Easy and flavorful, these fluffy buns could be a meal in themselves
When was the last time you had a really good dinner roll? One with a golden crust and a pillowy, yeasty interior? With enough butter-kissed flavor that piling more butter on at table is an indulgence, not a necessity?
If you buy dinner rolls at the supermarket, it’s probably been a long time since you’ve had one that’s really worth eating. Fortunately, however, making your own is quite easy. And although it takes a while for the dough to rise, your hands-on time is only a few minutes.
So for your next dinner party or holiday meal (these are a natural at Easter), why not surprise your guests with a basket of fresh, homemade dinner rolls? They’ll disappear in a hurry, guaranteed. Just remind everyone to save some room for the rest of the meal.
Recipe: Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls
There are scores of recipes out there for soft dinner rolls. And Mrs. Kitchen Riffs (the baker in our household) seems to have tested most of them before she settled on this one. This recipe is loosely adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Big Batch Quick Dinner Rolls.
Initial prep time for this recipe is about 10 minutes, with initial rising time of 1 to 2 hours. Then you’ll need another 5 minutes or so to cut the dough and form it into rolls, followed by additional rising time of 1 to 2 hours. So figure on about 2¼ to 4¼ hours total, most of it unattended.
This recipe yields 24 rolls. They keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container or a food storage bag. Or you can freeze them for several weeks. We like to serve these dinner rolls with homemade butter, but store bought works almost as well.
It’s hard to resist dinner rolls when they’re fresh from the oven, but their flavor actually improves if you bake them several hours ahead and allow them to rest. Convenient, no? To warm them up, just nuke the rolls in the microwave for a few seconds before serving. Or place them in a low-heat oven for 10 minutes or so.
- 1¼ cups warm water (~110 degrees F; but see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (but not melted) and cut into chunks
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 additional tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (for brushing rolls)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl, if making by hand), stir together the warm water, instant yeast, and sugar. Allow the yeast to dissolve while you assemble the remaining ingredients, stirring the mixture with a spatula a few times to help it along. (If you’re in a hurry, you can combine Steps 1 and 2; see Notes.)
- Stir in the butter and salt. Then attach the dough hook (if using a stand mixer) and add the flour. Stir the mixture with a spatula if necessary to combine the ingredients. Then knead at low speed for about 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl if necessary (or knead by hand if not using a mixer). If the dough is too dry (or all the flour is not being absorbed), dribble in more warm water. If the dough is too wet to form into a manageable mass, add more flour, a teaspoon at a time. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and springy.
- Transfer the dough to a buttered container (we use a 2-quart Pyrex container with measurement markings on the side so we can see how much the dough is rising). Cover the container with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warmish location until it doubles in volume (about 1 to 2 hours; see Notes).
- Butter a 9 × 13-inch baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a length of wax paper and flatten it into a rectangle measuring about 8 x 14 inches. Cut the dough into 24 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball.
- Place the dough balls in the buttered baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until the rolls are puffy and have filled in most of the empty spaces in the dish (about 1 to 2 hours). During the last 10 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. Bake the rolls uncovered for about 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown and their internal temperature reaches about 190 degrees F (see Notes).
- Remove the rolls from the oven and immediately brush them with the melted butter. Serve and enjoy.
- Make sure the water you use in isn’t too hot—yeast cells start dying at about 130 degrees F.
- If you’re not familiar with instant yeast, you may assume it’s somehow inferior to active dry yeast (the other variety you’re most likely to find on your grocer’s shelves). In fact, however, instant yeast tends to be preferable, at least in our experience. Both forms of yeast are produced in quantity by industrial processes, so neither one is “natural.” But instant yeast is air dried (unlike active dry yeast, which is dried in ovens), so more yeast cells survive the production process.
- Active dry yeast needs to be rehydrated before use, while instant yeast does not—it can simply be mixed with other ingredients. So if you’re using instant yeast, you can skip Step 1 of this recipe and just combine the water, yeast, and sugar with the other ingredients in Step 2. We specify Step 1 because we store our instant yeast in the freezer. When frozen, yeast cells go into suspended animation, so we like to let them wake up and stretch a bit in warm water while we’re getting the other ingredients together. In truth, though, our instant yeast works fine right out of the deep freeze.
- In addition to instant and active dry yeast, you may see fresh compressed or “cake” yeast for sale (though few markets in the US carry it these days because it’s highly perishable). If you use compressed yeast in this recipe, double the quantity to 2 tablespoons.
- We buy instant yeast in one-pound containers, then store it in the freezer in a sealed glass container. It keeps well for at least a year, if not longer. And it’s a lot cheaper than those little packets.
- We’re partial to the SAF brand of instant yeast, but other brands should work fine too.
- Many recipes for dinner rolls call for adding mashed potatoes or instant potato flakes to the dough mixture. Potato starch provides extra food for the yeast, and is supposed to make the dough more moist and tender. We’ve tried this several times and have not been pleased with the results—the finished product always tastes slightly “off” to us. But this idea has been around for a long time, and some bakers swear by it. So feel free to add potato in some form if that appeals to you.
- Many recipes also use milk instead of water. This makes for a slightly richer roll, but the texture isn’t quite as good, in our opinion (you may disagree).
- BTW, adding egg to dinner rolls provides some nice color, but little to nothing in the way of flavor. We say don’t bother.
- Dough rising times are approximate—your timing may vary depending on temperature (and how lively your yeast happens to be feeling).
- You can mix the dough for these dinner rolls ahead of time and then refrigerate or freeze it until ready to use. If you store the dough in the fridge, it will continue to rise, though more slowly than at room temperature. If you plan to freeze the dough, wrap it tightly in plastic and then place it in an airtight freezer bag.
- If you refrigerate the dough after forming it into rolls and placing them in the baking dish (Step 5), you can allow the rolls to rise in the fridge for several hours, then bake them right before you’re ready to serve.
- We use an instant-read thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the rolls in Step 6.
- These dinner rolls are similar to Parker House rolls (but better, we think). Parker House recipes often call for milk instead of water, and usually include some egg. When you make classic Parker House rolls, you don’t form the dough into balls, as we do in Step 4. Instead, you cut the flattened dough into circles, dip the circles in melted butter, and then fold each circle in half before placing them in the baking dish.
Buns on a Roll
“These are great!” I said. “Terrific flavor. But I’ve always wondered, what’s the difference between a roll and a bun?”
“Beats me,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “You can use my dinner roll recipe to make buns for hot dogs or hamburgers. Maybe reduce the butter a bit, and form the dough into different shapes.”
“The word usage seems to vary by country,” I said.
“Or even by region in the US,” said Mrs K R. “For instance, a New England Lobster Roll is served on what most people in the US would call a hot dog bun. And let’s not even talk about the difference between a cinnamon roll and a cinnamon bun.”
Well, whatever. I just roll with it.
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