Southern Hotel Dinner Rolls

Southern Hotel Rolls


Fear Conquered: Dinner Rolls

“You know what I really want to learn to make?” I ask. And without stopping for breath or waiting for an answer, “Dinner rolls.” It’s Christmas Eve, a year ago. We’re standing in my friend Mandy’s mother’s kitchen, fixing tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch. I love grilled cheese. So, so much. I could eat it every day. Maybe every meal.

I seem to have digressed. We’re on rolls, right?

“Dinner rolls?” Mandy asks. “You’ve never made dinner rolls?”

“No, I’ve made them,” I say. Once. I’ve made them once. With mashed potatoes. Somehow they turned out dry. And dense. “I’ve just never found a really good recipe for them. Where they’re perfect.”

“Now I don’t know if these rolls are perfect,” Mandy warns, smiling a little to let me know she’s teasing me. “But we make these rolls every year for Thanksgiving. And they’re so good.”

“Really?” I ask. I’m already itching to get a glimpse of the recipe. Do they use potatoes?

Closeup of Baked Clover Roll

“They’re the kind with the three little pieces all in one roll,” she goes on. “They look like a little hat. Do you know what kind I’m talking about?”

I know. My blood pressure is rising. Oh, my heart. Flip-flop. Flip-flop. Oh yes, I know exactly what she means. “I love those kind,” I say, still trying to play it cool. Not too eager. “Are they dry? Because, you know, sometimes when I’ve had dinner rolls they’re just too dry.” Like mine. Despite potatoes.

“I don’t think they’re dry,” Mandy says, thoughtfully. “I don’t think so. They’re dipped in butter. That’s the secret.”

Dipping Balls of Dough in Melted Butter

“They’re dipped in butter?” I repeat. Where is this recipe? I must have it. It’s providence. It’s destiny. It’s my one freaking chance at good dinner rolls!

Mandy leans in close. “You don’t HAVE to dip them in butter,” she murmurs, and I get the sense she’s not supposed to be telling me this. “But I think they turn out so much better when you do.”

“I bet,” I say. “So do you dunk them before or after you bake them?” And can l get a copy of the recipe? Just a quick look?

“I think you dunk them before,” Mandy says. “Right, Mom?”

Mandy’s mom glances up. “What?” she asks.

“Those rolls we make every year at Thanksgiving,” Mandy says. “We dip them in butter before we bake them, right?”

“You mean the Southern Hotel Rolls?” Mandy’s mom says. “You don’t have to.”

“But we do, right?” Mandy says. She smiles at me and leans in again. “We do.”

“It’s a really easy recipe,” Mandy’s mom says. “You’ve just got to remember to make it the night before. It’s gotta be in the refrigerator overnight.”

What is this new voodoo? Simple. Butter-dipped. Refrigeration. Rolls that aren’t dry. Rolls with three little parts. Must. Get. Recipe. Sweet Lord, please. The recipe. “So,” I say, glancing from Mandy to her mom and back to Mandy. “You refrigerate the rolls and dunk them in butter, huh?”

“You refrigerate the dough before you shape them.” This time it’s Mandy’s aunt, coming into the kitchen from the living room. “And you HAVE to dip them in butter. That’s what makes them so good.” She settles into a chair next to Mandy’s mom. “I’ve made them without dipping in butter and they’re still good. But the butter makes them better.”

“That makes sense,” I say. Wheels are turning. Refrigerate the dough, form the rolls, dunk in butter. But how does one dunk rolls with three parts? “So you dunk the rolls before they rise?” I ask.

“Let me see if I can find the recipe,” Mandy says, smiling. Oh, sweet mercy, yes!

“You’ve got to dip each piece of dough before you put them in the muffin tin,” Mandy’s aunt says. Mandy’s mom is nodding in confirmation. “Each piece gets dipped in butter.”

Nestling 3 Pieces of Dipped Dough in Each Muffin Cup

“You make little balls,” Mandy’s mom adds, helpfully.

“Then you dip each one in butter and put three in each muffin cup,” Mandy’s aunt adds. “It takes a little bit of work.”

“But it’s really worth it,” Mandy adds. She’s back with the little index card in hand. It’s hand-written. In cursive. I can’t read cursive. I also can’t write cursive. But mainly the not being able to read cursive is the problem. She hands me the card and I squint at the ingredients, ignoring the hopeless scrawl of cursive instructions.

It’s such a short list of ingredients.

Southern Hotel Rolls Original Ingredients

“Wow,” I say. No potatoes. Nothing fancy. “This looks so easy.” Except for the cursive instructions. There could be a guide to hidden treasure buried in all those words and I wouldn’t be able to find it. I clear my throat and pull out my phone. Maybe I can at least get the ingredients. “Is it ok if I jot down the ingredients?”

“Sure,” Mandy says. Mandy’s mom and aunt are nodding their heads. I feel a little less like a thief. Although a little pathetic. Potatoes, Mark, really? Potatoes?!

“Thanks,” I say, my fingers already keying in the list of ingredients. “So do you just mix everything together and refrigerate the dough?” Curse my cursiveless self! Who learns italics? Italics - really? Seriously, who learns italics?

“You mix everything together but the butter and flour,” Mandy says, reading through the recipe. “Then you alternate adding the butter and flour. Then you refrigerate it overnight.” I’m typing as fast as my fingers will allow. Mostly cryptic instructions.

“Then you shape the dough into the balls,” Mandy’s aunt says. “They have to rise for about 2 hours.”

“And you dip the balls in butter before you put them in the pan,” Mandy’s mom reminds.

“Ok,” I say. Somehow I forget to type the part about dipping in butter. “So they take about 2 hours to rise. And how long do they bake for?”

Mandy checks the recipe card and points to more cursive. “15-20 minutes,” she says. “At 450.” I jot it down.

Southern Hotel Rolls Original Instructions

“But you’ve got to dip them in butter,” Mandy’s aunt reminds me insistently. And Mandy’s mom nods. And Mandy smiles and nods.

“It really does make them better,” she whispers.

“And what did you call these again?” I ask. Because I want to remember the name of the rolls about to redeem me. Silly potato boy.

“Southern Hotel Rolls,” Mandy’s aunt says. “It’s what they serve at all the hotels.” Well, at hotels that serve rolls. If there are any hotels that still serve rolls. And presumably, southern hotels.

“Well, I can’t wait to try these,” I say. Mandy beams.

Five months later.

“These are amazing!” I gasp. To no one in particular. It’s early on a Saturday, the start of summer. Boyfriend Javelin is still sleeping. I peel off another section of the roll. “So freaking good,” I murmur around the hot, delicate piece of roll. A little sweet, super soft, moist, lots of flavor and not the least bit dense. And a wee bit addictive. “And so easy,” I gush to the silent walls.

Rolls Cooling on Wire Rack

I eat three rolls in 5 minutes. For testing purposes. Maybe the first roll is a fluke. Maybe the second tin turns out different. Maybe they taste wretched with butter. Or Nutella. Maybe. Just one more to be sure.

I wake Boyfriend Javelin to tell him about fresh rolls. “They’re still hot!” I bubble over. Because I want him to try them before they get cold. Rolls are best hot.

He grunts and rolls over. An hour later: “These are pretty good,” Boyfriend Javelin says. He’s eating a section from a cold roll, without butter or Nutella. “Is this the recipe Mandy gave you?”

“Mostly,” I say. I didn’t add potatoes, but I did make some changes. And assumptions. “I added some milk and I used active dry yeast instead of instant. And I kneaded them and changed the bake time.”

Boyfriend Javelin isn’t really listening. “Uh-huh,” he says, picking up a second roll. “I like the crispier outsides. And then how soft they are inside.”

Southern Hotel Rolls, Closeup

I grin. Victory! And potato disasters best forgotten. “And they’re easy, too,” I gush. “Except for all the dunking in butter. But it’s worth it!”

“Uh-huh.” Boyfriend Javelin is reaching for a third roll. “So what are these called again?”


Photo Tutorial

Water in Measuring Cup
The recipe starts with 1 1/2 cups water

Fat Free Milk Added to Water
Add 1/2 cup skim milk to the water and heat to approximately 110F

Warmed Milk and Water in Bowl of Stand Mixer
Add warmed milk/water to stand mixer bowl

Active Dry Yeast Sprinkled Over Milk and Water
Sprinkle yeast over water

Yeast Dissolved
Mix together with your fingers and set aside while you prepare butter

3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
You will need 3/4 cup of unsalted butter (12 Tablespoons)

Diced Butter in Melting Dish
Slice the butter and add to a melting dish

Melted Butter in Dish with Spout
Melt butter (I use the microwave)

Adding Egg and Sugar to Yeast Mixture
Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1 egg to the dissolved yeast

2 Cups of Flour Added to Yeast Mixture
Add 2 cups of flour and mix until combined

Kosher Salt Added to Dough Mixture
Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt loose dough mixture

Remained Flour Mixed into Dough with Dough Hook
Mix remaining 4 cups of flour and melted butter alternately, starting and ended with flour

Dough Kneaded by Stand Mixer for 5 Minutes
Knead dough (10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes with a stand mixer dough hook)

Large Bowl Sprayed with Olive Oil
Grease a large bowl with olive oil

Dough in Oiled Bowl
Form dough into a ball and add to oiled bowl

Dough Covered with Oiled Plastic Wrap
Cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap

Bowl Covered with Cloth to Raise Until Doubled in Size
Cover plastic wrap with dry towel and let dough raise for an hour until doubled

Dough Doubled in Size
Dough is doubled

Dough Punched Down and Folded in 3rds
Punch down dough and fold in thirds

Dough Folded in 3rds Again and Turned Over
Turn dough over and gather into a ball.

Dough Covered with Oiled Plastic Wrap
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, punching down and re-wrapping after 2 hours

Dough After 12 Hours in Refrigerator
Make sure to keep dough tightly wrapped in refrigerator to prevent drying out

Muffin Tin
When you're ready to bake off the rolls, you will need 2x 12-cup muffin tins (for clover-leaf rolls)

Melted Butter for Dipping
You will also need 1/2 cup melted butter for dipping dough pieces

Dough Marked for Dividing into 3rds
Form dough into a log and mark the dough for cutting into thirds

Cutting Dough into 3rds
Slice dough into thirds

Working with 1/3 of Dough
Work with 1/3 of the dough at a time

Cutting 1/3 of Dough into 3rds
Slice the 1/3 of dough into thirds again

Cutting Each 3rd of Dough in 1/2
Divide each 1/3 in half

Cutting Each 1/2 into 1/2 Again
Cut each 1/2 in half again

Cutting Each Remaining Half in 1/2 Again
Divide each remaining 1/2 in half one last time. Repeat for 24 pieces of dough for each 1/3 of total dough

24 Pieces of Dough to be Rolled into Balls
Form each piece of dough into a rough ball

Dipping Balls of Dough in Melted Butter
Dip each dough ball into melted butter

Nestling 3 Pieces of Dipped Dough in Each Muffin Cup
Add three pieces of butter-dipped dough to each muffin cup

Rolls Raised and Ready for Baking
Allow rolls to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes

Baked Rolls Ready to be Turned Out
Bake rolls for 8-10 minutes at 450F until golden brown

Rolls Cooling on Wire Rack
Turn out rolls from muffin tin

Southern Hotel Rolls Partially Covered
Serve rolls immediately


Southern Hotel Dinner Rolls

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 14 hrs
     Cook Time: 10 min

Ingredients (24 dinner rolls)
  • 2 cups milk, warmed (105℉ - 115℉)
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and reserved for dipping
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk with your fingers; allow the mixture to rest 5 minutes until the yeast begins to bloom
  2. Add the egg, sugar, 2 cups flour and salt to the yeast mixture; mix until well combined and mostly smooth
  3. Alternately mix melted butter and flour into the dough, starting and ending with the flour. Once all flour and butter is incorporated, knead the dough for 5 minutes on a generously floured surface
  4. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and let proof in a warm location until doubled (about 1 hour); punch down the dough, fold the dough in thirds, then form the dough into a ball and tightly cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap; chill in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours (up to 36 hours), punching down dough occasionally
  5. Preheat the oven to 450℉ and line two baking sheets with parchment paper; for the egg wash, thoroughly beat together the egg and milk with a fork and set aside
  6. For clover-leaf rolls: working on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into thirds and work with 1/3 of the dough at a time, keeping the remaining dough covered and chilled; divide each third of the dough into thirds again, then divide each of those thirds into eighths (total of 24 pieces per each 1/3 of the dough)
  7. For easy rolls: working on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half and work with one half of the dough at a time, keeping the remaining dough covered and chilled; divide each half of the dough into thirds, then divide each of those thirds into quarters (total of 12 pieces per each half of the dough)
  8. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, dip in the reserved melted butter and place in an ungreased muffin tin cup (3 pieces of dough per muffin cup) OR in a greased 12x10x2 inch (or 13x9x2 inch) baking dish (4 columns of 6 rows); let the rolls rise until doubled (about 30 minutes for clover-leaf rolls or about 45 minutes for easy rolls)
  9. Bake the clover-leaf rolls at 450℉ for 8-10 minutes until golden brown; bake the easy rolls at 350℉ for 40-45 minutes until golden brown; turn-out of the muffin tins or baking dish and serve immediately
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Hungry for Tips?
  • I favor the clover-leaf shaped version of these rolls, but you can really make them is about any shape and so I have included an easy version for those who don't want to spend the time dividing the dough into 72 little balls and dunking each ball in butter. However, I really do think the invested effort is worth it if you can spare the time.

  • If you don't own a stand mixer, you can still easily make these rolls. In fact, the first 5 times I made these rolls, I made them by hand without a stand mixer. Just dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and water in a big bowl, then add the other ingredients as directed by the recipe, using a big wooden spoon or a spatula to combine and work in the flour and butter. Once the dough get's too heavy to work with a spoon, use your fingers to work it together before turning out onto a well-floured surface. Knead the dough vigorously for 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking badly to the board. At first the dough will be quite sticky (a mess, really), but once the gluten begins to activate, it will become easier to work. Once kneaded, follow the remaining instructions as written.
  • There's real science behind chilling the dough overnight: 1) the dough develops a much more complex flavor, 2) the dough becomes easier to work with, and 3) the flour softens considerably, resulting in a better textured roll. So while you could skip the overnight chill, I don't recommend it. Just don't forget to punch down the dough after a couple hours into the chill otherwise the yeast will exhaust itself. And then be sure to also keep the punched-down dough tightly wrapped so it doesn't dry out.

    Dough After 12 Hours in Refrigerator
  • If you make the clover-leaf shaped rolls, you will be making two 12-cup muffin tins of rolls. And you will likely find that by the time you have finished both tins of rolls, the first tin has already doubled in size and is ready to be baked. And by the time the first tin is done baking, the second tin will be ready to be baked.

    Rolls Raised and Ready for Baking
  • Every oven is different, so check the rolls after 8 minutes. I like mind a little darker because I enjoy the textual contrast between the outside of the roll and the soft inside. If the rolls aren't quite dark enough for your taste at 8 minutes, then bake for another couple of minutes. But 450F is quite hot, so don't forget these or they'll burn quick.

    Sides of Baked Rolls

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  1. Okay... now you did it... LOL.. I'm trying to eat my screen trying to get at those rolls and so there are teeth marks in my computer screen now. LOL. Seriously, we have an extra room (and a pool) and I think you should just move in here (with your other half) and you could cook and bake for me every day. Sound like a plan? Sounds good to me!

  2. Jody_thehobbyroomdiariesNovember 14, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Mmmmmm, warm rolls. There's nothing better. And definitely the dip in butter is a must--I have made some like those and the butter adds a little extra something. Loving the funny dialog!

  3. I really wish I could, Don. Then I'd have more people to help eat all this stuff! :) More people to be guinea pigs for testing... Thanks for the kind words and I'm so glad you liked these rolls. They are awesome...

  4. So glad you enjoyed the post, Jody - and I sometimes I make a whole batch of rolls just so I can enjoy the smell ;) I know... a little much. ;)

  5. Kayle (The Cooking Actress)November 14, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Ooooh these look so good! And I loved your recounting of the events leading to you getting the recipe and making it. So cute, so funny :P I love buttery wonderful delicious rolls!

  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Kayle - sometimes it's amazing how a casual conversation can lead to a final recipe. In this case, I had some help :)

  7. mjskit @ mjskitchen.comNovember 14, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    Now those are some goodlooking dinner rolls! I had no idea that the little rolls were dipped in butter. Oh - I do need to make these!

  8. Thanks MJ - I'm so glad you liked these... I think Mandy is right - the butter really does make a big difference. It helps keep them from drying out while rising and baking...

  9. Kelly Senyei (Just a Taste)November 16, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    Wow! These look absolutely perfect and I can practically taste them through my screen! Your photos rock!

  10. These look insanely good! I love that you're making bread - I have been on such a bread-making kick too. These step-by-step pics must have taken you forever and are appreciated!

  11. Thanks Kelly - I'm so glad you enjoyed the post :D These rolls are awesome (and a bit of work, but worth it) and I'm so glad you liked the photos...

  12. I love making bread - this is my first roll recipe though and after these results, I feel empowered to keep going :) Thanks for the kind words and yeah the photos do take a little time ;)


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