either way, they should end up golden brown.

- Yum! They are especially tasty within just a few minutes after coming out of the oven, with a little butter or homemade jam from Gram's recipe.

After taking the buns out of the oven:

- Mom immediately used a piece of waxed paper with shortening on it to rub over the tops of all the buns while they were still hot - not a thick layer, just a quick swipe. She liked the luster this gave to the tops of the buns. I use a pastry brush to do a quick spread of butter on the tops of the hot buns, because I like the flavor of butter on the top. Then you don't really need to spread butter on them when you break them open. NEVER slice these soft luscious fresh buns - you'll crush them. As you break them apart, inside you can see the luscious little holes created by the shortening and yeast bubbles, and inhale the incredible aroma of these fresh yeasty buns.

Serving ideas:

- Pair them with Thanksgiving Day turkey and gravy. Use them to sop up the gravy...mmm!

- Use them the next day, cut in half and covered with leftover turkey and warmed up gravy next to some of those sides from Thanksgiving Day. Nice!

- They are great toasted and spread with soft butter and homemade jam for breakfast.

- Mustard and cheese with salami is a great idea for a brown bag lunch.

- Tuna salad with crushed potato chips on top - yum!

- Cut them in half, spread with butter and toast in a fry pan to get them ready to hold a juicy hamburger, cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.

- If they get a little dry, cut them up in cubes to bake into croutons on a low oven temp, with extra virgin olive and herbs

spread around.

- Cut them into thick slices and spread with extra virgin olive oil and toast them in the oven for bruschetta. Spread them with olive pesto and canned dried herbed tomatoes. Top each with a basil leaf.

However you serve these buns, be sure to Bake your own Memories!

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