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. 

The #1 tip for making light dinner rolls

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. 

The #2 tip for making light dinner rolls

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. 

The #3 tip for making light dinner rolls

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.)

The #4 tip for making light dinner rolls

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)


  1. Heat the butter until it is almost melted and set it aside.
  2. Grease the inside of 10×15-inch pan or a large baking sheet, including the rims. 
  3. Measure the water. Use an insta-read thermometer to get the temperature right.
  4. Place two cups of the bread flour and the yeast in the bowl of your stand-type mixer equipped with a dough hook.  Turn the mixer on for a couple of bursts to disperse the yeast.  Add the water and mix for 30 to 60 seconds.
  5. In another bowl, mix the rest of the flour with the salt, sugar, dry milk, and dough conditioner.  Add this mixture to the wet mixture along with the melted butter. 
  6. Knead with the dough hook on medium speed for four minutes or until the gluten is well-developed.
  7. Grease a large mixing bowl.  Turn the dough out into the large mixing bowl and turn once to grease both sides of the dough ball.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise.  It should double in size in about 45 minutes.  If it has not, let it rest longer.
  8. Divide the dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter.  Place the balls on the greased pan about 1/2 inch apart.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit again to rise.  They should double in size in about 45 minutes.  Let them rise until they are very puffy.  If they start to blister, poke the blisters with a toothpick and place the rolls in the oven. 
  9. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees or until the tops are browned and the internal temperature is at least 190 degrees.  Remove them from the oven.  After a few minutes, remove the rolls from the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm.


Dennis is the founder and general manager of The Prepared Pantry  in Rigby, Idaho, a full-line kitchen store and online retailer of food, baking mixes and ingredients, and kitchen tools.