Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls

Side DishFreezer-friendlyRolls

Soft, buttery dinner rolls are a must for the holidays. Make these ahead of time, pull them out of the freezer on Thanksgiving, and you are good to go. Save one for a turkey sandwich the day after!

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

In our house there’s a saying: OHIO—Only Handle It Once. In the run up to the holidays, you can make, bake and freeze these rolls and stash them in the freezer ahead of time, and you’re on the highway to ease without stress.

These soft, buttery rolls are must-haves for your holiday table—or any special occasion, for that matter. No one wants to fuss with rolls when so much is going on in the kitchen. That’s where the very important make-ahead plan comes into play.

THE SECRET TO THE BEST DINNER ROLLS

The secret to meltingly tender dinner rolls? Lots of butter, eggs, and potato flakes.

Eggs and butter add richness, and potato flakes—a stand-in for the mashed potatoes used to make old-fashioned potato bread—add a tenderness. The starch in the potatoes attracts and holds water, which in turn creates a roll with exceptional keeping quality.

The dough is soft and supple, just short of sticky, and a dream to work with.

If you’ve never seen potato flakes, never fear. They’re not too hard to find at the average grocery store. You can also buy them online, of course—like almost anything else.

Freezer Rolls recipe bake the rolls

HOW TO MEASURE FLOUR

Back in my bread baking days for a restaurant (visualize a giant stand mixer, large enough for a toddler to play in), we made hundreds of rolls and loaves of bread to serve and sell. I’ve more or less replicated my large batch method here.

We always weighed our ingredients at the restaurant, but even with precise weight measurements, the correct amount of flour can vary depending on the brand of flour, as well as the moisture in the flour itself, so a little tinkering might be required at the end of mixing. You may need to a tablespoon or so more flour to the dough, but it should still be tacky.

How you measure each cup can also produce inconsistent results. For the best results, I suggest you use the “fluff and scoop” measuring method:

  1. Fluff the flour in the canister.
  2. Spoon it into the measuring cup.
  3. Level it with the scrape of a knife.

Measure all the flour before you start, so you don’t lose track of how much you’ve added as you mix the dough. Be flexible at the end of mixing, since you may have to add a tablespoon or two more flour if the dough is too sticky. Don’t worry—it’s not complicated!

Make-Ahead Rolls Recipe put the rolls in freezer bags

HOW TO FREEZE AND REHEAT YOUR ROLLS

I like to freeze the rolls in packages of six to eight rolls, so I can pull out as many as I want without having to defrost a whole tray.

Cool the rolls completely and wrap them tightly in foil in the quantity you want. Slip the foil packages into plastic freezer bags and freeze them for up to one month. (The rolls may develop frost and freezer burn after one month.)

When you are ready to reheat them, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Take a packet out of the freezer, set it on the baking tray, and open the foil to expose the rolls so air can circulate around them. Heat them for about ten minutes, or until they are hot all the way through.

How to Make Dinner Rolls Ahead

WAYS TO FINISH YOUR ROLLS

Plain is good, but yes, you can guild the lily! Here are some toppings to play around with.

  • For shiny rolls, brush them gently with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) before they go into the oven.
  • To decorate them: Sprinkle them with herbs, chunky salt, or poppy seeds, after applying the egg wash if you like.
  • For extra buttery rolls: If it’s Thanksgiving, we need more butter, right? Brush the tops with melted butter. A bit of flaky sea salt would be in the same spirit.

Now fast-forward to the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t you just want a turkey sandwich on one of these babies? I know I will. I’m making two batches.

MORE IDEAS FOR YOUR BREAD BASKET

Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls Recipe

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  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Rising time time: 3 to 3 1/2 hours
  • Yield: 16 rolls

Instant yeast, also packaged as rapid rise yeast, is a slightly different strain of yeast than regular active dried yeast. It is dried and milled into smaller particles than its original cousin and its main advantage is that it does not have to be dissolved in water and “proofed” before using. It can be used interchangeably with active dry yeast.

If using standard dry yeast, soften it first in water according to the package directions.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (480 grams), measured into a bowl using the fluff-and-scoop method, plus more for dusting
  • 2/3 cup (40 grams) instant mashed potato flakes, unflavored or natural-flavored
  • 1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (296ml) whole milk
  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil, for the bowl
  • About 3 tablespoons melted butter for brushing the reheated rolls

Method

1 Mix the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed with the paddle attachment, stir 2 cups of the flour, the potato flakes, yeast, sugar, and salt until combined. Add the eggs and milk and beat for 1 minute at medium speed.

Add the butter in tablespoon size pieces on medium speed and beat until it is incorporated. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in 1 1/2 cups more flour at low speed. The dough will be thick and smooth.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and switch to the dough hook. Set the mixer on low speed and gradually add 1/2 cup more flour.

2 Knead the dough: Continue kneading the dough on low speed for 10 minutes or until it cleans the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft and slightly tacky, but not so sticky that it will be difficult to shape into rolls.

If it is very sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3 Let the dough rise: Turn the dough out of the bowl and form into a ball. Drizzle the oil into the bottom of the bowl. Set the ball back in the bowl and turn it to coat it with oil.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size and the dough is firm but fingertips leave an impression in the dough.

Freezer Dinner Rolls let it rise

4 Shape the rolls: Turn the dough onto a lightly floured countertop and, using a rolling pin, roll it into a 12-inch square that is even in thickness. This ensures that your rolls will be approximately all the same size. With a chef’s knife or pizza cutter, cut the square into 16 equal pieces of dough.

For each piece of dough, fold the edges into the center and pinch the loose ends together to form a ball. Turn the dough over so the seam side is down.

Move it to an unfloured part of your work surface (in order to take advantage of the traction of the board to shape the rolls). Cup your hands over the dough and rotate the roll, using your cupped fingers and your palm to make a round, taut roll.

How to Make Dinner Rolls Ahead form the rolls

5 Let the rolls rise: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Set the rolls on the sheet about 1-inch apart and cover with plastic wrap. Let the rolls rise for 1 hour, or until they have risen and look puffy. Toward the end of rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Note: For rolls that “kiss” each other, set 4 in a row on the baking sheet. For separate rolls, spread them slightly farther apart.

Make-Ahead Rolls Recipe let the rolls rise

6 Bake the rolls: Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Lift them off the baking sheet and set them on a rack to cool. If serving immediately, brush with melted butter (optional), or freeze (without the butter) and reheat at your convenience.
Freezer Rolls recipe bake the rolls

7 Freeze the rolls: In packages of 6 or 8, wrap the completely cooled, baked rolls tightly in foil. Slip the foil packages into plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to one month. (The rolls may develop frost and freezer burn after one month.)

Note: A one-gallon freezer bag conveniently holds a 6-pack of rolls, while a two-gallon bag will hold 2 8-packs.

How to Make Dinner Rolls Ahead wrap the rolls Make-Ahead Rolls Recipe put the rolls in freezer bags

8 Reheat the rolls: Remove the foil packages from the freezer bags and open the packages to allow air to circulate. Place them on a baking sheet in their open foil packets and heat in a 300ºF oven for about 10 minutes. If you like, brush with melted butter.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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7 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Carol

    I am so excited because I haven’t made rolls that weren’t a little to heavy. They worked!!!I will keep this recipe for sure. Ready for Thanksgiving.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Rachel Knecht

    These were absolutely devoured by everyone! Recipe worked perfectly and I can’t wait to make them again. Will definitely be on my Thanksgiving table. Thank you!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Laura

    I’d love to try making these but I don’t have a stand mixer. Can they be made by hand or with a hand mixer?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Laura! You can definitely knead these by hand! Know that the dough will be fairly tacky, so try to avoid adding too much extra flour as you knead. Enjoy!

  4. Lana

    These rolls sound wonderful and I do need a recipe to make ahead. I will make the dough on the single rise cycle on my Zojirushi bread maker and it will take no time at all! Thanks for a great recipe!

  5. Janet M.

    For the whole milk, can I use Lactaid instead of regular milk?

Make-Ahead Rolls RecipeMake-Ahead Dinner Rolls