The secret to quick buns is the mayonnaise.

Contrary to popular belief, mayonnaise is not a food group. However, it might just be the key to the easiest dinner ever.

There’s no worse feeling than realizing you’ve forgotten an important ingredient for your festive table, but with a little ingenuity, most mistakes can be made up for. Rolls, however, require hours of kneading and rising. Is there any hope of a quick, pantry-based replacement when the turkey is done and the stores are closed? I found this recipe on two different recipe sharing groups last week. It sounds too good to be true, but it reminds me of Depression and wartime pie recipes when basic ingredients were often in short supply, like crazy pie or mayo pie. Those recipes sound horrible but they give excellent and cheap results. Does this one take the cake?

There are a few problems with the recipe as written. Does not specify what is required self lifting self-rising flour, and the baking temperature seems unusually low. He also doesn’t give any advice on how to shape or whether to grease the pan. Let’s see if we can muddle through and get something worthy of turkey day.

These quick mayonnaise rolls have just three ingredients: self-rising flour, milk, and mayonnaise.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

These quick mayonnaise rolls have just three ingredients: self-rising flour, milk, and mayonnaise. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

The ingredients for 12 rolls couldn’t be simpler: 2 cups of self-rising flour, 1 cup of milk and 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise. For this test batch, I cut the recipe in half with no problem. Don’t have self-rising flour on hand? Just add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1½ teaspoons of baking powder per cup of all-purpose flour. The instructions didn’t say anything about making a well in the flour or mixing the wet ingredients separately, so against my better judgment I just dumped everything in there.

Like any quick yeast-free bread, it’s best not to over-stir, lest the dough end up tough and the yeast squash. You will get a very sticky and lumpy dough-like dough, with bubbles forming immediately.

Your dough will be very sticky and bubbly.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

Your dough will be very sticky and bubbly. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

The original recipe calls for pouring the batter into muffin tins, and I’ve tried a couple of those, but I’ve also tried a buttered muffin pan to see if I could get something a little more polished, on principle. I put a half tablespoon of butter in each well because I knew it would be a problem to stick to otherwise, and I put the pan in the oven for a few minutes to melt before filling it.

Shaped pans can add a bit of seasonal flair to your baked goods.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

Shaped pans can add a bit of seasonal flair to your baked goods. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

This dough defies form, so I used a method technically known as “blopping.” Take a tablespoon of batter and scrape it up with a second spoon so that it is drops to the well, and then you leave it there. I tried patting the tops of some of them with wet fingers to smooth them out, just like you would macaroni batter, but as you’ll see, it didn’t make much of a difference. I also brushed one of them with butter to see if it would help with the browning.

You can smooth the rough edges of the rolls by patting them in with damp fingers.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

You can smooth the rough edges of the rolls by patting them in with damp fingers. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

I started with the oven at 350 F as directed, but it quickly became apparent that there was no way they would brown at that low temperature in 15 minutes. I turned the oven on to 450 F as called for in other recipes with a similar dough texture, and that worked. If you start at 450 F early on, it may only take about 12 minutes, especially in metal pans. The silicone ones like the muffin pan I used take longer to brown.

The ones I gently stroked look a bit more refined, but the more jagged and rustic ones look great too, in my opinion. They all browned nicely – brushing them with butter didn’t do much aesthetically, and they’re already buttery on the bottom, so consider it an unnecessary step. The shaped pan is also unnecessary; all those lovely little bubbles obscure the fancy decor. My silicone muffin pan came out of perfect cylinders, but traditional angled muffin sides would be just as beautiful. The photos don’t really do them justice. They have an almost translucent top, with lots of crunchy bubbles and a crispy yet delicate crust.

    I took this photo at sunset, and it's like they're lit from within.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

I took this photo at sunset, and it’s like they’re lit from within. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

Inside, they are fluffy, baked and not oily at all. They smelled like mayonnaise fresh out of the oven, but you’d never know that by the taste. It’s a little bland, but a little extra salt would fix that, and there’s nothing weird about mayonnaise. They would make the perfect neutral foil for anything from sausage gravy to tomato soup, and I bet a little cheddar and garlic would make for a convincing Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit dupe.

The inside of these quick mayonnaise rolls is fluffy and doesn't have a weird mayonnaise taste.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

The inside of these quick mayonnaise rolls is fluffy and doesn’t have a weird mayonnaise taste. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

I really like these, and the ease of preparation is second to none. However, “roll” is a misnomer. There is no yeast flavor and very little gluten chew. These are cookies, not rolls. Still, if you forgot the biscuits this Thanksgiving, these would work well with turkey gravy. It is a winner on many levels.

So where has this recipe been all my life?

When I did my research, I found several alternate versions, and that usually means it’s been around for a while. Beloved Southern condiment brand Duke’s has their own version with (surprise!) twice as much mayonnaise (and are more appropriately called “loose crackers”). Some add a little sugar or more milk. A quick glance at TikTok led me to Caitlyn Maas from Tennessee, personal chef, cookbook author, and Southern cooking expert. Her blog, Geraldine + Virginia, is named after her grandmothers, and she told me it was her Virginia’s Grammy who taught her this recipe. Her family of hers has used it for decades, adding things like herbs, cheese, and even chocolate chips! But Maas had no further details about the origin of her last of her.

Enter Douglas Mack, food historian and author of the always fascinating Snack Stack newsletter. The first mention of him and his legendary investigative skills could be found is from 1964, in the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer.

“Note that the writer says the recipe is ‘making the rounds,’” he tells me, “indicating that it was all the rage with local home bakers. The same recipe, or very similar ones, appeared in newspapers in Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee for the next four years. From there, he discovered, it began to appear in church cookbooks, was passed from person to person, and spread throughout the South. “Old School Viral Recipes! Oh my gosh!” says Maas. “She was from this area (and) an avid trimmer and recipe collector, so that makes sense!”

This kind of epic recipe journey through the centuries is what I live for. Seeing all these versions made me wonder which is the best, so I tried a batch more, changing the proportions.

Mayonnaise Roll Recipe with (from top, left to right): Twice the mayonnaise, half the mayonnaise, more milk, ungreased pan, self-rising flour, and topped with cheddar cheese.  (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

Mayonnaise Roll Recipe with (from top, left to right): Twice the mayonnaise, half the mayonnaise, more milk, ungreased pan, self-rising flour, and topped with cheddar cheese. (Courtesy of Heather Martin)

I tried Duke’s Double Mayonnaise recipe, pictured above left, and it was probably the most beautiful. However, it is heavier, with an almost oily texture. At the top right is the 1964 recipe Mack found, with half the mayonnaise. That version is a little drier, a little chewy, but almost as good as the first batch, so don’t worry if you only have a tablespoon of mayonnaise on hand or want to cut a few calories. Some recipes (such as Maas’ Grammy Virginia) call for 2/3 cup milk per cup self-rising flour. That one, in the middle left in the photo, doesn’t rise quite as much, but it’s very wet without being oily, and the top is effortlessly even. The right middle is one baked without greasing the tin. With the silicone wells, it didn’t stick, but it certainly could on a metal pan, and it rose unevenly. It also lacked the buttery crunch of the other versions. On the bottom left is one made with all-purpose flour instead of self-rising, as the original recipe I found didn’t specify. I didn’t think it would work, and it definitely didn’t. It’s the only abject failure of the lot. The bottom right is topped with cheddar and herbs, and as I suspected, it’s the easiest substitute for Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits that I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling whole while standing in the kitchen in my bathrobe.

The relative success of this crazy pre-internet viral spread recipe makes me wonder what’s next for the seasoning-based holiday recipe rescue. Green bean casserole with mustard? Ketchup and pickle stuffing? Jelly mold for barbecue sauce?

Oh sure, you can laugh, but that last one? It already exists. Maybe not all vintage recipes are worth saving.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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