These melt-in-your-mouth dinner rolls will be the softest, most delicious rolls you’ll ever sink your teeth into. The secret to rolls so irresistible that they’ll outshine any main dish served alongside them? Tangzhong!
Is there anything more satisfying than the compliments that come along with a plate piled high with freshly-baked, homemade dinner rolls?
Yes, yes there is. It’s tearing a roll straight from the baking dish, feeling the bread spring back around your fingers, peeling apart its pillowy layers, and devouring one– or two, or three– yourself. But that, my friends, is about it. That’s as good as it gets.
But here’s the thing: It only really works if they’re perfect. The perfect dinner rolls. These dinner rolls.
WHAT MAKES THIS THE BEST DINNER ROLL RECIPE?
There’s a million variations on the classic dinner roll out there, but in all of my time devouring them, I have never had rolls as amazing as the ones made with one simple addition: tangzhong. They’re softer. Fluffier. Bouncy, even. Their feathery layers are almost croissant-like when pulled apart. And luckily, tangzhong is incredibly easy to make– but we’ll get to that in just a minute.
While texture matters (a lot) when considering the best rolls, flavor is also a factor not to be forgotten. The perfect dinner roll should also be rich, buttery, slightly sweet, and balanced by salt. That’s why these rolls incorporate those qualities not only in the dough itself, but also in the honey-butter glaze (and sprinkle of coarse sea salt) that is brushed on at the end.
WHAT IS TANGZHONG?
Tangzhong is the act of pre-cooking a portion of the dough’s flour and liquid together to create a thick, pudding-like paste, which is then added to the rest of the dough ingredients. Cooking the flour with water gelatinizes the starches, which allows the bread to retain more moisture throughout the baking process.
This method is key in world-famous Japanese Milk Bread, and as it has become more popularized in the US it has also expanded to be used in all sorts of soft and tender breads baked by American bakers. Take, for example, these super soft dinner rolls!
BENEFITS OF TANGZHONG INCLUDE:
- Easy kneading dough
- Quicker, higher rise
- Softer, moister bread
- Longer shelf life
PERFECT DINNER ROLL INGREDIENTS
Making the perfect dinner rolls might seem like a complicated task, but it’s as easy as going through your pantry and fridge for most of the ingredients. There’s only 8 ingredients and you likely have most, if not all, of them on hand.
- Flour – I like to use bread flour if I have it on hand as it helps to give the rolls an ever-so-slight bit more chew and stability without interfering with their softness, but all purpose flour works as well so don’t shy away from this recipe if you’ve only got AP on hand.
- Milk – Using milk as the liquid in both the tangzhong and the remainder of the dough rather than the more traditional option of water enriches the dough, gives a softer crumb, and creates a more golden crust.
- Active dry yeast – Yeast is necessary to get the dough to rise, and active dry is the kind you’ll probably see used most frequently in recipes. This is due to the fact that the ability to check its activity before adding it to the dough makes yeast breads more foolproof. However, you can also use instant yeast if you prefer, just add it directly to the dough rather than blooming in the warm milk first.
- Salt -Salt is important for both the flavor and structure of the dough, so we of course incorporate some into the mixture. However, I like some salt to sit undissolved on the exterior of the rolls as well (like what you’d expect from, say, a soft pretzel), so I also sprinkle some coarse salt on top of the rolls before serving.
- Light brown sugar – Rather than using regular granulated sugar in this recipe, I use light brown sugar to incorporate deeper flavor and more moisture into the dough. Remember, a super moist dough is the key to having ultra-soft, pillowy rolls!
- Egg – Egg provides several benefits to a good roll. It contributes both structure and richness to the bread, and allows for a higher overall rise (as egg is another leavening agent). Adding an extra egg yolk to the dough further tenderizes the crumb of the rolls, and brushing with egg wash before baking allows the rolls to turn a beautiful orangey-brown.
- Butter – Everything tastes better with butter and rolls are certainly no exception. For this reason, I incorporate butter into the dough itself and also include butter in the glaze mixture that the rolls are brushed with fresh from the oven.
- Honey – The appropriate amount of sweetness can really bring good rolls to the next level, as long as it’s not overdone. By mixing in just a bit of honey with melted butter before brushing over the rolls, you’re able to get the perfect balance.
HOW TO MAKE DINNER ROLLS
- Start with the tangzhong. As mentioned above, all you have to do is heat flour and liquid together in a saucepan until thick and roux-y. It should have a pudding-like texture and no lumps when it’s ready.
- Activate the yeast. Adding the yeast to warm milk with a bit of sugar will “activate” it and allow the yeast to fully dissolve in the liquid. Once it’s foamy, you’ll know that the yeast is alive (because, yes, it can die and thereby cause your bread not to rise), and you also can be sure that the yeast will spread evenly throughout the dough.
- Add all of the wet ingredients to the stand mixer. That’s your milk and yeast mixture, the tangzhong, brown sugar, one egg plus one egg yolk, and butter. All of these ingredients contribute to the increased moistness and richness of the rolls. Starting with the wet ingredients helps to make sure you won’t wind up with any lumps.
- Mix in the dry ingredients. This will be your flour and salt, which you’re going to want to have whisked together beforehand in order to make sure the salt disperses evenly.
- Get it smooth. The dough will turn into a sticky scraggly dough at first as it mixes, but resist the urge to add too much flour. After about 6-8 minutes, the mixture will come together into a smooth, tacky dough.
- Let it rise. It’ll take about an hour for the dough to double in size if kept in a warm place. If your house is cold, consider preheating your oven to the lowest temperature, turning it off, and then putting your covered dough bowl in the oven with the door slightly cracked.
- Divide into balls. Form the dough into smooth, taut spheres. To do so, cut dough pieces and, working one at a time, you can either place the dough piece on a flat surface, cup your hand around the dough, and gently move your hand in circular motions until smooth; or you can pull and pinch the edges of the dough toward the bottom to create a rounded shape. I prefer the latter method and demonstrate it in the instructional video below, but you should do whatever comes easiest to you!
- Let ’em rise again. Place the dough balls in a large oiled baking dish, cover, and let them rise again until puffed up, about an hour.
- Brush with egg wash. A little diluted egg on top will help the rolls get extra brown.
- Bake. 20 minutes at 375 will do the trick. They smell amazing as they bake, so prepare to be impatiently hungry.
- Add the final touch. Brush with a mix of honey and melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before digging in.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
CAN I MAKE THESE ROLLS WITHOUT A STAND MIXER?
Yes, you can stir with a spoon until a scraggly dough forms, then knead with your hands. It requires some elbow grease, but if you keep kneading you will eventually get a smooth dough and be on your way to perfectly soft dinner rolls.
COULD I USE THIS RECIPE TO MAKE A LOAF OF BREAD INSTEAD?
Yes, you can make loaves from this dough and it’s delicious! However, be aware that the recipe is sturdier in roll form, and you shouldn’t try to make the loaves too large here for best results. If you’d like to make a loaf of fluffy bread, you can also consider this Homemade Sandwich Bread recipe!
CAN I MAKE THESE ROLLS AHEAD OF TIME?
Yes, you can either shape the rolls and then refrigerate them overnight for the second rise before baking, or you can fully bake them in advance and pop into the oven the next day. They’re definitely most amazing when they’re freshly baked, but they’re still tasty when reheated.
CAN I FREEZE THE ROLLS?
Yes, the rolls freeze well. Shape into rolls, freeze immediately, and thaw for the second rise before baking. You can either thaw them in the fridge overnight or you can thaw them on the countertop for about 2 hours before baking. The unbaked rolls will stay good in the freezer for up to 3 months.
WATCH THE HOW-TO VIDEO FOR FLUFFY DINNER ROLLS!
For the Tangzhong:
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour
For the Dough:
1 cup warm milk (roughly 110℉)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup light brown sugar, divided
4 cups bread flour or all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon honey
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup flour until thick and pudding-like, about 5 minutes, to create the tangzhong. Remove the tangzhong from heat and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, mix together the warm milk, active dry yeast, and a tablespoon of light brown sugar. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cooled tangzhong, the yeast mixture, the remaining brown sugar, 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, and 5 tablespoons butter.
- With the stand mixer running on medium-low speed, add in the flour, a bit at a time, until fully incorporated. Continue to mix until a smooth, elastic, just slightly sticky dough forms. It should take a total of roughly 20 minutes. See notes.
- Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, roughly 1-2 hours.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench knife or chef’s knife, cut the dough into 15-16 evenly sized pieces. One at a time, roll each dough piece into balls. See note.
- Butter a 13″x9″ baking pan or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Place the rolls into the prepared pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the rolls to rise again until puffy, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375℉. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash.
- Bake the rolls until deep golden-brown, about 20-25 minutes. Near the end of the baking time, combine the melted butter and honey in a small bowl.
- Once the rolls come out of the oven, brush them with the honey-butter glaze and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Serve warm.
- Resist the urge to add more flour until the dough has mixed long enough for the flour to be fully incorporated and smoothed! After 20 minutes, the dough should be separated from the sides of the bowl, feel tacky but not overly sticky, and should easily form into a large dough ball when smoothed over with your hands. If this is not the case, slowly mix in a bit more flour, one to two tablespoons at a time. Be sure to knead well before continuing to add more.
- To roll the dough into balls, you can either place the dough piece on a flat surface and use a cupped hand to very gently roll in a circular motion, or you can pinch the edges of the dough together toward the bottom before rolling in your hands, as demonstrated in the recipe video.