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

We Tested 4 Famous Dinner Roll Recipes and the Winner Is Simply Brilliant

updated Oct 25, 2022
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A basket of warm rolls is the perfect finishing touch at the dinner table. But if you’re used to serving rolls from a package rather than the oven, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and bake the buttery buns yourself. In my opinion, dinner rolls are one of the best intros to working with yeast doughs — simply follow the recipe, and in a few hours time you get to open the oven to golden, fluffy rolls.

The very best homemade rolls have the potential to make a big impact, transforming even the most basic of weeknight dinners into a special occasion. Of course, they’re also an essential component of many holiday menus. The best ones should be light and fluffy with a tender crumb, and taste sweet with a mild, yeasty aroma. If they’re really good, they don’t even need an extra swipe of butter.

Most recipes start with the same basic ingredients: flour, yeast, a bit of liquid, and a touch of sugar. So it’s in the details that makes one dinner roll recipe stand out from all of the rest. For this recipe showdown, I was determined to find out: Is a potato the secret to super-soft dinner rolls, or does using tangzhong reign supreme? Will extra yeast make rolls lighter than air, or is the secret using butter over shortening? We went into the kitchen to find the very best homemade dinner roll recipe.

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

Meet Our 4 Contenders

There are more shapes, sizes, and types of dinner rolls than you can fit into a tea towel-lined basket. For this showdown, we were looking for soft and fluffy rolls rather than crusty hard rolls. Each of these rolls are made with yeast rather than relying on chemical leaveners like baking powder and baking soda. The yeast lifts the rolls, giving the bite-sized breads their light texture and heady flavor.

To land on a final four, we chose recipes that each took a different approach to their ingredient lists, shaping, and baking. Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls is a favorite of our Deputy Food Editor, and uses a tangzhong (a bread flour paste) to add moisture and tenderness to the dough without adding to the ingredient list. Simply Recipes’ Parker House Rolls are the quickest to make and the only ones shaped with the classic pocketbook fold. King Arthur Baking Company is one of the most reliable baking resources on the internet, so we tried their Amish Dinner Rolls, a potato roll recipe that requires a few extra dishes. And since many of us make fresh dinner rolls for holiday dinners, including a make-ahead roll was top of mind. Southern Living’s old-fashioned icebox recipe is intended to be made in advance and is the only one to use shortening in place of butter.

How I Tested the Dinner Roll Recipes

All four dinner roll recipes were prepared in one afternoon. To minimize the ingredient variability, I purchased flour (both bread and all-purpose per the ingredient lists), yeast, butter, milk, and eggs specifically for these tests to make sure the ingredients were fresh and incurred no brand-specific differences. Each roll was evaluated immediately after the baking and cooling times specified by the recipe, and again the next day after storage at room temperature. I was looking for a recipe that is easy to follow and produces a dough that you don’t have to fight with. Once baked, the ultimate dinner roll should be soft and tender with a sweet, yeasty aroma.

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

1. Overhyped and Underwhelming: Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls

  • Overall rating: 5/10
  • Get the recipe: Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls
  • Read more: Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls Are Missing One Essential Component

    Southern Living magazine has been publishing classic regional recipes for decades, and nothing makes it into print without first getting the thumbs up from their crew of test kitchen professionals. This reader-submitted recipe was intriguing because it uses a higher proportion of yeast to sustain the lift in the overnight rest. It also calls for shortening instead of butter, common among this category of recipes, which I suspect is a holdover of mid-century recipes that relied more heavily on that pantry staple than modern recipes do. Although the dough for this recipe was described as “supple,” I’d describe it as bubbly and sticky. After a trio of long rises, I hadn’t saved much time at all, and the baked rolls had a coarse, spongelike texture and tasted like sandwich bread, not a tender yeast roll.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

2. An Old-Fashioned Classic: Simply Recipes’ Parker House Rolls

These rolls are soft and buttery. This recipe is well-written, straightforward, and easy to follow, making it a good entry point for beginner bread bakers and experienced cooks alike. The rolls are rich and tender from full-fat milk and butter added both to the dough and brushed on top. This dough was soft and the most pleasant to work with of all the contenders and it only required a single one-hour rise. Where this recipe falls short is in its shaping — it was difficult to maintain a consistent purse-like shape in all the rolls.

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

3. The High-Effort, High-Reward: King Arthur Baking Company’s Amish Dinner Rolls

Although this recipe is very bare-bones, PJ Hamel’s accompanying blog post (linked within the recipe) provides detailed instructions and step-by-step photographs that gave me confidence to prepare them. These rolls do require a few extra steps to start, including cooking potato cubes until tender and then puréeing them in a food processor until smooth. The dough was sticky but workable — especially with the help of a plastic dough scraper. The rolls rose and baked right on schedule, and made enough to serve for dinner one night and lunch the next day. They were soft and tender with a buttery flavor. While this recipe does require a few extra steps (and dirty dishes), they are worth the effort for special occasions.

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

4. The Clear Winner: Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Dinner Rolls

Cook’s Illustrated’s recipes are always full of smart techniques, and their Fluffy Dinner Rolls didn’t disappoint. Instead of relying on specialty ingredients, they use a cooked bread flour paste (or tangzhong) to add moisture to the dough. Getting the right pudding-like consistency is essential, or else you’ll add too much moisture to an already-wet dough. Make sure to use a plastic dough scraper to make the dough easier to handle, rather than adding extra flour (which could toughen the rolls). The other standout element is their unique rolling technique. Instead of shaping the dough into rounds, flatten rectangular pieces of dough, then roll into a cylinder. The rolls bake up tender, fluffy, and layered.

Do you have a favorite dinner roll recipe? Tell us below in the comments.