She’s on a roll Woman bakes bread for 100 diners

About 100 people enjoyed Christmas dinner last year at Peace United Church of Christ, Elkader. Peace will host the dinner again this Christmas Day.


When much of Northeast Iowa settles in on Christmas Eve for a long winter’s nap, Janita Doeppke will be in her “workshop” baking rolls for Christmas Day dinner. It’ll be a long night: About 100 hungry Christmas diners will be expecting her warm, melt-in-your-mouth dinner rolls, and she has no intention of disappointing them.

“They have to be fresh,” the Elkader woman said. “If I made them earlier and froze them, well, it just wouldn’t be the same, would it.”

Janita’s rolls will round out a holiday dinner that will be served Christmas Day at noon at Peace United Church of Christ. The menu will also include ham and lots of side dishes and desserts prepared by members of the church and others will regularly contribute to the meal There will be no cost for the dinner. Reservations are encouraged (563-245-2126) but not required. Carry-out meals will be available.

A native of Froelich, Janita has been cooking since she was a young girl. Her mother often worked alongside Janita’s dad on their farm so Janita was left to prepare meals for the family.

“I was feeding my family by the time I was 9,” she said. Her mom was a good cook and she passed that skill along to her oldest daughter. But “mom” didn’t do bread.

“I started bread-making because I wanted to do something with yeast,” Janita said. “At first, I was intimidated by the kneading and concerned about the mess—all of that flour everywhere. But I got used to it and I guess over time I got good at it.”

Janita tested her rolls on her family many, many years ago. She even carried on a baking tradition she picked up from a neighbor.

“Whenever my neighbor made bread, she’d make a little loaf that she called Herman,” Janita recalled. “I’d crawl over the fence that separated us and it seemed like I always showed up just when she was taking the bread out of the oven. She always gave me that little loaf and I’d eat the whole thing, fresh from the oven with butter. I guess that’s why I always prefer to serve my rolls fresh.”

Though she’s best known for her bread, Janita’s personal favorites are her raw dawg—she recently made five pounds of it for hunters—and her chicken noodle soup. The soup is also a favorite of her grandson, Connor, though he prefers it with dumplings and, of course, his grandma complies.

Janita, who calls her kitchen the favorite room of her house, has been using the same recipe for rolls for 15 or 20 years. It’s from a well-worn Plagman Barn cookbook. She’s learned that she can make only one batch at a time—“Yeast is not the easiest thing to double,” she said—and dissolving yeast in water that’s the right temperature is key.

“I’ve learned to test it on my wrist the way you do a baby’s bottle,” Janita said. “When it’s just warm enough on your wrist, you’re ready to go.”

Here’s the recipe for Janita’s rolls. It was submitted to the cookbook by Nelda Willie. The only change Janita’s made is to slightly increase the amount of flour used.

60 Minute Rolls

3¾ cups flour

2 pkgs. rapid rise yeast

1¼ cups milk

¼ cup warm water

3 T. sugar

1 tsp. salt

4 T. lard

Heat until warm milk, sugar, salt and lard. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add to warm milk mixture. Add flour. Mix well. Let rise 15 minutes. Make into rolls, coffeecake or cinnamon rolls. Let rise 15 minutes more. Bake 15 minutes in 400-degree oven.

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor

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