Make Your Dinner Rolls Today for Thanksgiving

DIY brown-and-serve rolls—the Thanksgiving side you can even make in October.

Published Nov. 8, 2022.

Fresh-baked dinner rolls are nonnegotiable at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table—but on a day when I’m also roasting a turkey, mashing potatoes, and casserole-ing green beans, they tend to get lost in the shuffle. 

It’s tricky to time bread baking on such a chaotic day in the kitchen, and I’ve served my fair share of too-voluminous rolls that had been forgotten and overproofed; flat, lackluster rolls that didn’t have sufficient time to rise; and pale, ghostly rolls that got shortchanged on oven time.

But this year, I’m getting a jump start on my rolls to ensure that I can give them the proper care and attention they need. And by a jump start, I mean they’re in my freezer as I write this, weeks before Turkey Day. 

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With my colleague Andrea Geary’s new recipe for Make-Way-Ahead Dinner Rolls (based on her Fluffy Dinner Roll recipe, one of my all-time favorites), you can make your dough, proof it, shape it into rolls, let them rise, and parbake them up to six weeks ahead of time.

Pop the parbaked rolls in the freezer and then, on Thanksgiving, transfer them to the oven for just 10 minutes or so to brown, and voilà: perfectly lofty, yeasty, piping-hot dinner rolls on demand.

1. Make an Extra-Moist Dough

Brown-and-serve rolls are baked twice, and each stint in the oven evaporates water. This is why many varieties of frozen, parbaked rolls end up dry and stale.

I’ve tried other recipes for frozen brown-and-serve rolls before, but they’ve baked up drier and harder than fresh rolls. Andrea’s, however, are supremely feathery and moist. Here’s how she engineered the recipe to ensure the results would be identical to freshly baked.

To work around this issue, Andrea relied upon a bread-making method, commonly called by its Chinese name tangzhong, which sneaks extra moisture into the dough in the form of a flour-and-water paste. This added liquid ensures that the rolls can be double baked and still have a moist, light crumb.

2. Parbake in a Low Oven

To ensure that the yeast in the dough would activate and expand, but that the rolls would remain pale, these rolls are first baked at only 300 degrees. We remove the rolls from the oven just when their interiors are fully set.

3. Freeze Carefully

The rolls are very delicate in their freshly parbaked state, so we cool them and freeze them still on their baking sheet. Once they are firm, we transfer them to a zipper-lock bag and freeze them for up to six weeks. 

4. Brown in a Hot Oven

Just before serving, the rolls (however many you’d like to bake) can go directly from the freezer into a 425-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. They thaw and warm through as the crust turns a rich brown and develops lots of flavor compounds. After a five minute rest, the internal and external temperatures equalize, and the rolls are ready to eat.

Ready to upgrade your Thanksgiving bread basket? Find Andrea’s recipe here:

Make-Way-Ahead Dinner Rolls

With this brown-and-serve recipe, you’ll never be more than 15 minutes away from the warm comforts of fluffy homemade bread.
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