Homemade dinner rolls, warm and steaming from the oven, are more effective than a dinner bell at bringing guests to the table. But how do you make the fluffiest dinner rolls that don't fall flat? What do those oft-used recipe phrases like "lightly flour the counter" and "proof the dough" actually mean? I’m a professional baker and have baked a good share of dinner rolls for my family and friends at home too. Here are my six tips for making, baking, and serving better dinner rolls.
1. Pick the Right Recipe for the Occasion
Evaluate how much time and help you'll have, and pick a recipe that fits your dinner plan. If you have the time and want to show off your impressive sourdough skills, your guests will certainly be grateful for sourdough dinner rolls. But they are not the best option if you're the only cook in charge of a generous Thanksgiving spread—they take about seven hours, including proofing time. In this case, pick a make-ahead dinner roll recipe to take the pressure off. For visually striking rolls without much extra work, try Lion House rolls—they only take about 1 1/2 hours. And of course, you can't go wrong with classic potato rolls, which require less than three hours, two of which are for letting the dough rise.
2. Use a Kitchen Scale (I Swear By Mine)
Baking may be an art, but it's also a science that benefits from precision. Using a scale is the most accurate way to measure ingredients. A kitchen scale has some other surprising benefits as well. You'll save time and use fewer dishes because you don't need to fumble with measuring cups and extra bowls. You can also use the scale to divide the dough into equal-sized rolls for even baking and beautifully uniform rolls.
3. Learn What “Lightly Flour the Counter” Really Means
What exactly do recipes mean with “lightly flour the counter”? The goal is to sprinkle just enough flour on your work surface so that the dough doesn't stick, and no more. While you knead the dough on the counter, the flour gets incorporated into the dough. If you use too much, the dough will get stiff, become difficult to work with, and make dense, dry rolls. Start with a light dusting, about a tablespoon, and see how much the dough sticks. Add more only if the dough still sticks.
4. Knead the Dough Like You’re In Charge
Unless you make bread often, it can be challenging to know how long you should knead the dough. Kneading is important because it develops the gluten, creating a structure to hold the gasses created by the yeast—basically, your bread will grow beautifully and bake up chewy and light. The gluten has developed enough when the surface of the dough is smooth, the dough holds its shape in a ball, and it becomes less sticky. For most dinner roll recipes, it should take about 5 to 8 minutes to reach proper gluten development when kneading in a stand mixer or about 10 minutes when kneading by hand.
5. Your Ticket To Better Rolls = A Perfect Proof
Like most bread recipes, dinner rolls generally split fermentation into two stages. The first stage, when the mass of dough is fermented in a large bowl, is called bulk fermentation. The second stage, called proofing, happens after dividing and shaping and before baking. It’s easier to tell when bulk fermentation is complete because the dough will have doubled in size. But proofing can be more difficult to gauge since the rolls are already divided.
The proofing time stated in a recipe is an excellent guideline, but the actual time depends on your environment. The best cues are visual and tactile. Proofed rolls should be puffy and jiggle when you shake the pan. When a roll is gently poked, the indentation slowly springs back but doesn't completely disappear. If the indentation springs back quickly, the rolls are under-proofed, and if it holds the indentation and doesn't spring back, the rolls are over-proofed.
6. Give The Dinner Rolls a Wash
For the best finish, brush the tops of your dinner rolls with a wash to promote beautiful browning and add extra flavor. You can use an egg wash, melted butter, or full-fat milk. Egg wash is my go-to and gives the glossiest golden sheen. Basting with butter adds richness and promotes browning, but not quite as much as an egg wash. Milk can be used in a pinch, as the fat and protein will brown in the oven, but it doesn't work quite as well as an egg wash or add as much flavor as butter.