I've tried making dinner rolls a bunch of times, with somewhat disappointing results. To give you an idea of my benchmark, my ideal rolls are extremely soft, buttery, yeasty rolls. I don't want anything with a crackly crust or too much chew, and the flavor should be more sweet than salty. Finally, if you think "cotton ball" when you take a bite ... that's a bad sign. Then Kim forwarded me a thread on the Fresh Loaf about Southern yeast rolls that seemed promising, so I made a small test batch this weekend. Success! The dough is easy to work with and the flavor and texture are exactly what I look for in rolls.
The only question is how many to make. 1 per person? (Haha, be serious.) 2 per person? (That's a little more reasonable, but still.) 3 per person? (The minimum if you're cooking for my family.) For the record, Kim liked these a lot, too. :)
Southern yeast rolls
adapted from a few recipes and techniques on the Fresh Loaf
The entire process should take a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 hours, start to finish, depending on how long you pre-ferment.
Makes 12-18 rolls
170 grams AP flour (1 1/2 cups, using the dip and sweep method)
10 grams whole wheat flour (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) (optional: adds additional flavor)
1 teaspoon wheat gluten (optional: makes the rolls more pliable and tender)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
400 grams warm milk, between 100-110 degrees F (1 3/4 cup)
340 grams AP flour (2 1/2 cups, using dip and sweep method)
20 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons wheat gluten
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Other ingredients: 1 stick of softened unsalted butter
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the pre-ferment. Whisk 2 minutes and set aside. In a second mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, without mixing, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
Add a stick of softened butter to the bowl of pre-ferment. Using a paddle attachment, mix until all the ingredients are wet. Cover and wait 20 minutes.
Mix on medium speed 2 minutes until the dough comes together and forms a ball around the paddle. Switch to a dough hook and mix on medium for another 5-7 minutes. (If you are making by hand, watch this clip and use the super fun looking slap-and-fold technique.) Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.
Divide the dough into 12-16 even pieces using a bench scraper or scissors. ( If you have a rectangular pan it is more convenient to do 15 or 18 rolls so you can lay them out in a 3 x 5 or 6 pattern.) Form a ball out of each piece by grasping dough from the top, pulling the rough ends down, and pinching them together at the bottom. You want the top of the rolls to be a round, smooth surface.
Place the balls of dough in a well-oiled square or rectangular pan; the balls should be as evenly spaced as possible so that they form nicely shaped rolls after rising. Spray the dough with nonstick spray, then cover the pan and let the rolls rise for another hour.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. When the rolls are ready, put them in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the rolls are nicely browned. Invert on a rack and serve immediately.
Optional: Creating some steam in the oven helps to keep the exterior of the rolls soft. When you preheat the oven, place a skillet on the bottom rack. When you place the rolls in the oven, protect the glass part of the oven door by covering it with a kitchen towel. Wearing an oven mitt and averting your eyes from the steam, carefully pour about 1/2 cup boiling water to the pan. Close the door and bake until browned.