Make Some Dough
You can use any yeast bread recipe to make rolls. White or wheat, sour or sweet, whole grain or plain Jane, buttery dough or sourdough--if you can make it into a loaf, you can form it into a roll. If you've got a bread machine or a mixer with a dough hook, mixing dough is easy.
To divide a batch of dough into rolls, wait until the dough has risen once, then gently deflate it with your fist. On a clean surface, use both hands to roll the dough out into a log. If it's very flexible, you can stretch it by flicking your wrists and slapping the dough on the counter, but be gentle--you don't want to tear the dough.
Use a bench knife, stiff spatula, or serrated knife to divide the log of dough into equal portions. If you want to be exact, use a kitchen scale to weigh each piece of dough.
There's a definite technique to shaping dough into perfect rounds, but it's fairly easy to get the hang of it and fun to practice. See our photo tutorial, Forming Dough Rounds, for step-by-step instructions.
Dust a baking sheet with flour and cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap. As you finish forming each dough round, place it under the plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
As an alternative to regular round rolls, try making savory pinwheels:
- Once the dough has risen the first time, deflate it and roll it into a single rectangle about 1/2-inch thick.
- Spread the whole surface with butter and sprinkle it with herbs, seeds, nuts, and/or cheese.
- Roll it up like a jellyroll, seal the seam and cut the log into slices.
- Allow the rolls to rise a second time and bake as usual.
Rolls Now, Rolls Later
To bake on the same day:
- Arrange the rolls on a baking sheet. Cover them with a clean floured kitchen towel.
- Let rolls rise a second time, until about double in size, and bake at the temperature directed in the recipe. (If you're using a bread recipe, remember to shorten the baking time. Start checking after 15-20 minutes.)
If you've made the dough ahead of time:
- Wrap baking sheet tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the shaped rolls overnight.
- At least an hour before baking, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise. Bake as directed.
- To freeze the dough, put the covered pan in the freezer until the rolls are frozen. Store frozen rolls in a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag.
- To defrost, place them on a tray dusted with flour and cover them with lightly greased plastic. Thaw overnight in the fridge or for about two hours at room temperature.
- Proof and bake as directed.
You can also freeze shaped rolls by placing them in a well-greased disposable aluminum baking pan. Wrap them airtight in plastic wrap and foil. If you allow enough space between the rolls, you can thaw and bake them in the same pan.
Bread dough will keep in the freezer for up to a month; you can store it longer, but the yeast may begin to degrade and the bread may not rise as well.
Tip: use a permanent marker to write the correct oven temperature and baking time right on the package so you can thaw and bake them without cracking a cookbook.
Top It All Off
When the rolls are nearly ready to go into the oven, it's time to add some finishing touches. For shiny, golden brown tops, brush the rolls with egg wash or milk. You can also brush rolls with melted butter both before and after baking to keep them soft and add richness.
To add toppings, either brush the rolls with egg wash or just mist them with plain water, and then sprinkle on seeds or nuts. A topping of grated cheese will melt and brown to a deliciously rich, crunchy crust. Parmesan, sharp Cheddar and mozzarella are especially good.
Tip: Mix or knead herbs, garlic, citrus zest, or dried fruits into the dough; they will burn in the oven if you put them on top of the rolls.