Saturday, October 17, 2015

Baking From-Scratch Refrigerator Rolls in Your Wood Cookstove

When you are using a wood cookstove to cook all of your meals, you will likely have a hot oven at each mealtime.  When the cookstove is being fired constantly for home heating, you can have a baking-temperature oven in just a few minutes at any time of the day.  This adds an element of flexibility to the menu that one does not have with a modern range. 

That may sound strange, I know, but hear me out.  Now, obviously we only use our gas range in the summer months, but if we used it year 'round, I'm such a skinflint that it would bother me to turn on the gas oven for short, optional baking, so I would think twice when planning meals so as to avoid using the energy.  However, the fire that heats the cooktop of the wood burning range is also the fire that heats the oven, so no extra energy cost (or at least very little) is accrued by heating the oven--hence the extra flexibility.  Therefore, the recipe and method that I'm going to share in this post is one that I would never use in the manner that I'm going to show you if I were confined to using a modern range.

Some time ago, I received a reproduction copy of the 1950 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook (Wiley Publishing, Inc. and General Mills, Inc.). I think that it was a Christmas gift.  I haven't used it as much as I would like, but the prose centering around one recipe for refrigerator dough caught my eye.  I'm convinced that this is the precursor to the various canned bread doughs that we now see lined up so neatly in the dairy case at the grocery store.  Every cook knows that a meal is kicked up a notch when there is fresh yeast bread to be served with it, but sometimes schedules don't allow going to the trouble of mixing and proofing dough while making other food preparations.  This is the perfect recipe to help ease that process.

Of course, I rarely follow recipes exactly, so I've made some adaptations.  Here is what I did:

On an evening when we had mashed potatoes as part of our supper (I could have mashed potatoes every day and never get tired of them), I saved the water that they were cooked in.  It turned out to be almost exactly a cup and a half of potato water.  After we had eaten supper, that water was still warm, but no longer hot, and I started mixing the roll dough.

To the potato water, I added a tablespoon of yeast, then two-thirds cup of sugar, and a bit more than a teaspoon of salt.

To that, I added two eggs (I used duck eggs), 2/3 c. of room-temperature shortening, and about a cup of leftover mashed potatoes.

Then, I started mixing in All Trumps bread flour.  After I had added three cups of flour, I beat the dough very briskly with my spoon in order to get the gluten activated and the lumps of mashed potatoes broken down.

I stirred in approximately another three cups of flour and then turned the dough out onto a floured board and began to knead just enough flour into it that it stopped sticking to my hands.  It was still a pretty soft dough, though.

I put the dough into a clean bowl and coated it with thin layer of shortening. 

After tightly covering the bowl with plastic wrap, the whole thing went into the refrigerator. 

The key to keeping this dough in good condition is to keep it refrigerated and to be sure that you punch it down regularly.  I have kept it in the fridge for as long as six days.  I mixed this batch on Tuesday evening.  The picture below shows what it looked like on Wednesday morning just before I punched it down for the first time.

Of course, you could make all of the dough into whatever kind of roll you want and bake it all at once, but that would be a LOT of rolls, and really, the beauty of this recipe is that you can have so much flexibility and variety.  Here is what I did with this batch:

On Wednesday evening, I made cinnamon rolls.  Usually, I open the door of the warming oven on the Margin Gem, spread an old towel on it, and let loaves of bread and pans of rolls rise there.  I don't close the warming oven door because it gets too hot for the dough. 

However, because this dough is so cold after having been in the refrigerator, the closed warming oven is the perfect place to put these rolls to rise.  I put a hot pad on the floor of the warming oven and place the pan of rolls on that so that the pan is not conducting too much heat, though.

I baked these rolls in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes.  Remember, baking times are relative in a wood cookstove.

Now, because I had used a shiny pan, I knew that the bottom of the rolls would not be done enough, so I placed them on the middle of the cooktop for a few minutes.

That did the trick, and they were perfect.  After turning them out of the pan onto a rack to cool, I returned them to the pan and frosted them.

As I said in the previous post, I love frosting, but I have to tell you that I put too much frosting on these rolls.  This recipe makes a really rich dough, so I should have been more sparing.  When I ate these, I had to scrape some of the frosting off, and I NEVER do that!

On Thursday evening, I made plain dinner rolls to go with our roast beef supper.

Then, this morning, Nancy and I made the last of the dough into cinnamon twists.

This was the first time I had ever made cinnamon twists.  I talked to Janet L., who was a school cook when Nancy and I were still eating school lunch, and asked her how they made the delicious from-scratch cinnamon twists that we used to eat.  She told me to simply roll small pieces of dough between my hands like little kids do with Play-Doh to make "snakes."  Dip them into melted butter, then a cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Twist a few times and put them on the pan to rise.  It worked like a charm.

These were plenty large, so I'll try to make them smaller next time, but they were a big hit.

I'm going to continue to experiment with different kinds and shapes of these rolls, and I will continue to add pictures to this post to show the many possibilities that this recipe has.  I'm thinking that it would be very easy to coat them with some herbs and parmesan to make savory rolls, for example.  What would be your suggestions?  Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. Thanks for the posts! I love the blog!

    I make a variation of the cinnamon roll using jam instead of cinnamon and sugar in the middles. The family really loves raspberry jam, but they're also good with marmalades and pretty much any other jam I have in the cupboard.

    1. Thanks, Robin!

      I too have used fruit filling in the middle of rolls, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I use fillings that I have purchased from a bakery supply store. I would love to use some of our homemade things, but don't you have trouble with them burning on the bottom? How do you avoid that?

      Just found your recipe for apple dumplings and can't wait to try it. We have apples coming out of our ears right now!

  2. I have to share--I just picked up a Monarch wood/coal and electric cookstove. It is basically a full electric 4 burner stove and oven parked next to a full wood cookstove (that can use coal). I believe it's from the 20s. I've had wood/gas combos before, but this is an interesting stove. I'm excited about being able to cook on food again (as soon as we get it cleaned up and installed).

    1. Ooooh! You HAVE to share pictures with me, please! You can send them to me at

      Monarchs were quality stoves, and my grandma still has a combination wood/electric Monarch in her basement. I'm really excited for you! Congratulations, Teri!

    2. Okay, so I couldn't wait and went hunting and found pictures of your stove on your blog. The electric part is exactly the same as the stove in my grandma's basement except that your two front burners are more modern. It looks like you are missing the thermostat for the electric oven on the far right side of the knobs.

      I know that my great-grandparents purchased their similar Monarch combination range in the mid 1930s, but I don't know exactly which year.

      Please keep me posted as you bring this old lady back into service!

  3. I keep pizza crust dough in the fridge pretty much constantly. Admittedly they way I do the dough its not as flexible as what you're doing (I add spices to it to help enhance the flavor), but it makes pizza crust, calzone wrappers, and "pizza buns", all in a much shorter span than if I had to mix it up from scratch every time. I picked up some small "dough rising tubs with lids" from King Arthur's website and use that to keep the dough in.

    I have also used a Angel Biscuit recipe (biscuits with both yeast and baking powder) to create a freezer biscuit that I can grab out of the freezer, pop in the oven, and have fresh biscuits in less than 20 minutes. And have even played around with creating a "filled" biscuit, with a cheese and meat type filling.

    1. Ruth,
      This all sounds fantastic! Do you have a place where you post your recipes? Are you willing to share?

    2. They're both modified off of King Arthur's website.

      Here's my modification of the pizza crust recipe: mind, when I'm pulling the dough from the fridge I don't generally do the extended rise that KA recommends. I pull it out, let it sit long enough to warm up, pat it into shape, pre-heat the oven (15 minutes or so) and then into the oven it goes, but we prefer a thinner crust pizza. If you prefer a thicker-risen crust you'll have to let it sit longer to rise. And if I want a bun shape I have to remember to use dough that hasn't been in the fridge for two weeks......

      For the biscuits its pretty much straight off of the KA website: the recipe is actually designed to be frozen before baking, and I've stashed the frozen biscuts in a ziplock in the freezer for up to a month before baking with no problems (though the average batch lasts at most a couple weeks in the winter when warm breakfasts are ideal). For filled biscuits I carefully roll the dough flatter, place fillings on half, fold over the other half, separate the individual biscuits and press the tops down to get rid of any air inside and seal the top on, and then follow the recipe instructions for rising and freezing. SO FAR, keeping them fairly small (not more than a couple inches square), the filling hasn't affected the baking times at all. But my husband really wants a "Hot Pocket" type of thing, so I need to start working them bigger......

    3. Thank you! Now to start experimenting . . .