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Sweet Rolls

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Buttery, light, and fluffy these Sweet Rolls are a tried and true holiday side. If the idea of making yeast rolls sounds intimidating, don’t worry. I’ve included all of the step-by-step instructions and tips for working with yeast below. This recipe is perfect for beginners- no stand mixer is required!

Old Fashioned Yeast Rolls Recipe

Can you believe I am the 4th generation in my family to be making these sweet rolls? This recipe came from my great-grandmother “Mama Girl” and was passed down to my grandma, then my mom, and now to me.

Everything about these old-fashioned yeast rolls is the exact same as Mama Girl used to make, with one exception – I updated the recipe to use butter instead of shortening. Shortening was the most readily available product back in the day but I find that butter produces a lighter, fluffier dinner roll. I also changed the shape to be more like a dinner roll.

While these yeast rolls do take some time to prepare, I promise they are worth every second of it. I’ve even included instructions for how to make these the night before if you desire. These are a staple on our holiday table and once you try them, I know they’ll become a staple on yours too!

Overhead view of sweet rolls ingredients

Key Ingredients

Below are the most important ingredients needed for this recipe. You’ll notice they’re all pantry staples! Scroll down to the recipe box for the full list and measurements.

  • Milk – Whole milk is preferred for this recipe.
  • Butter – Use unsalted butter so you can control the flavor.
  • Water – It’s important that the water is lukewarm, approximately 100-110F.
  • Active Dry Yeast – The key to making these homemade dinner rolls rise.
  • Flour – Sift before using to avoid any clumps.

How to Make Sweet Rolls

Making these yeast rolls does take some time, as the dough needs to rise 3 different times. The good news is, most of the time is literally “watching bread rise”. Start in the morning and bake in the afternoon before dinner.

First Rise 

  • Make the milk mixture. Heat the milk on the stovetop until it starts to lightly bubble, then remove from heat. Stir in the butter until melted and sugar until dissolved, then allow the mixture to cool to at least 110F. You can refrigerate if needed.
  • Make the yeast mixture. Microwave the water to 100-110F. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Allow the yeast to activate to be bubbly and frothy, it will grow to about 1 cup of foam. Combine the yeast with the cooled milk mixture.
  • Add the flour. Whisk in the flour until a thick liquid consistency is reached.
  • Allow to rise. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for an hour.
A glass mixing bowl with raised yeast dough

After the 1st rise, the mixture will be soft, and thicker than a liquid.

Second Rise

  • Add the remaining ingredients to the dough. Combine the remaining flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the dough. If it’s dry, gently knead until it picks up all remaining flour. If it’s wet, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
  • Knead the dough.  Once the dough comes together in a ball, place it on a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and pliable.
  • Rise. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and place in a warm place for 3 hours.

After the 2nd rise, the dough will resemble a more traditional yeast dough.

Third Rise & Bake

  • Gently knead if needed. When you remove the dough from the bowl, gently knead if necessary.
  • Form 12 equal size balls. Measure 2-ounce balls of dough and shape into smooth balls by pinching the edges together, and gently roll on the counter.
  • Allow to rise. Place seam down in a greased baking dish. Let rise for 1 hour.
  • Bake. Brush the rolls with melted butter and bake for 15 to 19 minutes. Serve warm.

Overnight Preparation Method

Prefer to start making your sweet rolls the night before, so you have less to do the morning of your big dinner? You can definitely do that with this recipe!

  • Follow the instructions above through step 3 in the second rise.
  • After the dough has risen for 3 hours, shape the dough into balls, cover tightly, and refrigerate.
  • Prior to baking, remove them from the fridge and allow them to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours, covered with a kitchen towel. Preheat the oven and follow the baking instructions. 
Sweet rolls stacked on top of each other

The Best Way to Rise Yeast Dough

To help facilitate rising the dough, try running our dryer for 30 seconds, and then place the dough in the dryer. These warm environments help the dough to rise, especially in the colder months. I learned this tip from Kelly at Just a Taste.

You can also place the bowl on a sheet pan in the oven with the light on. This only works if you are not using the oven for something else.

Tips for Working With Yeast Dough

If this is your first time making yeast rolls, no worries! Here’s everything you need to know about working with yeast dough.

  • Make sure your yeast is good. A good active yeast will foam up to be somewhere between ¾-1 cup of foam within 8-10 minutes. If you don’t see this, throw it out and start over.
  • How to easily add more flour. Before the second rise, when working the additional flour into the dough, it’s helpful to use a flexible bench scraper, otherwise use your hand to turn the dough over in the bowl in the same direction, occasionally folding it in on itself to pick up the flour.
  • Make sure the dough is not too dry or too wet. If the dough seems dry, you may start to gently knead the dough in the bowl until it picks up all the remaining flour. If the dough is wet, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
  • Make sure the rolls are all of an equal size. Using a kitchen scale to measure out the balls of dough is best to ensure consistency in size and baking times.
Honey being drizzled over homemade rolls

Recipe FAQs

If you still have questions about the recipe, this section is for you. All of the most commonly asked questions about old-fashioned yeast rolls.

  • Why didn’t my rolls rise enough? There are a few things that will cause your sweet rolls to not rise. First, if the yeast is expired and doesn’t foam in the beginning step. Second, if the milk is too hot and kills the yeast, and third, if the flour is not measured properly. Air temperature can also effect the time it takes for the dough to rise properly.
  • Why are my yeast rolls dense? These rolls should have a pretty light texture and not be overly heavy. The biggest cause of dense, heavy rolls is if too much flour is added. Be sure to sift your flour and measure it carefully!
  • What’s the best baking dish to use? I recommend using a glass or light color ceramic baking dish, as a metal baking dish will cause the bottoms of the rolls to brown much faster.
  • Should the pan be greased? Yes, baking dishes can be greased with butter or shortening, or even a cooking spray

Serving Suggestions

As I mentioned, these sweet rolls are a staple on every holiday dinner table. I highly recommend popping these in the oven just before dinner is ready so that everyone can enjoy them in their warm, buttery glory!

These are perfect with a slab of butter or even jam. If serving for breakfast or brunch, try it with some honey. We love enjoying them with butter for the holiday meal.

How to Store Leftovers

Any leftover dinner rolls should be kept in an airtight container on the counter. They’ll last for 3 to 5 days. For best results, reheat them in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. Leftover rolls can also be frozen for up to one month. 

More Holiday Sides:

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Three stacked dinner tolls

Sweet Roll Recipe

  • Author: Julianne Dell
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Rise Time: 5 hours
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 hours 35 minutes
  • Yield: 12 rolls

Description

Buttery, light, and fluffy these Sweet Rolls are a tried and true holiday side dish. You’ll love these for dinner and enjoy the leftovers for breakfast. 

Ingredients

For the First Rise

  • 1 cup (236ml) milk (whole milk preferred)
  • ½ cup (113g) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup (48g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (15ml) lukewarm water (100-110°F)
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 
  • 1 ½ cups (180g) all-purpose flour, sifted

For the Second Rise

  • 1 ½ cups (180g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

First Rise

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat just until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter and 1/4 cup sugar until both are dissolved. Remove from oven and allow to cool until mixture reaches about 110°F or less. Milk mixture can be refrigerated to help speed up the cooling process.
  2. Microwave water for 10-15 seconds until it reaches 100-110°F. Stir 1/4 teaspoon sugar and yeast into the water and allow the yeast to activate until bubbly and frothy, about 8-10 minutes. Stir into the milk mixture once it has cooled.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour with the milk mixture. Whisk until the mixture is combined, it will be a thick liquid consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

Second Rise

  1. Combine the remaining dry ingredients: 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. To the mixing bowl, add the remaining dry ingredients and stir into the wet ingredients until all the flour should be combined together. If the dough seems dry, you may start to gently knead the dough in the bowl until it picks up all the remaining flour. If the dough is wet, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue until the dough comes together in one ball and does not stick to the bowl.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the mixture gently until the dough is soft and pliable in one consistent ball. You shouldn’t need to overwork the dough at this point.
  3. Return to the mixing bowl, cover again with plastic wrap and put in a warm place for at least three hours. The dough should double in size.

Third Rise and Bake

  1. Divide the rolls into 12 equal size balls. If you can use a kitchen scale, that would be best. Measure out 2-ounce size balls of dough. Shape the dough into smooth balls by pulling the edges under and pinching together. Place seam side down in a greased glass baking dish and let rise for at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat to the oven to 375°F. Brush the rolls with melted butter and bake for 15-19 minutes. If the rolls are browning too quickly, tent them with tin foil. Serve warm.

Notes

  • Yeast packets:  If you are using yeast packets, they are generally about 2 teaspoons, so you’ll need two packets for this recipe. 
  • Rising tip: During colder month, allow the dough to rise in a warm dryer or in the oven with the light on. See blog post for specific tips. 
  • Overnight method: 
    • Follow the instructions above through step 3 in the second rise.
    • After the dough has risen for 3 hours, shape the dough into balls, cover tightly, and refrigerate.
    • Prior to baking, remove them from the fridge and allow them to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours, covered with a kitchen towel. Preheat the oven and follow the baking instructions. 
  • Storing: Any leftover dinner rolls should be kept in an airtight container on the counter. They’ll last for 3 to 5 days. For best results, reheat them in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. Leftover rolls can also be frozen for up to one month. 
Nutrition Information:
1
210
5.4 g
160.8 mg
8.7 g
28.7 g
1.1 g
4.2 g
22.4 mg
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

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