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Soft, Pull-Apart Poppy Seed Rolls

On the highest shelf of my laundry room, in my basement, sits a big, somewhat heavy decorative kitchen appliance.  I borrowed it from my mom years ago.  Or she asked me to hold it.  I don't really remember how I became the proud co-owner of that seemingly ancient now off-white appliance.  It made the move to our new house with us more than a year and a half ago.  It never complains of its fate.  It never mysteriously jumps from its perch or complains of boredom.  Nope.  It is very unassuming.  It sits there contently...with the quiet knowledge that one day it will be called upon again.  Called upon to do that job it is meant to do.

Cut to the day before Thanksgiving 2010.  I had a plan.  This holiday and every holiday 'til the end of time would include only home baked bread.  I mean, it's not hard to do once you actually start doing it.  I enjoy baking bread.  The scent that sneaks from the vents in the oven...comforting...luring.  The warm, tranquilizing burst of heat when you coax the bread from the oven.  Pushing my passions and frustrations into the mesmerizing process of kneading the dough.  The mesmerizing lengthy process of kneading the dough. Normally I relish in this part.  Thinking...pondering...working out my wrist.  But what's one to do when time and lack of counter space are working against you?  You trek down the stairs to the basement, pull over a chair to reach that distant shelf, and tentatively pull down that patient old bread machine that knew you'd need it again one day. 

I'm gonna tell you the truth.  I always thought that using a bread machine was kind of like cheating.  What a snobby thing to think!  I stepped down from that chair...and in turn from my high horse.  That wise old machine is actually an ingenius invention.  I don't think that I ever even realized that it has a "dough" setting...a setting that can be a HUGE help to you when you need your time and your counter space for other things.  Simply add ingredients in a certain order (consult manual...or if it's lost like mine...wing it with an educated guess...or if you're lucky, the recipe will tell you), start the dough cycle and walk away until it beeps.  I'm sorry I ever underestimated you, wise machine. Thank you for not giving up on me. Then proceed as normal...shaping, giving it a second rise, baking... Brilliant.  I even adapted another "normal" bread recipe just so that I could let the machine do the work for me on another of my Thanksgiving breads (but more on that another day).  Oh!  I almost forgot to mention my favorite part.  One dirty dish...and even that isn't so dirty...those "bowls" are pretty simply swiped clean.  No floury counter with feathery bits of dough stuck to it.  Just a satisfied smile that radiates from within.  And homemade, freshly baked bread.  That's the stuff, baby. That. Is the stuff.  And as for that shelf, the one that used to house the bread machine, it'll just have to remain bare until some other forgotten, misjudged appliance finds its way up there for a rest. 

Pull-Apart Poppy Seed Rolls
(a bread machine dough)
adapted from Salad in a Jar
yield: 16 rolls

1 c. water
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1½ Tbs. poppy seeds
3 c. bread flour
2¼ tsp. instant yeast

Place ingredients in order listed into the bread machine. Set for dough cycle. After machine has run for ~7 minutes, open the lid and take a peek at the dough. If it seems too dry, add a bit of water (1 Tbs. at a time); if it seems too wet, add a bit flour (1 Tbs. at a time). Close lid and let machine do all the work for you.  Once dough cycle is finished (mine takes 1½ hrs. total), remove dough from pan and place on lightly floured work surface.  

Divide dough into 16 equal pieces.  Form each into a ball by gently "pulling" the dough towards bottom of ball, using your thumbs and turning about a quarter turn at a time.  Place evenly in a greased, 9" square pan.
Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place until doubled in size, ~30-60 mins.  Preheat oven to 350° F during last 15 mins. of rising time.
Bake in preheated oven for ~15 minutes, or until beautifully golden.
Cool on a wire rack for ~5 mins, then gently turn them out of the pan and place the whole mass back on the rack to finish cooling.  Once they've cooled COMPLETELY, place them in an airtight container and pull them out when you're ready to eat.  Or you could just go ahead and serve them warm...that's good, too!

These are soft and ever-so-delicately sweetened.  Although, they're not actually sweet.  Does that make sense?  You know...the texture and mouth feel of the perfect, pull-apart dinner roll.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON at our Thanksgiving table loved them.  They'll be making a regular appearance at our dinner or not!
Did you think that I forgot about the winner?  You're right.  I totally did for a few minutes.  Can you blame me?  Bread is beautiful.  But now I will temporarily step out of my bread-filled bliss to congratulate Christy from Fudge Ripple (do you have your coffin all picked out then?).  You are the winner of the Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook and Cookie Gift Box {Cheers...fist pumps...pats on the back}!  Please email me (girlichef at yahoo dot com) with your physical mailing address and I will make sure that the Tate's people get it that you can start baking and devising a hiding place.

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