If you want to make Grandma proud this Thanksgiving, homemade dinner rolls are a sure thing.

Or perhaps it's Grandpa who will be most impressed, especially once you've exchanged a covert glance with Grandma, who will know that you discovered her secret: Making rolls from scratch isn't that difficult. You needn't mention that producing fluffy, flavorful rolls has become even easier now with inventions such as instant yeast and potato flakes.

Let us give thanks, indeed.

Now, before you dismiss bread as superfluous in the midst of a huge holiday repast, consider that dinnerware once had bread-and-butter plates specifically for rolls, which speaks to a certain style that diners once took for granted. While such plates mostly have gone the way of finger bowls and napkin rings, the idea of dinner rolls and the elegance they represent is worth preserving.

This is even more true when one basic dough recipe can be turned into a variety of shapes, resulting in a bread basket that looks as tantalizing as it tastes, piled with classic cloverleafs, buttery fan tans, seeded knots and crescents.

An easy how-to

The recipe here is for a soft dinner roll. Using some oil along with the butter makes them especially plush, while still preserving their butteriness. As for instant potato flakes, they don't always have to be made into potatoes! Added to dough recipes, they provide another level of flavor, and also make an especially tender bread.

Yeast also has been considerably simplified, thanks to "instant" or quick-rise formulations developed for bread machines; these can be whisked directly into the flour. No more proofing the yeast in warm water to see if it bubbles. Yeast dough, however, does benefit from a bit of warmth to jump-start the action, so the milk is heated just to the point where you can comfortably swirl your finger in the pan. Add the butter to melt a bit while you combine the dry ingredients.

While heavy-duty mixers enable you to let a motor do the kneading, a little hand-kneading is a wonderful thing, as you feel how the dough evolves from a rather dense mass to become smooth, glossy, even bouncy. Your mood may do the same thing.

And you wonder why Grandma always was so even-tempered? A kitchen holds all sorts of little secrets.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185