This Universal Bread Maker once belonged to John Holyoke's grandfather, John Harris Holyoke. John's mom now uses it to make the dinner rolls each Thanksgiving. Credit: John Holyoke | BDN

For years — up until today, when I learned the truth — I assumed the Holyoke Family Dinner Rolls we enjoyed each Thanksgiving were the result of a top-secret recipe that had been handed down for generations.

The rolls are, after all, that good.

Turns out, the dough is featured in “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook,” which my mom received as a wedding gift back in 1960.

In the book, it’s called “Sweet roll dough,” and it can be used in all kinds of applications, including my favorite: dinner rolls for special occasions.

Either way, they’re worth savoring.

I remember watching my dad hand-crank his own father’s Universal Bread Maker to prepare the dough and have vivid olfactory memories, which are updated each year, of walking in the house on Thanksgiving Day to the unforgettable scent of rolls in the oven.

Another family tradition: Being first (or second, or third) in line to “steal” a still-hot roll from the cooling rack, long before they actually make it to the dinner table, and while the thin sheen of butter that has been melted on top is still glistening.

A hint: Our Thanksgiving gatherings are usually pretty large. Therefore, mom typically bakes up a triple batch, which will make about four dozen rolls. The quantities listed here are for a single batch.

Sweet Yeast Rolls

serves 8

½ cup warm water, not hot.

2 packages active dry yeast

1½ cups lukewarm milk

½ cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 eggs

½ cup soft shortening

7 to 7½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

Measure the water into a mixing bowl. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 3½ cups flour until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to handle easily, mixing by hand.

Turn onto lightly floured board, knead the dough until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size — about 90 minutes.

Punch down the dough and cover again and let rise again until almost double (about 30 minutes). Divide dough, shape, let rise until light then place on lightly greased pan.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...