I don’t have many fond memories of school cafeteria lunches. There are two main reasons for that. One, my mom packed my lunch most of the time, and two, when I did partake in what was on the menu, it was pretty abysmal.
There was one shining exception, however: the rolls.
To this day, I can practically smell and taste those soft, fluffy wonders. Sure, some people may treasure the memory of homemade rolls lovingly baked by mothers or grandmothers. My mom, however, has always been more of a cake baker than a bread baker, so the elementary school rolls have by default and affection lived on in my memories.
That should help explain why when I say these Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls remind me of what I had back then, it is the ultimate compliment.
In other words, these soft, golden, buttery puffs just might be the rolls of your dreams. The recipe comes from cookbook author Elinor Klivans’s gem of a book “Fast Breads: 50 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Bread.”
The rolls bake beautifully into each other, which contributes both height and an attractive pull-apart appearance. Even better, the dough comes together quickly and easily in a stand mixer, with only one relatively short rise after they’ve been shaped.
The recipe would be just the thing to add to your holiday repertoire. Make the dough in the morning, let it rise, and revel as your guests ooh and aah when you present them with a tray of warm bread. (Believe me, based on the reactions of my colleagues, they will.) Don’t be surprised if these are the rolls your friends and family compare with all others now and forever.
Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls
Active: 50 minutes | Total: 2 hours 5 minutes
Makes 24 rolls
4 tablespoons (½ stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the pan and melted for brushing
1½ cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
4½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (one 0.25-ounce packet)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
Butter a 15-by-10-by-1-inch jellyroll pan, then line with parchment paper and butter the paper.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the 4 tablespoons of butter, the milk and sugar to about 130 F on an instant-read thermometer.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast and salt on low speed just until combined. Add the hot milk mixture and mix until combined and smooth, then mix on low speed for about 2 minutes, until a smooth, loose dough has formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
With the mixer motor on low speed, add the eggs and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining 2½ cups of flour and continue to mix for about 6 minutes. At first, the dough will look ragged, but it will become smooth after several minutes of mixing. The dough will be soft and will pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Using about 2½ tablespoons of dough for each roll, shape each portion (lightly flour your palms between each shaping, if necessary) into a smooth 1¾-inch ball. To encourage the best rise, try to form a “gluten cloak” by pulling the top of the dough down and around each ball before pinching and sealing around the bottom. Place the rolls on the prepared pan, spacing them about ¾ inch apart in four rows of six. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes. The rolls will look puffy and will almost be touching, but most of the rising will take place during baking.
About halfway into the rise, preheat the oven to 375 F with a rack in the middle.
Bake the rolls for about 20 minutes, until they are touching and fill the pan; they will turn golden brown. Brush with the melted butter. Using a spatula, slide them onto a wire rack or serve directly from the pan, warm or at room temperature.
Make ahead: The shaped dough needs 45 minutes to rise at room temperature. The rolls can be made 2 days in advance and stored in a plastic bag at room temperature. To serve, reheat the rolls, uncovered, in a 275-degree oven until warm, about 10 minutes.
Nutrition information: Calories: 140; Total Fat: 3 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 25 mg; Sodium: 60 mg; Carbohydrates: 23 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 4 g
Adapted from “Fast Breads: 50 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Bread,” by Elinor Klivans. Chronicle Books, 2010.