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Old Fashioned Yeast Rolls (a 100 year old recipe!)

Old fashioned yeast rolls bring to mind a soft pillowy dough, buttered golden tops and not a single plastic bag of anything ending in Shubert or Rhodes. Make a recipe passed down for more than 100 years and keep the tradition going.

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a roll lifted from a pan on a spatula and held by a hand

I hear you hate hearing stories about recipes. So the only validation I’ll give you for this recipe is that it was my husband’s great grandmother’s. She was born in 1918, ran a restaurant and baked the lightest, best rolls ever.

I took over baking them after her heart attack more than 20 years ago, and each year she would taste one before Thanksgiving slathered in butter and tell me how good they were. No pressure. This is that recipe.

The key to activating yeast

When baking any sort of yeasted old fashioned yeast rolls, it is crucial to activate your yeast properly. Here come some tips to set you off on the right foot:

  • Make sure that the water you are dissolving your yeast in is only just over lukewarm (somewhere between 110 and 115 degrees F). Too hot will kill the yeast and too cold will not have enough oomph to activate it. 
  • You will know your yeast is activated when it is foaming. Not dramatically, but just a bit. Check out this video to get a general idea of what to look for. 
  • I suggest using active dry yeast as opposed to instant yeast. If you are in a pinch and only have instant yeast, make sure to activate it in lukewarm water just the same as you would with active dry yeast. 

Make the dough

  • Activate yeast in warm water
  • Add salt, one room temperature egg and flavorless oil. I use avocado.
  • Add 6 cups of flour, holding back the last 3/4 cup until you see if you need it.

Finish mixing, rise and knead

  • The dough will be soft, this is fine.
  • Add the last 3/4 cup flour if the dough and mix in.
  • Cover and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled.
  • Knead 5 minutes. Get help with kneading.
  • The dough will be smooth and elastic. Let the dough rest 5 minutes before shaping .

How do you shape dinner rolls?

When shaping your dinner rolls, start by pinching off 2-inch balls of dough. I made these a bit bigger than 2 inches, but something like this:

Gather the dough at the bottom of the portion and pinch it together from all 4 directions, leaving a rounding top and a pinched bottom.

Place the dough ball pinched-side-down on an unfloured counter.

Next, cupping your hand over the top of the dough, swirl your hand in a small, fast circle, tightening the ball and giving it a nice, round shape. 

Place the dough balls in a 9×13 greased baking dish just touching but not smashed together. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour or until doubled.

a pan of risen dinner rolls ready for baking

Is bread flour or all purpose flour better for dinner rolls?

As I am sure you have noticed, most grocery stores offer “flour” and “bread flour”. We can get into the differences between the two another time.

In this recipe, I have found success using either on its own or a blend of the two.

If I were to choose, however, I would say my favorite here is bread flour. It seems to yield a better rise and, thus, a lighter, fluffier roll. My favorite is King Arthur Bread Flour. 

Why are my dinner rolls hard?

There are a couple of reasons dinner rolls come out of the oven hard. Often, it is due to overhandling of the dough and/or adding too much flour during the kneading process.

Knead your dough, but not to the point of it feeling dense and hard to handle. Five minutes or so of kneading is fine.

On flour, add enough to ensure that your dough isn’t wet and tacky, but not so much that your dough becomes firm.

Another reason for hard dinner rolls is flour quality. Certain brands (Pillsbury and Gold Medal in particular) will often produce a hard, heavy bread. So reach for a different product. I’m a fan of King Arthur bread flour. 

Why are my rolls not light and fluffy? 

So maybe your roles didn’t achieve that light and fluffy texture you were looking for. Bummer! This common mishap is usually due to the fact that your yeast did not activate properly.

It can also be due to the fact that you added too much flour during the kneading process. So follow my tips above for activating yeast and don’t use more than 1/4 to 1/3 cup of extra flour when kneading.

Why is there a hard top on my rolls that comes off?

Ahhhh another common mishap. This hard portion on the top of your dinner roll that comes off is also often the result of over handling and/or adding too much flour to your dough during the kneading process.  

How do you make rolls shiny?

You know those slightly shiny dinner rolls you see in restaurants? You can achieve that too! Simply rub a stick of cold butter over the top of your rolls just as they come out of the oven.

Another option is to brush the top of the roll with an egg wash (part beaten egg, part water) before baking.

I find that this sometimes yields a slightly eggy taste, however. So I lean toward the butter method. 

What to serve with old fashioned yeast rolls

These yeast rolls are wonderful on their own and serve as a great compliment to almost any meal, but you can certainly spread a little butter (or even flavored butter!) on the rolls to take them up a notch.

Sweet tooth? Or maybe breakfast time? These dinner rolls go very well with your favorite jam or apple butter. 

How to freeze homemade rolls

Dinner rolls are a great thing to make ahead and freeze for later enjoyment. There are 2 ways in which to freeze these rolls.

(1) Freeze them just after shaping and before allowing for the final rise. When it comes time to enjoy them, remove them from the freezer and allow them to rise for 8 hours under well greased plastic wrap before baking.

(2) You can also freeze them after baking. Seal your rolls in an airtight container, such as a Ziploc, and place them in the freezer.

When it comes time to reheat, wrap your rolls in parchment paper and then foil and bake at 350 degrees F or until the center is hot. You can reheat them from frozen but it’s better if they are partially thawed.

What to serve with old fashioned rolls

They are the BEST for slathering in butter. Want to make your own? Go all out with my homemade butter recipe. You can also make a batch of slow cooker apple butter (let’s all just sigh) or slather your rolls in jam or jelly.

If savory is your thing, I would suggest a slice of country ham or even a classic pork chop.

If you want a smaller batch of rolls

Try my classic easy yeast roll recipe to make just a dozen.

a roll lifted from a pan on a spatula and held by a hand

Old Fashioned Yeast Rolls

Old fashioned yeast rolls feel like the unachievable holy grail for a lot of home cooks–something only professional bakers and the frozen food section of the grocery store can share. But I have news for you. It IS doable for even new cooks. Here’s how.
Prep Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 40 minutes
Servings 16 people
Author Rachel Ballard

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups warm water about 120 degrees
  • 2 packages dry active yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil vegetable oil also works
  • 6-7 cups all purpose or bread flour

Instructions
 

  • In a large bowl, add the water and yeast. Allow it to sit until the yeast starts to foam--about 5 minutes.
  • Add the sugar, salt, egg, and oil and stir to combine.
  • Add6 cups of flour and stir well. You may have to use your hands to finish mixing it.
  • Add the last 1/2-1 cup of flour if the dough is still very wet. It will be a sticky dough and that's okay.
  • Spray the top with cooking spray or tap with oil and cover the dough with plastic wrap.
  • Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size 1 to 2 hours.
  • After the dough doubles, punch it down with your fist and turn it out onto a floured surface.
  • Knead the dough until smooth--about 5 minutes or so.
  • Grease a 9x13 pan with oil or cooking spray.
  • Break off walnut-sized balls of dough (about 2 inches in diameter) and place them in the pan just touching but not smashed together.
  • Cover lightly with greased plastic wrap and allow to double again. About another 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Bake in a 375 degree oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush with butter before serving.

Notes

This recipe makes about two dozen rolls. If you would like to make smaller batch, just half the recipe but use a whole egg. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1rollCalories: 242kcalCarbohydrates: 43gProtein: 6gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 294mgPotassium: 53mgFiber: 1gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 17IUVitamin C: 0.001mgCalcium: 10mgIron: 0.5mg
Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American

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17 Comments

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I’m curious if you have used your recipe for yeast rolls in other applications like cinnamon rolls? I am just curious if this would be a versatile type of recipe

    1. Hi Christine, a lot of people say they are great for cinnamon rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns but I have a cinnamon roll recipe (here on the site if you want to see it) that I really prefer. But yes, lots of people have used this version to make lots of other things too. 🙂 Enjoy! –Rachel

  2. thank you for sharing this recipe. I moved several years ago and lost one of my favorite cookbooks. I would always make homemade yeast rolls for the holidays. this is the closest that I have found to my recipe.

    1. Hey Sandra, I am not totally sure I’ve ever seen General Mills brand flour but I can tell you that the type you use really does matter. Pillsbury and Gold Medal make the worst bread I’ve ever had. You’re welcome to try, just know you may want to test a few brands and see which one gives you the lightest texture. –Rachel

  3. I am the worst baker in the world, but I have to say this recipe turn out as the best baking success of my life. Thanks to an easy recipe and a bit more patience on my part.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Karen, sure it can. I have more luck just making my rolls then freezing those instead, but you could roll balls after the first rise then freeze them individually, then rise them from frozen later. –Rachel

  4. I noticed that your recipe omited one egg as one of the ingredients in the list; however, it was mentioned in the notes, if wanting to half the recipe.

  5. 5 stars
    Hello again from Germany,
    reading your blog and the Corona-time inspired me to bake some yeast rolls.
    I have modified the recipe a little bit:

    – less sugar because I wanted to have the rolls as a side to a salad bowl.
    In ancient times we called it a mixed salad, but teens in Germany today call it a “bowl” and yes, they use the English word bowl – the German “Schüssel” seems to be uncool 😉
    – I always use yeast that is called “fresh yeast”, it is sold in every supermarket in Germany, even at Aldi (btw: you have Aldi in the US???) – I have always better results with fresh yeast instead of dry yeast, but maybe next time I will follow your instructions to actiavate the yeast.
    – I have done some different seeds (sowing???) on the upper side of the rolls: linseed, quinoa, oatmeal and some with grated cheese

    The rolls are very fluffy and my family loves them!

    1. Hey Suzanne, we don’t get a lot of fresh yeast here in the states. I’ve gotten some a time or two but it’s hard to come by, that’s why our recipes call for active dry. Which you also can’t get much of these days either. And yes we have Aldi here. I’m sure a tad different from yours. It’s one of my favorite stores! –Rachel

    2. @Susanne, we love our Aldis here in Florida, and it’s close to our house !❤
      I lived in Heidelberg, and we were there from 68 to 73 ..my Daughter , Heidelberg..shes 51..time flies but my happiest memories were in Germany..I loved your country !

  6. 5 stars
    I’m surprised by how few reviews this recipe has. My rolls came out PERFECT!!

    I halved the recipe, and opted to use a little less sugar. Was able to make 19 small rolls in my cast iron pan.

    I should also add that this was my first time baking bread, and couldn’t be more pleased by how it turned out.

    1. A few reviews doesn’t mean much as long as the ones we have are good ones, right? Thank you so much for your thoughts and I’m so glad you found some bread baking success! There’s no yeasted recipe you can’t make now! The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. –Rachel

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