My first restaurant job was at the Levee House Café in Marietta, Ohio. I got all of my best restaurant insanity stories from that place, partially because of characters who worked there, and partially because I was volatile and young at the time. I broke their refrigerator once because I had a fit and kicked it. This says a lot about both my temper and the state of the refrigerator.
The Levee House is still there, and they are still serving the wonderful bran rolls that keep locals returning. They’re soft and tender and lightly studded with bran. Levee House roll fan Pete Hoffman asked me for the recipe months ago, but it was only now that I made a batch and wrote down the measurements, which, true to restaurant style, were previously vagaries like “fill this pot to here with water” and “get a big blob of Crisco…”
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup wheat bran
- 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more or less
1. Bring the water to a boil. In a large bowl, use a sturdy wooden spoon to beat the shortening with the sugar and salt until combined. Pour the boiling water over the shortening mixture and stir until the shortening melts.
2. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let sit until the yeast becomes foamy and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 4 cups flour, then the bran. Add the eggs, one at a time. Continue stirring in flour, one cup at a time, until you have a sticky, slightly loose dough. Knead with your hands for about three minutes. Dust the top of the dough with flour, cover with a towel, and set aside to rise until the dough doubles, about 2 hours.
3. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet. To shape the rolls, gather a blob of dough in floured hands. Flatten it into a rough disc shape. Making a circle with your thumb and first finger, squeeze the disc of dough through this, and pinch it off when you have a ball about the size of a small lemon (2-1/2 to 3 ounces of dough). Repeat with remaining dough, placing rolls on the baking sheet about two inches apart.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in volume, about an hour. Bake until lightly browned on top, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly and serve. These are heavenly when consumed shortly after they are baked, with a little butter. Makes about 2 dozen. Note: You can either space the rolls a few inches apart so they bake separately, or closer together so they bake like money bread and you have to tear them apart. Both are nice, but if you like crust, choose the former. Also, if you are not a big fan of shortening, substitute a stick of unsalted butter.