Recipe Review

The Secret to Better Dinner Rolls? Treat Them Like Flaky Biscuits.

updated Dec 8, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Cook’s Illustrated has a reputation for sharing meticulously tested recipes packed with smart techniques. By the time they hit publish on their recipes, you can be assured they’ve exhausted every iteration their professional test cooks can come up with. Baking is where this attention to detail is absolutely essential.

For these reasons, I knew we had to include a Cook’s Illustrated recipe in our dinner roll showdown — especially after our staff professed their love for the site’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls. They’ve been a staple on Deputy Food Director, Grace Elkus’, holiday table for years, and the recipe certainly looked promising. The use of a flour paste claimed to add moisture to the dough, and I couldn’t wait to see if the special shaping technique would give these rolls an edge over the others. Here’s what happened when I gave it a go.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls

You’ll begin with the tangzhong, a Japanese baking technique with a Chinese name, which involves mixing a portion of the flour and water together and heating the mixture in the microwave until thick and smooth. Transfer the pudding-like paste to a stand mixer and mix in the milk. Add egg, remaining flour, and yeast, mixing after each addition to combine until no dry spots remain. Set the dough aside for 15 minutes in a step called autolyse, then mix in salt and sugar. Finally, slowly mix in the softened butter one tablespoon at a time. Continue to mix the sticky dough in the stand mixer for five minutes, then move to a floured counter and knead into a ball. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and rise until doubled in size.

After about an hour, the dough should have risen. Punch down the dough, then form into a rectangle. Cut the dough into 12 equal strips, then stretch each piece into a long rectangle. Roll the dough up from its short side into a cylinder. Arrange the dough cylinders in a round cake pan, then cover and let rise again until doubled in size, 45 minutes to one hour. Bake until the rolls are deeply browned.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls

These rolls were light, fluffy, and delicious. The texture was soft and moist, and the layered effect from the shaping technique was everything I love about flaky biscuits, but with the coziness of a yeast roll.

A thorough review of the comments section was key to my success — especially since the author of this recipe had already responded to several queries, including ingredient weights (yes, 11 ounces is the correct weight of bread flour for this recipe) and the tangzhong treatment. The tangzhong technique is a low-lift way to add additional moisture to the rolls without requiring specialty ingredients or lengthy extra steps. Since all microwaves vary, it took my flour paste twice as long to achieve the pudding-like consistency described in the procedure. The ingredient list simply calls for salt, but a deep dive on Cook’s Illustrated’s website indicates they prefer fine salt for baking, so that’s what I used. Despite this, I felt like the rolls were slightly under-seasoned.

After mixing the dough and finally adding the softened butter — a strategy to strengthen the gluten before introducing the fat — the dough is very sticky. I used a plastic dough scraper to move the dough from the mixing bowl to the counter and form it into a round. One of my first food industry jobs was working the late-night shift in a bakery, so I was taught early how to knead and shape doughs. That muscle memory of shaping perfectly round balls of dough doesn’t come easily to everyone, and that’s why this rolling technique is so appealing. It is easy for anyone — even kids — to shape these rolls.

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You’re Making Cook’s Illustrated Fluffy Dinner Rolls, a Few Tips

  1. Heat the flour paste until you get the right consistency. This is an instance where your senses, not the timer, are your best tools. Look for the paste to have a thick, pudding-like texture. If the mixture is too loose, it’ll add too much moisture to an already-sticky dough. If you don’t have a microwave, don’t be discouraged: You can heat the flour and water in a saucepan instead.
  2. Increase the salt to 1 1/4 teaspoons. The texture of these rolls was perfect, but they tasted slightly under-seasoned. Cook’s Illustrated’s go-to is fine salt, so use that here, but increase the quantity from 1 teaspoon to 1 1/4 teaspoons.
  3. Don’t be discouraged by a wet dough — use a plastic dough scraper. Wet doughs can be troublesome to move and shape. Use an inexpensive dough scraper to handle the dough.
  4. Make sure to try their rolling technique. This shaping technique is what made me fall for this recipe. By rolling rectangular pieces of dough, the rolls have an unbelievably fluffy and flaky texture.

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Have you tried Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls? Let us know your thoughts!