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.Jump to Recipe
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.
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 you want a smaller batch of rolls
Try my classic easy yeast roll recipe to make just a dozen.
Old Fashioned Yeast Rolls
- 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.