Aunt Lois Sullivan always made the best dinner rolls.
The Sullivan Ranch is 30 miles west of the little town of Dubois, Idaho, and an hour and half from where we live. Neighbors are far apart. We drive across a high dessert plain covered with sagebrush and occasional wheat fields and then drop into a little valley. The ranch is in the center of the valley.
The Sullivan's run cattle in the valley. A little stream wanders through the verdant valley, providing water for the alfalfa fields, and power for the generators that light the house and ranch buildings. The foothills behind the ranch harbor elk and deer and on the sagebrush flats, antelope are found.
The ranch is over a hundred years old, rich in heritage, with old implements on the hill and corrals and buildings that have been built and rebuilt over the years.
Aunt Lois made the best roast beef dinners . . . and soft dinner rolls.
Since it’s Thanksgiving, we thought we share a few tips for light, soft dinner rolls and a very good recipe. While it’s not Aunt Lois’s, it's close. We think you'll like it.
Patience. Let them rise. Forget about the time in the recipe. Time doesn’t matter; how much they have risen does. When you think they have risen enough, let them rise some more. Let them rise all the way to the point when they are about to blister. They should look puffy, full of air, and be soft to the touch. An indentation should slowly spring back if at all. It is possible to let bread rise too much but people usually don't.
Great flour. It has to be high protein—at least 10.5% and 11% is better. But there is a lot of difference in flour. Find one that works well for you in your kitchen and stick with it.
There is almost a cult-like following for General Mills Harvest King. We use it in almost all of our bread mixes. It’s hard to find in grocery stores but check; it’s also sold as Better for Bread Flour. (We can sell you a bag of Harvest King but the shipping is a little painful.)
And keep your bag closed up. Your great flour won’t remain great if it’s exposed to the air. Especially in the West, it dries out. We store opened bags in large, food-grade plastic bags closed with a twist tie.
Use a good dough conditioner. It should give you 10 to 15% more rise plus a nicer texture.
Dough conditioners are proprietary products and every producer’s will be a little different. The one we use (and sell) enhances the gluten structure with longer strands to create a better structure that will capture more gas and make your rolls lighter. It also lowers the pH in the dough. Yeast likes a slightly acidic environment. (Did you ever wonder why our grandparents added a tablespoon of lemon juice to their dough? It too lowered the pH.)
Use a thermometer. It’s hard to tell when your rolls are done just right by looking at them. And the time in recipe is a rough estimate. Use an insta-read thermometer and stick the probe through a crease to the center of a roll. The temperature should read 195 degrees.
There you have it. If you would like to learn more about baking ingredients, download our free “Baking Ingredients and How they Work.” The Prepared Pantry sells ingredients and tools for bread bakers.
And now for that recipe.
Favorite Soft Dinner Rolls
These are traditional rolls for dinner, soft and moist pull-apart rolls. They are simple to make and nearly fool-proof, though you do need to allow plenty of time for the dough to rise.
This recipe calls for baker’s dry milk which is high heat treated to neutralize the enzyme that impedes the growth of the yeast. You can use regular dry milk but the yeast will not grow as rapidly. Dairy—milk, buttermilk, or sour cream—makes bread richer and more flavorful.
This recipe also calls for dough conditioner which makes the bread lighter and better textured.
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups water at 105 to 110 degrees
4 cups bread flour, divided
1 7-gram packet instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup baker’s dry milk
1 teaspoon dough conditioner (optional)
Dennis is the founder and general manager of The Prepared Pantry www.preparedpantry.com in Rigby, Idaho, a full-line kitchen store and online retailer of food, baking mixes and ingredients, and kitchen tools.