Make These Super Soft Dinner Rolls the Star of Your Table
These fresh, buttery rolls won’t actually weigh you down.
Although dinner rolls at home are often relegated to the side lines—an unassuming placeholder that may or may not make it onto your plate—Chad Robertson and Jennifer Latham, the bakers behind Tartine Bakery and coauthors of the upcoming Bread Book, want to change that.
“A lot of American fine dining chefs started serving these really amazing Parker House rolls,” Robertson says, noting the rise of milk bread during the ’80s that was popularized by the late Joël Robuchon. “It’s fine dining—so it’s a funny thing where you see dinner rolls in certain kinds of restaurants, but it’s become less popular at home.”
However, with Robertson and Latham’s recipe, you can bring fine dining home—with an added bonus of nutrition. “My mom used to make Parker house rolls during the holidays and it was always one of my favorite things,” Latham explains. “I worked on this recipe for a while, because I wanted to make something that had all of that nostalgia and the tenderness—it feels like a treat—but it also feels like it’s nourishing and even more flavorful than you kind of expected it to be.”
The recipe starts with whole grain flour, which will already be more nutritious than shelf-stable bromated white flour, as well as pre-fermented flour. “The single thing you can do to make any flour-based product taste better is to add pre-ferment flour because it’s gonna make it more digestible and more flavorful,” Latham says. The recipe also includes a leaven as well as egg, butter, and milk. This type of enriched dough will make for the signature soft interior and buttery aroma.
For the pair, sourdough can—and should—be added to anything you bake, whether it be cookies, brioche, or in this case, bread rolls. Although the sourdough does affect the flavor of whatever it’s being added to, it doesn’t always show up as an unwelcomed and overpowering tang. “You’re not tasting sour, but it definitely tastes more nuanced—more interesting,” Latham says. “It adds a creaminess [that] really layers and enhances a lot of flavor.”
The inclusion of sourdough isn’t just for flavor, but also to help make each bake more digestible. In terms of the rolls, “this recipe has all the decadence that soft, buttery rolls fresh out of the oven have, but deep down in the recipe it’s engineered to be something that’s going to feed your body,” Robertson says. “You’re not going to feel like taking a nap after you eat a couple.”
Bread Book isn’t Robertson’s first cookbook, and though the philosophies he’s woven into Tartine and his other recipe books will remain similar, this new book will deeply explore the expansive world of grains, flours, milling, and the responsible ways in which food is grown. “It’s really important to me to get the ideas out there because it inspires me, and it inspires our team,” Robertson shares. “I wouldn’t call Bread Book a sequel, but it’s a continuation of the story that we’re building.
Mission Rolls Method from Bread Book
Makes 15 rolls
Ingredients / Quantity / Baker’s %
- Leaven 94 grams 25%
- Egg (about 1) 45 grams 12%
- Whole milk 206 grams 55%
- Sea salt 9 grams 2.5%
- Instant yeast 2 grams 0.5%
- Granulated sugar 19 grams 5%
- High-extraction Sequoia flour 375 grams 100%
- Unsalted butter, at room temperature 75 grams 20%
- Unsalted butter, melted 4 tablespoons for brushing
- Flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top
Prepare the leaven.
Prepare the leaven (find a how-to guide here). This dough requires a peak leaven (but not a booster leaven) for the right flavor and rise. The leaven is ready for bread-making when it looks bubbly and tastes slightly tangy but also slightly creamy (like yogurt).
Unready leaven tastes like raw pancake batter. Overripe leaven tastes very sour or boozy.
If you are unsure if your leaven is ready, you can perform a float test. To do so, fill a small pitcher or cup with cold, clean water. Wet your hands to prevent the leaven from sticking to your fingers. Gently pinch off about 1 tablespoon of the leaven, handling it minimally so as not to deflate the air bubbles, and carefully place it in the water. It should bob or float on the surface, not sink to the bottom.
If it hovers or rises slowly, you can still use it, but your bulk fermentation may take a little longer than it would if you used a riper leaven.
Warm the egg and milk.
Place the egg in a small bowl of hot (about 120°F) water for 5 minutes. Warm the milk (in a saucepan or in the microwave) until it is about 90°F.
Place a small bowl on the scale and tare the scale. Crack the egg into the bowl. If there’s more egg than you need for this recipe, use a spoon or your fingers to remove enough of the egg white so only 45 grams remain.
Mix the dough.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment, combine the leaven, egg, milk, salt, yeast, and sugar. Mix on medium-low speed until the egg breaks up and the leaven is somewhat distributed. On low speed, add the flour and mix until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl and the dough hook with a rubber spatula. Then mix on medium speed until the dough is cohesive and springy, 8 to 10 minutes.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the room-temperature butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough should be smooth, sticky, and slightly shiny.
Turn the dough during its bulk fermentation.
Transfer the dough to a large, clean bowl. Loosely cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest in a warm (82° to 85°F), draft-free place for 1½ hours. Every 30 minutes, wet your hands and give the dough several series of turns in the bowl, gently lifting and stretching the sides of the dough and folding them into the middle to build strong gluten bonds in the dough without deflating it. The last turn should be a gentle one, turning the dough just until it has all been gently folded over once; the mass should hold its shape in the bowl. This first rise, also called the bulk fermentation or bulk rise, is a crucial time for the dough to develop strength and depth of flavor. As the dough rises, it will become puffy and double in volume.
Shape the rolls and let rise.
Generously butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Transfer the dough to a clean, unfloured work surface. Using a bench knife, divide the dough into fifteen equal pieces, each about 55 grams. Using lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball. Working with one ball at a time, very gently cup your dominant hand over the dough and press it into the work surface while rotating your hand clockwise in a circular motion. The bottom of the roll should stick to the surface a little, anchoring it. Continue the circular motion until you have a tight, cohesive ball. Repeat to shape the remaining balls. Gently transfer the rolls to the prepared pan, nestling them together so they are barely touching.
Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm draft-free spot (78° to 82°F) until the rolls have grown in size significantly and a fingertip poked into a roll leaves an impression that bounces back slowly, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Bake the rolls.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Fill a clean, food-grade spray bottle with water.
Brush the tops of the rolls with half of the melted butter. Place the pan of rolls in the oven, then spray the sides and bottom of the oven generously with water. Immediately close the oven door. Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the pan front to back, and continue baking until the tops of the rolls are deep golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven, brush the tops with the remaining melted butter, sprinkle with flaky salt, and serve warm. Store leftover rolls in a bread box at room temperature for up to 1 day.
To store longer, once the rolls are cool, place in an airtight freezer-proof container and freeze for up to 2 weeks. To reheat, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and warm in a 250°F oven for 10-15 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from Bread Book by Chad Robertson with Jennifer Latham, copyright (c) 2021. Published by Lorena Jones Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.