As a final step, move your fingers from the cage and begin cupping the roll - still making those circular motions. The aim here is to make the surface of the roll very taut, which will help it keep it's ball shape while rising and baking. Try to draw the top of the roll down and tuck it underneath as you roll.
A homemade dinner roll with a puffed golden dome and a soft chewy middle is a thing to be proud of. We've learned that a big part of this has to do not so much with the recipe, but with how the rolls are shaped before baking. Here's our favorite method.
What You Need
1 batch dinner roll dough, such as Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls or Potato Dough Rolls
Extra all-purpose flour
Pastry cutter or sharp knife
1-2 sheet pans lined with parchment OR a buttered 9"x13" baking dish
1. Cut the Dough into Pieces - Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn out the dough on top. Sprinkle a little more flour over the surface of the dough and pat it gently into a square about an inch and a half thick. Cut the dough into evenly-sized pieces (the exact number as specified by your recipe).
2. Coat Your Hands In Flour - Adding too much flour at this point can make the rolls tough and dry on the outside. We've found that coating our hands - as opposed to the work surface - with flour helps us work with sticky doughs without adding too much additional flour. Coat your hands again between shaping each roll.
3. Begin Shaping the Rolls - Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough in tight circles against the work surface (like the "wax on, wax off" motion from Karate Kid!) while pressing slightly down. The dough should be a little tacky and stick to the counter a little - this will help to create tension.Within a few circles, you will start to feel the dough tighten under your palm.
4. Form a Cage Around the Dough - When you feel the dough start to tighten and smooth out, continue rolling it in a circular motion, but slowly lift your fingers to form a cage around the dough with your fingertips brushing the work surface. Keep light contact between the dough and your palm. At this point, the roll should start looking like a roll!
5. Final Shaping - As a final step, move your fingers from the cage and begin cupping the roll - still making those circular motions. The aim here is to make the surface of the roll very taut, which will help it keep it's ball shape while rising and baking. Try to draw the top of the roll down and tuck it underneath as you roll.
6. Transfer the Roll - When the roll holds its ball shape on its own, you're done. Transfer the roll to the baking sheet or pan and continue with the rest of the batch.
This might sound complicated, but with a batch of 24 or more rolls to shape, you'll get plenty of practice! Just remember flatten, then cage, then cup, all while rolling the roll in tight circles against the counter. Don't over-think it too much!
• We've found that rolls are much easier to shape if the dough has been chilled for an hour or more. They'll just need an extra 15 minutes or so of rising time before going in the oven to bake.
• This is one job where it's actually easier if you have small hands. Kids make great roll rollers!
(Image: Emma Christensen)