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These rolls guarantee a merry April

Sunday, April 28, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Food Editor, Post-Gazette

At our family's Christmas Eve dinner, we don't obsess on presents, we hardly give a hoot about holiday outfits, we don't even go gaga about the platters of cookies (well, we do care a little about them). What we really groove on can be described in two magical words: Maxine's Rolls.

Maxine Guthrie of Bay City, Mich., came to be kin by marriage. We thank the patron of yeast-baking that her son, Dutch, and my sister, Roxann, got hooked up, because that's how the rest of us were introduced to Maxine's Rolls. A mother of four, a 4-H leader for 33 years, she makes them like nobody else.

Last weekend, I was cruising my recipe box in search of something else. (You know the morass I call my recipe box? You don't want to know.) I came upon a hand-written card, which I recognized as The One. It didn't even have her name on it, unlike what we have come to call "Maxine's" Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, a recipe we've published on these pages. Other bakers may attach another name to it, a beloved aunt, maybe, or a great-baking Nana, but to us it belongs to Maxine.

So here was this recipe, called simply "Rolls," giving me a come-hither look. Reading the directions, I saw that the rolls were to be baked in a 9-by-12-inch pan. This sounded like hers, which sit upright, side by side, becoming one big divided roll.

I did it. Call it Christmas in April.

It so happens I have a beautiful new pan that I bought at the last All-Clad seconds sale, and I figured it needed a workout. I'll never forget a comment I heard standing in line the day I bought it, scorching my Visa but warming my heart.

"Will this pan get scratches?" asked the would-be buyer in front of me.

"They all get scratched if you use them," said the seller.

I so admire honesty. I'd gotten an entirely different answer when I bought a nonstick 9-inch-square pan at a big national chain store. That check-out clerk told me only what I wanted to hear.

"Will it mar the nonstick finish if I cut brownies in this pan?" I had asked.

"No, I don't think so," he said, though he had enough hesitation in his voice to make me read the fine print at home. Of course, you couldn't cut in it, and I had to make a return trip to find a plastic spatula to do the cutting. Moral: Check-out guys know computers (and not always that). Ask the person on the sales floor who knows baking (or maybe not).

Maxine's Rolls have a methodology I hadn't used before. You roll out the raised dough, then cut it with a biscuit cutter. If you've rolled an even thickness, the cutter guarantees each roll will be the same size (a good way to avoid family fights).

I had to smile when I came to the part about rolling the dough in your hands until it was about the size of a clothespin. Do twentysomething cooks know the size of a clothespin? Has he or she even seen a clothespin? You laugh, but many "standard" directions have disappeared into a technological void, not that I'd want to hang clothes out to dry on a line with the proverbial clothespin.

How long is a clothespin? Shorter than a magic marker, about as big as a roll of pennies, according to economics majors like my husband, Ace.

The directions said to put the "clothespins" either in 2 or 3 long rows. Which was it? Hands floured, I didn't have Maxine's number, so I made an executive decision and mine had two rows. It later turned out to be three, so Suzanne's Rolls were wider than Maxine's.

Soon, the rolls arrived at the end of my baking pan, but I still had dough, so I stuck in my fingers to make room in the row for late arrivals, the way we do at overbooked family dinners. Like any good get-together, each roll slipped into the groove, rose to the occasion and helped fill its place beautifully. (Maxine used her extra dough to make a little tasting loaf for husband Walt.)

"How did I do?" I asked Ace, who braves our family dinners for even a whiff of Maxine's Rolls.

"Well, yours are not as ... ah, well ... uniform -- Maxine's look so perfect, it's almost as if they came from a machine."

Things did get a little lost in my translation, but the potential for perfection was there. I just have to practice. They tasted delicious.

Maxine's Rolls

1/2 cup warm water
2 packages yeast (we used 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1 cup warm water
5 tablespoons oil (we used canola)
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick margarine, melted

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Beat eggs, and add sugar, salt, oil, 1 cup warm water and yeast-water mixture.

Add flour; and mix with wooden spoon. (We used the electric mixer.) If dough is too thick, add a little water. Clean edges of bowl with spatula. Let rise, covered, until double.

Flour board quite heavily. Scrape bowl with spatula. Knead to form a ball. (Dough was soft.) Roll out and cut with biscuit cutter. Roll with floured hands until about the size of a clothespin. Dip each one in melted margarine (we used butter).

Place in a 9-by-12-inch pan, side by side, in either 2 or 3 long rows. Let rise until dough reaches top of pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.

Maxine Guthrie, Bay City, Mich.

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