When I lived on the Upper West Side in New York City, I often frequented Maison Pickle, a retro American eatery with chic ambiance and cozy comfort foods.
Though most well-known for serving French dip sandwiches, Maison Pickle’s pull-apart bread is equally delicious. My favorite variation features the soft rolls slathered with garlic parmesan butter, still warm from the oven. It is a rich, comforting appetizer ideal for sharing with friends and family.
After leaving the city and moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, I found myself craving these buttery rolls on the regular. So, naturally, I decided to create my own version inspired by the original.
What is the Tangzhong Method?
These soft, buttery pull-apart rolls are nothing short of divine. Bring them to your next holiday event, game day celebration, or dinner party as a special treat.
To achieve the softest, fluffiest pull-apart rolls I follow the tangzhong method. Tangzhong is a Japanese technique of cooking flour and water (or milk) together until thickened into a roux or slurry-like consistency.
Yvonne Chen popularized the method in her cookbook, “65°C Roux the Bread;” this method gelatinizes the starches in the flour to absorb more moisture, yielding softer, fluffier rolls with a longer shelf-life.
Per the name of the cookbook, the temperature at which the starches thicken is 65°C (or 149°F). If you do have an instant-read thermometer at home, once the roux thickens and reaches that temperature, you can remove it from the heat.
Tangzhong is traditionally used in Hokkaido milk bread, but now, many bread bakers incorporate it into other bread doughs, like challah, cinnamon rolls, and dinner rolls.
How to make Tangzhong
To make Tangzhong, stir together milk and flour in a pot until homogeneous, then heat the pot, constantly stirring until the mixture thickens. Once the texture looks like the consistency of mashed potatoes, turn off the heat and let cool before using.
Windowpane Stage in Bread Baking
When making these pull apart rolls you also want to make sure the dough hits the windowpane stage. The windowpane stage is the point at which you can stop kneading because your dough has a strong enough gluten network.
To test this, pinch off a small piece of dough, flatten it, and place your pointer fingers on the top two corners and your thumbs on the bottom two corners. Gently stretch the dough with your fingers; you should be able to stretch until the dough is just barely translucent without tearing. If the dough tears easily, continue kneading.
Tips for the Softest, Fluffiest Pull-Apart Rolls
Here are a few additional tips that will help you achieve nosh worthy rolls:
- Keep ingredients at room temperature to help the dough come together easily.
- Use a kitchen scale for the most accurate measurements or follow our tips here on accurately measuring flour using measuring cups.
- Line your pan with parchment paper to ensure the rolls don't stick to the pan.
What Equipment Do I Need?
A stand mixer and baking pan are critical to the success of this recipe.
Stand mixer: In a stand mixer, the dough kneads for 8 to 10 minutes to properly build enough gluten for these rolls. While you could theoretically knead by hand, it would be a significant arm workout, so keep that in mind!
Baking pan: The dough best fits into an 8-inch by 8-inch square baking pan or a 9-inch round cake pan (or oven-safe skillet). You can also double the recipe to make a larger batch by using one 9-inch x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.
A thermometer is optional but helpful for the tangzhong process.
Swaps and Substitutions
Can’t find bread flour? Only have instant yeast? You can still make delicious rolls using these easy swaps below.
- Bread flour: Using bread flour yields tender rolls with a slightly chewy crumb, reminiscent of classic dinner rolls. You can substitute the bread flour for all-purpose but note that the rolls will be softer with slightly less structure and less chewy.
- Active dry yeast: You can substitute the active dry yeast for instant yeast. Note that 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast = 1 teaspoon instant yeast.
- Milk: While the recipe calls for whole milk, I've used 2% milk with success too. I wouldn't recommend using a lower fat content than 2%.
Variations on Pull-Apart Rolls
Since the dough for the actual rolls is neutral in flavor, you can easily play around with the compound butter. For example, instead of garlic and parmesan, try cinnamon and sugar or honey and chopped nuts.
How to Serve Pull-Apart Rolls
You can serve these rolls immediately or bake them ahead of time and serve later. They pair wonderfully as a side to a traditional roast chicken or a cozy lentil soup. Sometimes, I will slice the rolls in half and stuff them with a vegetable or salmon patty to make a sandwich.
To serve immediately: Once the rolls come out of the oven, brush them with the compound butter while still hot. Then, transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
To serve later: Let the rolls cool completely (without the butter), then store them in an airtight container or bag at room temperature for up to 3 days. Alternatively, wrap the baked rolls in foil and place in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Remove from the fridge and let thaw for a few hours until the rolls are at room temperature.
Whether you store the rolls at room temperature or in the freezer, you will want to warm them before serving. Place the bread, wrapped in foil, in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes until warmed through, then brush with the compound butter. If the rolls feel dry at all, you can spritz the bread with a bit of water before wrapping in foil.
To keep the rolls as moist as possible, keep them together as one unit and don't pull them apart until you're ready to eat.
Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Rolls
- For the tangzhong:
- 1/3 cup (80g) whole milk
- 2 tablespoons (16g) bread flour
- For the dough:
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100ml) whole milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (5.4g) active dry yeast
- 2 1/3 cups (314g) bread flour
- 2 large eggs (114g) at room temperature, divided
- 1 teaspoon (6g) kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons (16g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- Neutral oil, for greasing
- A pinch of flaky salt, for topping
- For the compound butter:
- 1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for topping
Make the tangzhong:
In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk and flour until no lumps remain. Set the saucepan over medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture starts to thicken into a thick paste, the consistency of mashed potato (if you have a thermometer, the temperature you're looking for is 149°F).
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Proof the yeast:
In a microwave-safe measuring cup, heat milk for 20 seconds until warm but not hot (less than 110°F). If the milk is too hot, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until cooled. Whisk the yeast into measuring cup using a fork and let sit, 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast looks foamy.
Make the dough:
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the bread flour, one egg, salt, sugar, and butter. Add the cooled tangzhong and the proofed yeast with milk. Attach the dough hook and set the mixer on low speed. Mix all ingredients for 30 seconds to 1 minute until a shaggy dough comes together. At this point, the dough will not be smooth by any means, but it will feel sticky and there should not be any dry bits.
Knead the dough:
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is strong enough to form a windowpane, or can be stretched until translucent without tearing.
To test the windowpane, pinch off a small piece of dough, flatten it, and place your pointer fingers on the top two corners and your thumbs on the bottom two corners. Gently stretch the dough with your fingers; you should be able to stretch until the dough is just barely translucent without tearing.
If the dough tears easily, continue kneading. The dough will also feel soft but not sticky and the sides of the bowl will look clean.
Let the dough rise:
Wipe the bowl of the mixer and lightly grease with oil. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the mixing bowl, covered with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let proof at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
Prepare the baking pan:
Grease a baking pan on all sides with oil, then line it with parchment, leaving an inch or two overhanging on the long sides of the pan. This creates a sling you can use to easily lift the bread out of the pan. If you don’t have parchment, make sure to grease the pan generously.
Form the rolls:
Gently pat down the dough to expel any air and divide into nine equal portions (about 65g each).
Next, take the corners of one portion, bring them together into the center as if you're sealing a pouch, and seal tightly. Seam side down, cup the dough with your hands to shape it into a ball by rolling it on the counter in a clockwise motion.
Repeat with the other eight portions, then distribute evenly into the baking pan. The dough will expand with the second rise, so you can leave some room in between each roll.
Let the dough rise again:
Let the dough rise once more, covered, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the rolls double in size. To check if the dough has proofed, press your fingertip into the dough gently to make an indent—the indent should slowly fill back up halfway. If the dent does not fill back up, the dough is under proofed and needs more time.
Preheat the oven and prepare egg wash:
Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg with a teaspoon of water.
Egg wash and bake the rolls:
Once proofed, use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle with flaky salt.
Bake the rolls in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. When done, rolls will have risen to fill the pan and appear puffy. They should be lightly golden brown on the bottom, and deep golden brown on top.
Prepare the compound butter:
While the rolls bake, make the compound butter. In a small bowl, mash the butter, garlic powder, parsley, and Parmesan with a fork until homogeneous.
Brush the butter on the rolls:
If serving immediately, remove rolls from the oven and use a pastry brush to brush them with garlic butter. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and serve.
If serving later, remove rolls from the oven, let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Do not brush them in the butter. Store in an airtight container or zip top bag until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, wrap in foil and warm in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Remove, brush with butter and serve.