We here at The Kitchn are firm believers that the more you can do ahead of your dinner party, the less stress you'll have at your dinner party. Dinner rolls fall squarely in that make-ahead category. In fact, dinner rolls are such a flexible and accommodating kind of recipe that there are multiple points in the process when you can stop, put the rolls on pause, and pick them up again when you want to — whether that's a whole month from now or just a day.
My personal favorite way to make dinner rolls ahead is to freeze the fully-baked rolls. I like being able to (almost!) totally check this off my list — the only thing I really have to do for the party is pull the rolls out of the freezer the night before to let them thaw and then warm them for a few minutes in the oven before serving. Even if I forget to thaw them ahead of time, it's easy enough to warm the rolls straight from the freezer.
But there are other options, too! You can freeze the un-baked shaped rolls, which requires a little more planning on the day you want to serve them, but has the advantage of taking up a little less freezer space. If you're only a day or two away from your party, you can also just refrigerate either the dough or the shaped rolls — they'll keep just fine without even needing to go to the freezer.
Whichever method you end up using, three days in the fridge or a month in the freezer is about the maximum that I recommend. After a while, refrigerated dough can start to become sour and off-tasting, especially rolls made with eggs and milk. In the freezer, a month is about the point at which frost and freezer burn starts to appear on both baked and unbaked rolls. Additionally, the yeast in the unbaked rolls can start to lose its oomph after a month, resulting in smaller and denser rolls.
Do you make your dinner rolls ahead? Which method do you use most often?
When ready to serve, take the foil-wrapped rolls out of the freezer bag and loosen the foil. You can let them thaw overnight on the counter and warm briefly before serving, or you can thaw them directly from the freezer by baking them in a 300°F oven for 20-25 minutes.
How To Freeze Dinner Rolls
What You Need
1 batch dinner roll dough, any recipe or use our favorite:
→ How to Make Soft & Tender Dinner Rolls
Freezer bags or containers
Option #1: Refrigerate the Dough or Unbaked Rolls
If you're just a day or two away from your dinner, there might not even be a need to go to the freezer! Mixed dough actually keeps very well for a few days in the refrigerator.
You actually have two options here: You can refrigerate the dough just after it has risen and before shaping the rolls — just transfer it to a storage container big enough to have a few inches of space at the top, cover, and put it an a corner of your fridge where it won't be in the way. You can also refrigerate the dough just after shaping the rolls — transfer the shaped rolls into their baking dish, cover, and put it in the fridge.
→If you refrigerate the dough in bulk, no need to let it come to room temperature before shaping. Just shape the dough, let the rolls rise, and bake — add on an extra 20 minutes or so of rising time, but other than that, it's business as usual.
→If you refrigerate the shaped rolls, take them out of the fridge about an hour and a half before you want to bake them and let them rise until puffy. It's ok if they're still a little cool to the touch; as long as they've puffed up, they're ready to bake. Bake as usual.
Option #2: Freeze the Unbaked Rolls
Follow your recipe as usual right up until you shape the rolls. Go ahead and shape the rolls, but place them a little apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let them rise about partway — until just starting to puff, but not ready to bake. At this point, freeze the rolls on their baking sheet for a few hours. Once they're frozen solid, you can transfer the unbaked rolls to a freezer bag or container. Unbaked rolls can be kept frozen for about a month, after which the yeast starts to have trouble rising the dough after thawing.
The day before you want to bake the rolls, remove the shaped rolls from the freezer and arrange them in your baking pan. Cover and let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
When ready to bake, remove the pan of rolls from the refrigerator and let them finish proofing at room temperature. This will take a little longer than usual, about an hour. The rolls may still be cool to the touch, but when they have obviously poofed, they're ok to bake. Bake as usual.
Option #3: Freeze the Fully-Baked Rolls
Bake your rolls as usual — as if you were going to serve them right away. Let them cool completely, then wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Place the foil-wrapped package in a freezer bag or storage container and freeze for up to a month, after which even well-wrapped bread starts to develop frost and freezer burn.
You can bake these frozen rolls either thawed or straight from the freezer:
→ To thaw the dinner rolls, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before you want to serve them. Take the foil-wrapped rolls out of the freezer bag and loosen the foil. Let thaw at room temperature overnight. Rolls can be served as soon as they've thawed but are even better if re-warmed (in their loose foil packing) for about 10 minutes in a 300°F oven.
→ To make rolls straight from the freezer, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before you want to serve them. Take the foil-wrapped rolls out of the freezer bag and loosen the foil. Heat the oven to 300°F. Place the loosely-wrapped package of rolls directly on an oven rack and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rolls are piping hot to the touch and warm all the way through.
Serve these rolls immediately and while still warm as they tend to become dry once cooled.
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(Image credits: Emma Christensen)