How To Make Soft Dinner Rolls

It can be difficult to make a bread with a soft crust, especially if you have a fan oven as it tends to dry out the crust making it crisp. Annie asked me how to make soft crust dinner rolls. So I have experimented with the various techniques that help bread to have a soft tender crumb and crust.

Adding milk to your bread dough makes a more tender crumb and contributes to a softer crust. The fats in the milk coat the gluten proteins reducing the gluten strength and making a closer, softer bread.

Other techniques for softening the crust include wrapping the hot bread straight from the oven in a clean cotton cloth so that as the water evaporates from the bread it steams the surface of the bread preventing it from drying to a crisp crust. The same principle applies to brushing melted butter over the rolls as soon as they come out of the oven.

My video below shows the results of my experiments to help you decide which method might be best for you when you next want to make some soft rolls.

For the experiment I made two doughs, one with half milk/ half water and one using all water. As soon as the rolls came out of the oven I wrapped half in clean cotton cloths and the other I brushed with melted butter.

Ingredients for the milk rolls

500g strong white flour
5g (or 1 sachet) easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
5-10g fine sea salt
175g milk (I heat until almost boiling point then leave to cool to tepid)
175g water

Ingredients for the rolls made with water

500g strong white flour
5g (or 1 sachet) easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
5-10g fine sea salt
350g water

Method for both rolls

Place the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl. If I am using fresh yeast I crumble it into the flour as if I am rubbing butter into pastry. Add the liquid and mix well. You should have a soft, slightly sticky dough. The milk makes a slightly firmer dough because of the fats coating the gluten strands and because fat doesn’t hydrate flour in the same way as water. You may need to add a splash more water to the milk dough to make sure it is fully hydrated. Leave the dough to rest for at least ten minutes and then develop by using the stretch and fold method, kneading or using a stand mixer. Leave the dough to rise until filled with air and doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 6-8 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Place onto a greased or lined tray, cover and leave to rise until it has rise by about 50% and feels uniformly airy all over.

Preheat the oven to 220C, gas mark7, 425F. Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes until fully baked. The internal temperature should read at least 85C. (This is slightly lower than for a full sized loaf but the dough will be fully set when it is cool).

As soon as the rolls are baked you can either wrap them in a clean cotton cloth or brush with melted butter.

My preferred method is to wrap them in a cotton cloth, it made for a slightly softer crust. The all water dough also had a slightly softer crust, against received wisdom. However, the milk dough made a richer crust colour because of the additional sugars in the milk. I preferred the look of this when baked. It is, however, all down to individual choice.

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