Monday, January 6, 2014

A Winter Supper with Dorothy Hancock's Plain Yeast Rolls

Dorothy Quincy (Hancock), c. 1772
John Singleton Copley
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dorothy (Dolly) Hancock (1747-1830) was a gracious and tireless hostess, a key position in the strategic operations of any political household past or present. Currently researching a post on Mrs. Hancock's fashionable ensembles, I was sidetracked by wintery cold weather. Mulling over what it must have been like to entertain in the "Hancock Mansion" on Beacon Hill, Boston, during the heady times following the American Revolution, I came across a recipe for her plain yeast rolls. It was adapted by Robert Pelton in his 2004 publication "Baking Recipes of Our Founding Fathers." I appreciate the many learned and skilled hearth cooks and culinary historians, who recreate the food of our ancestors through scholarly research, and care. I am merely a dabbler and I make no pretense of detailed knowledge in this arena  This post is simply about connecting food with historic events, places and people - and to try something new today. 
The Hancock "Mansion" in snow, c. 1860 (Demolished 1863)
Courtesy, The Trustees of the Boston Public Library
Contemporary accounts noted that theIt was noted prior to demolition that the west wing was used for the kitchen and other domestic functions. 
Some of my favorite observations regarding the couple's entertaining -- a harried, overworked cook on the verge of collapse, an unexpected dinner for several hundred French visitors, which required Mrs. Hancock to declare all the cows grazing on the Common be milked -- were made in 1854 by William Sumner (from his conversations with Mrs. Hancock) and appear in J.L. Bell's article "Dorothy Hancock: Political Hostess" (

I am making a roast chicken with root vegetables tonight and, time permitting, plan to try out her recipe for rolls. Will let you know if there is approbation around the table.

Dorothy Hancock's Plain Yeast Rolls
4 cups milk, warm
¼ cup yeast
5 cups flour
1 egg, well beaten
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp baking soda
Flour to suit

Make sponge by blending milk, yeast and flour in large wooden mixing bowl. Cover bowl with thick towel or cloth. Set aside in warm place to rise. When light (risen), stir in beaten egg, melted butter, salt and sugar. Dissolve baking soda in a little hot water and add while stirring. Put in sufficient flour to make soft, pliable dough. Cover as before and set in warm place to rise for about 4 or 5 hours.

Roll these out to ½" cakes. Fold cakes, not quite in center, like turnovers. Or simply shape with hands into balls. Set cakes or balls close together on shallow, buttered pan. Cover once again and set aside in warm place. Let dough rise a third time for about one hour.

When risen, cut deeply across top of each roll with sharp knife. Put into quick oven (425 degrees). Bake about thirty minutes or until tops of rolls are lightly browned.

SOURCE: "Baking Recipes Of Our Founding Fathers" By Robert W. Pelton accessed online at:

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