When I was a kid, one of my ruling passions was dinner rolls. Even at age 12, I could wax long and lyrically on the merits of my Aunt Marie’s rolls over Mrs. Davis’ rolls at the community potluck. So it really came as no surprise to me when I was faced recently with a family rebellion.
“What do you mean, you’re not making dinner rolls for Thanksgiving this year?” My wife, the Salad Queen, led the charge.
“No dinner rolls,” my son’s spoon clattered on the rim of his fourth bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “But Dad, you have to make dinner rolls… Thanksgiving just won’t be the same without them.” He almost swooned.
“There’s just no time this year,” I said, thinking of my normal recipe with its overnight rise. “We’ll just buy some. They’ll be fine.”
“Nooo,” my son cried with real anguish. In the ensuing outcry I saw my wife’s face fall as well. Even my daughter the Cake Princess chimed in.
“Whatever…” she paused her fingers briefly above her phone’s keypad and looked at me. I caught a look that told me she was suddenly remembering buttery rolls at the family feast; despite her voiced indifference, even she was known to love a good dinner roll.
“Okay, okay,” I caved in the face of all that emotion.
And so I was transported back to my Aunt Marie’s little kitchen with its wonderful smells where once I sat to watch her make dinner rolls while the other kids played hide-and-seek in her attic rumpus room. Her rolls were nothing too fancy, just real ingredients turned with a loving hand in just a few hours into soft and delicious wonders. Here’s my take on them.
For my techniques and a little baking entertainment, check out How-to Video: Making Dinner Rolls.
Aunt Marie’s Dinner Rolls
Makes 4 dozen rolls
Start to finish in 3 hours
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided into two equal parts
1 cup milk
1 stick (4 ounces) salted butter, divided
¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons of salt
1 package of quick rise yeast (Rapid Rise and Perfect Rise are two types)
1 cup warm water (100°)
About ½ cup additional flour for kneading
For best results, you’ll also need:
A stand mixer with dough hook and flat beater
A 10” x 15” pyrex lasagna pan
A dough scraper (or a plastic lid cut in half)
A bread bowl
A 1-quart pan and spatula
- Pour a cup of milk into the quart pan and heat for 3 minutes on medium until it’s hot and steamy. Do not boil. Add the sugar, 5 1/2 Tablespoons of the butter and salt. Let the milk cool for a few minutes while the butter melts.
- Pour the milk mixture into the mixing bowl and scrape the gooey sugar from the bottom of the pan in as well. Add a cup of warm water, 2 ¼ cups of flour and sprinkle on the quick rise yeast. Attach the flat beater, and beat on medium speed for 4 or 5 minutes, until you have a smooth batter with no lumps. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
- Now add another 2¼ cups flour, switch to the dough hook and beat for a further 5 minutes on medium low speed. Scrape bowl as necessary to get all the bits. The dough is ready for hand work once all the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and stretchy.
- Now comes the fun. Put a small amount of flour onto a work surface. Get all the dough off the dough hook, and scrape it in one lump out of the mixer bowl and onto the flour. Pull the edges of the dough in toward the center like an envelope, using the dough scraper at first and then your fingers as the dough gets less sticky. Continue this, constantly pulling and then pushing down on the center with your palms, adding a little flour as needed to prevent sticking. After a few minutes, you will feel the dough push back as the gluten develops. This is a good thing. Knead for a minimum of 5 minutes altogether, and then form a ball.
- Put the ball of dough into a bread bowl and let rise, lightly covered, for 45 minutes in an 80° environment (see note below).
- Coat the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with 1 1/2 teaspoons of softened butter. Melt the other 2 Tablespoons of butter lightly and set aside.
- Spread the dough into a rough rectangle on a lightly floured surface and fold the rectangle in half. Spread out into a rough rectangle and fold in half again. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then spread it out into a rectangle the size of the lasagna pan. Put the dough into the lasagna pan, spread it out evenly, and pour the melted butter over the dough.
- Using the dough scraper, cut the dough into 48 small squares inside the pan. To do this, make 5 parallel cuts lengthwise and 7 crosswise in a grid. Picking up each of the small squares of dough in turn, stretch the top skin across and down, tucking it roughly under to make a small ball of dough. Put each piece back where it came from. No need to strive for perfection here: to do this to all the rolls should only take three or four minutes!
- Let the rolls rise for 30 – 40 minutes at 80°, until at least doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350° when the rolls are nearly risen.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 350°. Aunt Marie’s Dinner Rolls are ready when they’re light brown on the top. Cool for an hour on a rack – that is, if you can wait that long to try them… I know I never can!
Creating an 80° environment: Best is to have a tight cupboard with a thermometer, 100 watt standard lightbulb for heat, and a shelf large enough to hold your bread bowl or trays. Add a pan with hot water to increase humidity. You can also – as many home bakers do – use your oven. Turn it on at 200° for only 2 or 3 minutes; turn it off again and wait a few minutes. The inside will be somewhat warm, but not hot. By putting a pan of boiling water on a low shelf and turning on the oven light you can, with a bit of finagling, keep it at around 80°.