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Shaping Dinner Rolls to Look and Taste Their Best

Tips for making light, uniformly shaped, classic dinner rolls

by Abigail Johnson Dodge

from Fine Cooking
Issue 41

I make these dinner rolls often, but I especially like to serve them with Thanksgiving dinner. They have a subtle, comforting flavor that goes well with all those different flavors on the table, as well as a light texture that doesn't fill you up the way more dense breads and rolls can. These soft, puffy rolls are also great for mopping up gravy.

The recipe for these rolls is very straightforward. The only part that may take practice is shaping the rolls into tight little balls so that they come out with a nice, uniform shape and a light, not doughy, interior.

If you have a stand mixer, the dough comes together fast. Be aware, however, that even a 5-quart, heavy-duty mixer will dance a little as you knead the dough. Another tip for making the dough: use a thermometer to test the temperature of the butter and milk mixture -- 120°F is warmer than you think.

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Use a pastry scraper to cut the dough into 16 pieces. For the best results, weigh each piece until you get the feel for them.

Weigh the dough to divide it evenly. — This recipe makes 12 large or 16 medium rolls. Although I used to go with a dozen, I've decided I like the size of the 16 yield better, plus I often have that many people over at Thanksgiving. It isn't easy to divide the dough by sight, which is why I recommend weighing the pieces. For 12 rolls, divide the dough into 2-3/4-ounce pieces. For 16 rolls, each piece should weigh just a smidge over 2 ounces.

Shape the dough into tight balls

As you shape the rolls, you want to stretch the top of the dough ball while simultaneously sealing the bottom. The stretching helps the dough hold up to the expansion that occurs in the oven, while the sealing prevents the roll from opening up while baking and becoming wrinkled and doughy on the bottom.

Keep one side up while you roll, and don't cup your hand. What you're not doing here is rolling a ball in the manner you would roll a ball of clay. Once you put a piece of dough in your hand, you want to keep the same side facing up. The edge of the other hand then comes in along the bottom of the ball to rotate the dough ball, spinning it in place.

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    Start with the dough on a flattened palm. Use the outside of the other hand to rotate the dough while keeping the top side facing up.
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    Move your top hand from front to back and stay low on the ball as you turn the dough clockwise for righties, counterclockwise for lefties.
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The front ball, shown bottom up, has a good seal, while the ball in the back needs a few more rotations to seal those loose creases.

To avoid cupping and rolling the dough, keep the ball toward the back of your palm, near your thumb joint, and use just the edge of the other hand to rotate the ball. You'll want to continue turning the dough round and round like a top until the bottom looks completely sealed. Continue shaping until you have reached the desired result. Don't worry about overworking this dough.

As you work, keep the rest of the pieces covered in plastic wrap so they don't dry out. After shaping, put the dough balls, evenly spaced, into the greased pan; if you're making 16 rolls, the balls will be quite snug on the short side of the pan, which is fine. Proof the rolls for about half an hour and then bake.

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    Arrange the shaped balls in a buttered baking dish. Space them evenly but note that they fit more snugly across the pan's short side.
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    Let the rolls rise until almost doubled. Once baked, these tightly packed rolls need to be pulled apart.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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