The Best Dinner Rolls (Fluffy, Crusty, and Chewy) Recipe

The trick is boiling the dough to create a moist skin that bakes up glossy and crisp.

Close up view of dinner rolls in a basket.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • A food processor makes short work of the stiff dough, so it only "kneads" for about 90 seconds.
  • Refrigeration allows the dough to rise slowly and steadily, for better flavor and more precise timing.
  • Boiling gelatinizes starches on the surface of the dough, giving the rolls a crisp, glossy, and more deeply browned crust.

I love soft and fluffy Parker House rolls as much as anyone, but when faced with the creamy casseroles, buttery mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, pan-drippings-turned-gravy, and all those other uber-rich classics, what I crave is something lean and crusty. And there's nothing wrong with classic hard rolls, but without a steam-injected oven, they're never quite as crusty as I'd like.

Most recipes get around that problem by using a pan of ice in the oven, or water splashed onto a hot baking sheet to create steam, but I recently stumbled on an unexpected alternative. See, I've been working to perfect my DIY bagel game for a while. And ever since working in a Japanese bakery, I've been obsessed with yukone (also known as tangzhong), a bread-making technique that harnesses the power of pre-gelatinized starch to tenderize the crumb and improve the shelf life of certain recipes.

I tried smashing the two techniques together, and, while it was instantly apparent that I'd committed an unspeakable crime against bagels, the result was a mighty fine dinner roll—chewy like French bread, but more tender because of the yukone, with a crisp and crackling crust thanks to that bagel-style dip in boiling water.

A basket of dinner rolls on the table, next to it is a plate containing a split dinner roll with a pat of butter. There is a plate of butter next to the basket.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

This Frankenstein recipe proved to produce my ideal dinner rolls, not only because they're light, lean, and crusty but because the dough itself is made and shaped a day in advance. That lets me knock out the messiest and most time-consuming stages of the recipe long before the last-minute crunch of pulling a fancy dinner together. Once they're boiled, which halts their rise, the rolls can be held at room temperature for up to four hours, so you've got plenty of wiggle room when it comes to timing.

Start the night before by making the yukone, which is cooked on the stovetop. It's something like a roux, but with water in place of butter—essentially a flour/water paste that's cooked over medium heat until thickened. This gelatinizes the flour's starch, changing its behavior in several important ways. Aside from keeping the dough thick and easy to handle, despite the fact that it clocks in at close to 75% hydration—a baker's way of saying there are 12 ounces of water for every pound of flour—pre-gelatinized starches create a particularly tender crumb, and improve Maillard browning as well, giving the crust a deeper color and flavor.

Freshly made, this roux-like paste will be hot enough to kill the yeast at first, so let the yukone cool down to somewhere between 70°F and 100°F (21°C and 38°C). From there, you'll pulse the remaining flour with yeast, sugar, and salt in a food processor, then add the yukone and remaining water.

A collage of transferring the yukon to the bowl of a food processor containing flour and yeast, and adding water to the mixture.

In just 90 seconds, the dough will transform from a rough and shaggy ball into something silky, smooth, and strong. The dough will feel extremely sticky to the touch, but you'll need only a pinch of flour to handle it with ease.

Stages of dinner roll dough in a food processor, from rough to smooth.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The dough will rise for an hour in the fridge, which keeps it from growing too fast and makes it less sticky to the touch, so it's easier to shape. For that, you'll divide the dough into 12 roughly equal portions; you can use a scale if you're feeling compulsive, but the subtle variations you'll get from doing it by eye won't cause any problems. Just cup each portion against an un-floured work surface, and move your hand in quick circles to round up each piece of dough into a ball.

A collage: dinner roll dough before and after the rise, using the palm to shape the dough into balls.

Arrange the rolls on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until they're roughly doubled in size—between eight and 10 hours. This is a great dough to make ahead and proof overnight.

Like a bagel, the rolls are boiled in water to help develop their crust. Rather than attempt to pull the puffy dough off the parchment, I just snip the paper so that each roll sits on its own little square. Handling the parchment lets me pick up each roll without fear of squishing it, and drop it into the boiling water without any fuss. Steam also makes it easy to peel off the parchment along the way, but most often, it simply slips off on its own.

Dinner roll dough balls on baking sheet before and after a rise.

After a few seconds, you'll have a weird, matzo-ball-looking dumpling on your hands, but fear not! Simply arrange the boiled dough on a baking sheet, and have faith—a half hour in a hot oven will transform them into golden dinner rolls with a beautifully crackling crust.

A split dinner roll with a pat of butter.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Enjoy immediately, or hold them at room temperature until you're ready for dinner, then toss 'em back in to warm before serving. Whether served with butter or split in half to stuff with slices of turkey and a spoonful of cranberry sauce, these unusual rolls will make a welcome addition to your table at Thanksgiving (or any time of year, for that matter).

November 2016

Recipe Facts

4.7

(13)

Active: 30 mins
Total: 10 hrs
Serves: 12 rolls

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Ingredients

For the Yukone:

  • 6 ounces cold water (3/4 cup; 170g)

  • 2 1/2 ounces bread flour (1/2 cup; 70g)

For the Dough:

  • 13 3/4 ounces bread flour (2 3/4 cups; 380g)

  • 1/2 ounce sugar (1 tablespoon; 15g)

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (9g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) instant dry yeast, such as SAF; not RapidRise or active dry

  • 6 ounces cold water (3/4 cup; 170g)

Directions

  1. For the Yukone: In a 2-quart stainless steel saucier or 10-inch skillet, combine water and flour. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes together in a thick, mashed potato–like paste, about 2 minutes. Scrape onto a plate, spread into a 1-inch layer, and cool until no warmer than 100°F (38°C), about 20 minutes.

    A collage of making the yukone: whisking flour and water and cooking until combined and transferring the mixture to cool on a plate.
  2. For the Dough: Pulse flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Once combined, add cooled yukone and water. Process until dough is smooth, about 90 seconds.

    A collage of pulsing flour, salt, and yeast in a food processor, adding the yukone and water and process until the dough comes together.
  3. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl (the dough will be slightly warm and incredibly sticky), cover with plastic, and refrigerate until roughly doubled in bulk, between 60 and 90 minutes depending on temperature of yukone.

    Side by side comparison of dinner roll dough before and after rising.
  4. Turn dough onto a clean, un-floured surface, but do not deflate. Cut into 12 roughly equal portions (2 1/4 ounces or 60g each), cupping each beneath your palm and working in quick circular motions to form a smooth ball. Arrange on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate overnight until puffy and soft, between 8 and 10 hours.

    A collage of rolling the dough into balls and arranging portions on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. To Finish: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (200°C). Fill a deep pot with about 3 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet or cutting board with a thick layer of paper towels. Cut parchment between each roll with a pair of scissors. Working with 4 dough pieces at a time, use parchment to lift and drop rolls into boiling water so that they are upside down. Boil exactly 60 seconds, then flip right side up with a slotted spoon (so the bottoms can skin over) and transfer to paper towels. (Along the way, the parchment squares can be gently tugged free or allowed to slip off on their own.)

    A collage: cutting off the parchment paper containing balls of dough, slipping the dough into boiling water and removing the paper, removing the dough from the pot with a slotted spoon.
  6. Arrange rolls on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; these can be baked immediately or left at room temperature up to 4 hours. Bake until blistered and golden brown all over, about 35 minutes.

  7. Rolls can be served immediately or held at room temperature for up to 6 hours. Reheat in a hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes before serving if rolls have cooled and you prefer them hot.

Special Equipment

2-quart stainless steel saucier or 10-inch skillet, food processor, rimmed baking sheet

Notes

With two long, slow rises, this recipe lets you knock out the work (and cleanup) of making and shaping the rolls a day in advance. After boiling, the rolls can be baked immediately or held another 4 hours at room temperature to better suit your schedule.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
142 Calories
1g Fat
29g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 142
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 293mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 29g 10%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 7mg 1%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 42mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)