I have fond memories of the dinner rolls served in… high school. No joke. Not the epitome of a fine dining institution, I know. But I was fortunate to attend a small school that (I think) was at the forefront of providing mostly fresh, whole foods for students. (At the very least, Jamie Oliver would have approved.) My memory is hazy but I recall sweet, custard-like, fluffy rolls on a daily basis. My husband, with whom I attended high school, considers the humble, soft, white dinner roll to be a guilty pleasure – the perfect accoutrement to a bowl of soup and a requisite at a holiday table. Too bad he has no memory of the rolls from school.
Having conquered my fear of yeast (and, hence, bread-making) not too long ago, I scoured the internet for a dinner roll recipe. Only a few requirements: no shortening, minimal fat, not-terribly-laborious directions (i.e. minimal kneading and simple ingredients), and some whole wheat. I found a library of recipes that fit the bill and, on several committed days of baking, momentum pushed me into an adrenalized state of action and I recreated half a dozen varieties.
The recipe printed below was the best, but not entirely my quintessential dinner roll. They are easy to prepare and, while they have a light whole grain flavor, they are fairly soft, fluffy, and light. But they lack the custardy, melt-in-your mouth texture I was yearning for. I’m beginning to think whole wheat and custard are two words that cannot stand side-by-side. And I’m beginning to think I have to expand the ingredient list to include potato flour or milk powder.
So I’m calling all bakers and bread-lovers out there: roll with me and pass along or help me find the softest, fluffiest dinner rolls. Many future bowls of soup and comforting dinners are relying on you.
Classic Dinner Rolls, from My Wooden Spoon
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 cup very warm water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Earth Balance spread or butter
1 tsp salt
1 cup scalding hot milk (I used low-fat; can also use soy, hemp, almond or rice milk)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp of melted butter or egg wash for brushing rolls
- Sprinkle the yeast over very warm water in a large bowl. (warm water should feel comfortably warm when dropped on wrist) Stir until yeast dissolves.
- Add sugar, the 1/4cup butter and salt to hot milk and stir until the sugar dissolves and butter is melted. Cool mixture to 105 to 115 degrees.
- Add milk mixture to yeast, then beat in egg. Beat in 4 cups of flour, one cup at a time to form soft dough. Use some the remaining 1/2 cup flour to dust a pastry cloth. Knead the dough lightly for 5 minutes, working in the remaining flour (use if for flouring your cloth and hands).
- Place dough in a warm buttered bowl; turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hrs.
- Punch dough down and knead 4 to 5 minutes on a lightly floured pastry cloth. Dough will be sticky, but use as little flour as possible for flouring your hands and the pastry cloth, otherwise the rolls will not be as feathery light as they should be.
- Pinch off small chunks of dough and shape into round rolls. Place in neat rows, not quite touching, in a well-buttered 13x9x2 pan. Cover rolls and let rise in warm place until doubled, 30-45min.
- Brush tops of rolls generously with melted butter, then bake in a 375 degree F oven for 12-17 minutes or until nicely browned.
- Immediately remove rolls from pans. Cool on wire racks. Makes 24 to 36 rolls.
Butterhorns: On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of the dough into a 12-inch circle. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Cut each circle into 12 wedges using a pizza cutter or sharp knife. To shape, begin at the wide end of a wedge and loosely roll toward the point. Place point side down, 2 to 3 inches apart, on prepared baking sheets.
Rosettes: Divide each dough portion into 16 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a 12-inch-long rope. Tie in a loose knot, leaving 2 long ends. Tuck top end under roll. Bring bottom end up and tuck into center of roll. Place 2 to 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
Parker House Rolls: On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with a floured 2-1/2-inch-round cutter. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Using the dull edge of a table knife, make an off-center crease in each round. Fold each round along crease with large half on top. Press folded edge firmly. Place rolls 2 to 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
Cloverleaf Rolls: Divide each portion of dough into 36 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, pulling edges under to make a smooth top. Place 3 balls in each muffin cup, smooth sides up.
Make-Ahead Tip: Cover shaped rolls loosely with plastic wrap, leaving room for rolls to rise. Chill 2 to 24 hours. Uncover; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.