Virginia Willis Blog

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Meme’s Yeast Rolls

Last week I was in Charleston for part one of shooting the photographs for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them up for Company. It’s the lead book for Ten Speed Press for fall and will be out September 2011. Save the date, the launch party hootenanny is 9/30 at The Cook’s Warehouse and I’ll be traveling the country teaching in the months following the launch. I can’t wait!

The photographer Helene Dujardin is a veritable Renaissance woman! Check out her very popular blog, too.

I am also working with the lovely and talented Angie Mosier, who has a new gig going on with placemat productions, newcomer Jenni Coale who brings such joy and freshness to the experience, and Gena Berry who is also working with Top Chef Kevin Gillespie. Wow! Right? Quite the group!!

So far? Let me tell ya, the photos are amazing. Helene does such lovely work and we all make a great team. No egos, just good, honest, work and a real sense of collaboration. It’s The Pork Chop Theory Redux.

Speaking of pork… We went to dinner one night at Husk, James Beard award-winner Sean Brock’s new restaurant. Our feast started with old-fashioned yeast rolls sprinkled with benne seeds and served with pork butter. Yes, pork butter. Butter mixed with rendered country ham fat. I’ll give you a moment to think on that for a bit….

It was really wonderful cooking all day last Saturday. The house was filled with laughter and smiles. There’s something just wonderful about the freedom of cooking on a Saturday – even when it’s work! That’s the day for long cooking soups and stews, yeast breads, and things that require a little more time, a little more “room” than a weekday will allow. Weekends are the time to try homemade puff pastry or giving a layer cake a shot.

It’s my intention to blog and write a newsletter late in the week with a recipe for you to try over the weekend. We all know good intentions paved the road to hell, but I am really going to try.

So, y’all want to give it a shot? Southern Saturdays with Virginia? Let’s start out with Meme’s Yeast Rolls. Let me know what you think! Please send pics and notes to me at Can’t wait to see!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


PS Zip over to my website, to see updates on the events page.



Meme’s Yeast Rolls

Meme may have made the rolls, but it was Dede who did a lot of the work. He beat the dough with a special wooden spoon that had a small ledge on the end for gripping. He'd cradle the big bowl in his arm and beat the wet dough so it slapped "wap, wap, wap" against the bowl. All that "muscle" developed the dough's structure, causing the rolls to rise in the oven light as air, slightly sweet, and richly sour with the scent of yeast. We all thought it was Meme's gentle touch forming the rolls, but it was actually Dede's strong arms that made them taste so good. When yeast begins to ferment and grow, it converts its food to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gluten sheets that form when water is stirred into flour trap the carbon dioxide and allow the dough to rise.
Author virginiawillis


  • 3 packages active dry yeast 63/4 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup warm water 100° to 110°F
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn oil more for brushing
  • 4 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 4 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour


  1. To activate the yeast, combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Set aside to proof. The mixture will become creamy and foamy after about 5 minutes.
  2. To make the dough, combine the hot water and dry milk in a liquid measuring cup; let cool slightly. Add the reconstituted milk to the yeast. Stir to combine. Add the sugar, the 1/2 cup of oil, eggs, salt, and 4 cups of the flour. With a wooden spoon, hand-held electric mixer, or large heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook at medium speed, beat very hard until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add additional flour, 1 cup at a time, beating hard after each addition. When the dough is too firm to stir, using your hand, work enough of the remaining flour into the dough by kneading and turning the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat. (The dough is ready if it bounces back when pressed with your fingers.) Return the dough to the bowl.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dry towel and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Punch down the dough with your hands, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour your hands and pull off equal pieces of dough about the size of apricots and shape into balls. (If you are using a scale, 3-ounce portions will make 28 large rolls.) Place them on the prepared baking sheet about 1/4 inch apart. Brush off any excess flour from the rolls and brush their surfaces with oil. Cover and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 11/2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake until brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly, then invert the rolls onto a rack so they won't become soggy on the bottom. Enjoy!
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6 Responses to “Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Meme’s Yeast Rolls”

  1. Nothing like a good soft fluffy yeast roll & Meme’s look incredible. Now if I could just get some muscle to come over and help mix them ; ) It was great meeting you this past weekend in Birmingham, Virginia. Can’t wait for your new book this fall!

  2. Virginia packed in quite a crowd at the Food Blog South event at Woodrow Hall in NE Birmingham yesterday. Thanks to Virginia and the others who devoted so much time and energy, the fund raising event was a huge success to the attendees as well as the two charities who benefited. Thanks Virginia!


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