Aunt Mariah's Rolls

June 25, 2018
10 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 3 hours
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Makes 4 dozen
Author Notes

This recipe is at the end of a long journey I went on to find the key to my missing family (allow me to explain, here. The recipe serves a crowd, because that's what Aunt Mariah would do with them. —EmilyNunn

Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe was featured in our My Family Recipe series. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 packets dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup powdered skim milk
  • 3 large eggs, well beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted (plus more for brushing the rolls before baking)
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  1. In a very large bowl, dissolve the 1 teaspoon sugar, the ginger—do not leave out the ginger, no excuses—yeast, and water. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, mix the powdered milk, eggs, salt, the 3/4 cup sugar, and the 1/2 stick melted butter and add to the yeast mixture (make sure this has begun to foam slightly; if not, you may need new yeast). Slowly add 2 cups of the flour to this, mixing well. Gradually mix in the remaining 4 cups flour; if the dough is still sticky, add more flour, a bit at a time.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and put in a warm place to rise. Once it has risen to its full glory (meaning when it has doubled in bulk, which takes about 1 hour), punch it down and knead gently for a minute or so on a floured board. Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out circles with a 2 3/4-inch biscuit cutter (or a water glass, which is what old ladies in the South do). Fold over (pinch them down a bit so they stay folded) and place on baking sheets very close together but with the sides not quite touching, and brush with the melted butter. Cover and let rise again, for about 1 hour, by which time they will have doubled in bulk and their sides will touch. This is very important. You don’t want flat rolls; you want fluffy rolls.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. If you plan to freeze them, bake only until they are very lightly browned.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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15 Reviews

On T. November 22, 2022
Flat out fabulous recipe, and good for novice breadmakers. Fluffy like a Hawaiian roll but less sweet and with a beautiful soft crust like Parker rolls. I tried it once as written and tested sizes and shapes for the dough. 3 inch cutter + pinched into slight clover shapes and tucked close together for 15 minutes at 400 was the winner for me!
Sheila H. November 22, 2018
Best rolls ever! I live at altitude, didn’t have to adjust recipe, they were soft, and tender, and really delicious! I kneeded them just a little before first rise, because I couldn’t help myself!
Lauren M. November 2, 2018
If I froze these after lightly baking them, how would I heat them on the day I want to serve them? Could they not be frozen while still fully raw, prepared dough?
Laura November 20, 2018
I’m curious, too, about freezing some of these rolls - unsure when to stick in freezer; before or after baking. Did you get an answer?
Laura November 20, 2018

Option #1: Refrigerate the Dough or Unbaked Rolls

If you're just a day or two away from your dinner, there might not even be a need to go to the freezer! Mixed dough actually keeps very well for a few days in the refrigerator.

You actually have two options here: You can refrigerate the dough just after it has risen and before shaping the rolls — just transfer it to a storage container big enough to have a few inches of space at the top, cover, and put it an a corner of your fridge where it won't be in the way. You can also refrigerate the dough just after shaping the rolls — transfer the shaped rolls into their baking dish, cover, and put it in the fridge.

→If you refrigerate the dough in bulk, no need to let it come to room temperature before shaping. Just shape the dough, let the rolls rise, and bake — add on an extra 20 minutes or so of rising time, but other than that, it's business as usual.

→If you refrigerate the shaped rolls, take them out of the fridge about an hour and a half before you want to bake them and let them rise until puffy. It's ok if they're still a little cool to the touch; as long as they've puffed up, they're ready to bake. Bake as usual.

Option #2: Freeze the Unbaked Rolls

Follow your recipe as usual right up until you shape the rolls. Go ahead and shape the rolls, but place them a little apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let them rise about partway — until just starting to puff, but not ready to bake. At this point, freeze the rolls on their baking sheet for a few hours. Once they're frozen solid, you can transfer the unbaked rolls to a freezer bag or container. Unbaked rolls can be kept frozen for about a month, after which the yeast starts to have trouble rising the dough after thawing.

The day before you want to bake the rolls, remove the shaped rolls from the freezer and arrange them in your baking pan. Cover and let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

When ready to bake, remove the pan of rolls from the refrigerator and let them finish proofing at room temperature. This will take a little longer than usual, about an hour. The rolls may still be cool to the touch, but when they have obviously poofed, they're ok to bake. Bake as usual.

Option #3: Freeze the Fully-Baked Rolls

Bake your rolls as usual — as if you were going to serve them right away. Let them cool completely, then wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Place the foil-wrapped package in a freezer bag or storage container and freeze for up to a month, after which even well-wrapped bread starts to develop frost and freezer burn.

You can bake these frozen rolls either thawed or straight from the freezer:

→ To thaw the dinner rolls, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before you want to serve them. Take the foil-wrapped rolls out of the freezer bag and loosen the foil. Let thaw at room temperature overnight. Rolls can be served as soon as they've thawed but are even better if re-warmed (in their loose foil packing) for about 10 minutes in a 300°F oven.

→ To make rolls straight from the freezer, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before you want to serve them. Take the foil-wrapped rolls out of the freezer bag and loosen the foil. Heat the oven to 300°F. Place the loosely-wrapped package of rolls directly on an oven rack and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rolls are piping hot to the touch and warm all the way through.

Serve these rolls immediately and while still warm as they tend to become dry once cooled
jane B. November 3, 2019
Thank you for the instructions for making rolls the day before. I never have time in Thanksgiving to start from scratch!
Theresia A. August 16, 2018
Your article reawakened all kinds of memories from my own years in the kitchen and from friends’ and family’s kitchens. I actually have a tattered notebook with recipes from many years. I started when I was 21 when I spent a summer in France. There is a recipe for Croque Monsieur, Clafouti aux Cerises and Gateau au Chocolat. Then traditional Dutch Apple Tart, German Kasekuchen (cheese cake). Traditional German Weihnachtsstollen (Christmas bread). The recipes are from wherever I lived at the time. The Weihnachtsstollen is special. It comes from my former neighbour Lise in Montreal. This was the recipe that her German grandmother used. Her grandmother used cottage cheese to make it nice and moist. Traditionally it was a yeast bread. However, it became dry quickly. Using cottage cheese made it nice and moist. My 2-year old grandson loved it at Christmas time.

Thanks for the trip back into the past when people simply enjoyed home cooked food without analyzing every ingredient. I spent 6 weeks in Southern Italy this past winter. What really struck me was that people truly enjoyed their traditional foods in the company of family and friends.
jennifer January 9, 2019
Any chance you'd share the Weihnachtsstollen recipe?
MC July 16, 2018
@ENunn- you mentioned in the intro for the Lemon Sponge recipe that it took lots of practice to get the rolls done correctly. Any extra tips you can share with us? Thanks! P.S. I LOVED your story about your Aunt Mariah- FEELS. I grew up in Dumfries (before I-95 took over the area) and remember the tiny sleepy little town it was with only Quantico MCB, a few churches, and how trips to the 5 & 10 cent store to spend my allowance on a Coke in a glass bottle & old fashioned candy were the highlight of the week.
CaroleF2 July 1, 2018
This recipe inspired me to comment. Many years ago a friend shared a recipe with me for a delicious Swedish rye bread that her grandmother developed and sold as a source of income during the Great Depression. It rises high, browns beautifully and has a fine-grained, tender, texture. Guess what? It contains non-fat powdered milk (not the gritty, instant version). Non-fat dry milk powder blends smoothly with the other dry ingredients and is recommended by many bread baking experts. I also use it when I make Cornell Bread. Properly stored (It is important that it be fresh), a package of opened non-fat dry milk powder will generally stay at best quality for about 3 months at room temperature. To further extend the shelf life, it can be frozen inside covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags. I have always purchased it in small quantities at a health food store, but a well-known supplier of flour and baking ingredients sells it online. I also use it when baking Cornell Triple-Rich Bread developed by Dr. Clive M. McCay at Cornell University: “For each cup of flour, first place in the measuring cup 1 tablespoon each of soy flour and nonfat dry milk powder, as well as 1 teaspoonful of wheat germ. Then fill the remainder of the cup with unbleached flour." This fortified flour can be applied to just about any bread recipe.
Jennifer R. June 30, 2018
My dear Grandma made biscuits every day for 71 years (give of take a day or two 😉). She always used powdered milk. At first it was due to economics but even as times changed it was always her preference. It made the dough have more moisture and rise is what she always said.
Amy L. June 28, 2018
Ginger? hmmm. Do you mean fresh ground ginger or dried ginger? Seems it would make a difference. (and PS, cut circles with "a glass of water"?)
EmilyNunn June 29, 2018
Hey, Amy: ground ginger generally refers to dried ginger in a jar, powdered or ground. Don't leave it out. Also that's supposed to be "water glass" and it's being fixed. Thank you for catching it!
witloof June 27, 2018
Interesting that the recipe calls for powdered milk and water. I wonder if that was for economy's sake.
EmilyNunn June 29, 2018
That's a good question, witloof. It's a pretty old recipe. I will find out. I always keep carnation powdered milk, though (it's always in the grocer), because I don't want to tempt fate by using milk!