Dinner rolls get their light fluffy interior and slightly domed, tender-crisp top from being properly shaped. Between mixing up the dough and baking, shaping plays a crucial role in how the rolls rise and look once baked. Too loosely formed and they’ll slump a wee bit in the oven, but handled too much and your rolls will be chewy and dense. Shaping dinner rolls comes down to just five easy steps. Here’s how to shape perfect dinner rolls every time.
1. Make and Proof the Dough
Before you begin shaping the rolls, you’ll need to make the dough, cover it, and let it rise. Some recipes call this first rise the bulk proof or first proof. Before you even uncover the risen dough, make sure you have a clean work surface, a bit of flour, and a sharp chef's knife or bench scraper on hand. A kitchen scale is helpful too, especially if you want evenly sized rolls.
2. Divide the Dough
Lightly sprinkle your work surface with flour. Check your recipe—some don’t require it because the dough isn’t sticky. Turn your dough out onto it and gently pat it into a rectangle. Use your knife or bench scraper to cut the dough into even pieces. Your recipe will tell you how many pieces to divide the dough into. Some bakers like to cut squares and others prefer a triangular pizza slice-like shape. The important thing here is to avoid tearing the dough, which breaks down its elasticity and can make it tough.
Prefer precisely evenly sized rolls? Weigh the whole dough with a kitchen scale. Divide the total weight by the number of rolls you need. For example, if you’ve got 24 ounces of dough and need 12 rolls, each piece should weigh 2 ounces.
3. Shape the Dough
One piece at a time, right on your work surface, pull the outer edges up and towards the center of the dough, all around. Gently pinch the pulled edges together. Turn the ball over so that the seam side is facing down on your work surface.
Cover the rest of the dough with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out while you shape the rolls. This is especially helpful if you live in a dry climate or have lots of rolls to shape.
4. Roll the Dough
Cup your dominant right over the ball of dough. The heel of your palm will be on the work surface and the ball will be just under your cupped palm, like it is seeking shelter from a passing storm. Working from your elbow, move your hand in a small circular motion, gently dragging the ball along. This takes a little practice, but you’ll start feeling the ball tightening and the surface getting smooth.
5. Arrange the Dough For Baking
This last step depends on your recipe. Making pull-apart rolls? Arrange the rolls closer to each other, with enough room for them to expand into each other as they rise and bake. More traditional dinner rolls might be arranged on a baking sheet with lots of space in between so you get little orbs of golden brown goodness that don't touch. You can even arrange the rolls around the edges of a baking dish to make a wreath—place the butter or dip in the center for serving.
Once shaped, most dinner rolls require a second, shorter rise before baking. Try not to disturb them during this rise. All that work you put into shaping them will yield perfect, fluffy, tender dinner rolls.