Recipe Review

Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls Are Missing One Essential Component

updated Dec 7, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Holiday dinners aren’t complete without freshly baked yeast rolls. But when the oven is occupied and counter space is at a premium, babysitting dough for hours is practically impossible. The solution? Settle for store-bought — or make homemade rolls ahead of time.

For this reason, we knew we had to include a make-ahead option in our search for the perfect dinner roll. Southern Living’s old-fashioned yeast rolls looked promising, relying on pantry-friendly ingredients, a little hands-on effort, and, of course, a significant amount of chill time. Would mixing the dough a day in advance give the rolls the tender texture and unbeatable flavor I was looking for? I headed to the kitchen to find out.

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

How to Make Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls

You’ll begin by blooming the yeast in warm water for five minutes until it’s dissolved and foamy. Combine the mixture with more water, all-purpose flour, eggs, melted vegetable shortening, sugar, and salt. Then add more flour to make a soft dough. Cover the dough and let it rise for one hour. Punch down and deflate the dough, then cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours.

After the chilled rest, punch down the dough again and turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead a few times, then divide in half. Shape each half into 16 (2-inch) balls, for a total of 32 rounds. Arrange them into greased 9-inch pans, then cover and rise again until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Bake until golden-brown.

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

My Honest Review of Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls

Finding a recipe for a tender roll that can be made in advance would be the ultimate win for busy holiday cooks. This recipe caught my eye because the Southern Living test cooks described the dough as supple, versatile, and easy to prepare in advance. While they did bake up soft, they lacked the buttery flavor I crave — and ultimately, they weren’t worth the wait.

This recipe starts with two packages of active dry yeast — double what other similar recipes call for. I had to stir the yeast thoroughly to dissolve it, since it formed a thick lump in the water. The type of salt wasn’t specified in the recipe, but I used fine salt, which is common in baking recipes because it incorporates evenly.

When I combined the bloomed yeast, water, a portion of the flour, three eggs, and the remaining ingredients in a bowl, the dough had the texture of loose cake batter (but with a yeasty aroma). When I added 2 3/4 cups more all-purpose flour (for a total of 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour), the dough became soft, although a little sticky the more I worked with it. I erred on the side of a wetter dough because I knew I would be kneading the dough on a floured surface later on.

Rather than rising twice as most other roll recipes call for, this recipe requires three rises, including a long, cold overnight rise in the refrigerator to qualify it as “make-ahead.” Once the rolls were shaped and rose for the third time, they were very puffy and bubbly. The bake time was correct, resulting in tall pull-apart rolls. The exterior crust was dry with a loaf bread texture, and the interiors were soft but more sponge-like than tender in texture. The rolls were slightly sweet, but had no buttery flavor since shortening was used in its place.

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You’re Making Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls, a Few Tips

  1. Use butter, not shortening. While shortening was the standard for home bakers decades ago, you’ll get better flavor from butter. Use unsalted butter instead of vegetable shortening for a richer, more flavorful roll.
  2. Reduce the egg. While egg yolks can add tenderness, the protein in egg whites can lead to tougher dough. Reduce the number of eggs from three large eggs to two.
  3. Skip the first 1-hour rise. While I didn’t test this, I think a trio of rise times is too many. Our favorite no-knead bread recipe goes straight from mixing to the fridge for a long, cool overnight rise, and I expect these rolls would do well with the same process.
  4. Don’t overbake. The tops of the rolls were on the dry side, so look for golden rolls rather than a browned appearance.

Rating: 5/10

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

Have you ever made Southern Living’s Make-Ahead Yeast Rolls? Tell us what you thought!