Refrigerator Rolls 101

I originally posted this recipe last March when I wanted to make a new recipe for easy crescent rolls. Since then, I’ve been perfecting these rolls. Practice makes perfect, right? And I’ve discovered they are really an all-purpose kind of roll. I have used this recipe to make cinnamon rolls and orange rolls in addition to using them as dinner rolls.

I decided to take some pictures of the process for anyone who is scared of yeast and making homemade rolls. I know from experience just how frightening it can be. And if I can do it, believe me, you can.

For starters, I don’t always have good luck proofing the yeast in warm water. I have turned to instant yeast and have been very successful. If you are a beginner, I suggest going this route because it’s not quite as intimidating. And you are less likely to kill the yeast with water that is too hot or not get it to proof at all with water that is too cold.

Also, this dough is great because it is very soft and you work with it while it is still cold. I have a tendency to want to add too much flour to roll dough so it’s easy to work with. Not a problem here, although you want to be careful about using too much flour in any case.

Refrigerator Rolls
(adapted from the Lion House Classics Cookbook)

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour (can use some bread flour)
1 Tbsp. instant SAF yeast
2 tsp. salt


Place butter, sugar and milk in a large, glass, 4-cup measuring cup.

Microwave for several minutes until the butter is almost all melted, the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is very hot to the touch. (I check it on my instant read thermometer and the temp should be about 140 degrees F because it will cool down once you add it to the eggs.)

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs well. Slowly drizzle the hot milk mixture into the eggs while whisking continuously. The bowl and the eggs should be warm. (110 degrees F. is the perfect temperature.)

(I will sometimes use bread flour if I have it. It makes for a slightly better roll.)

Place the flour and the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Note: this won’t work with a dough hook–this isn’t a typical bread dough. A paddle attachment can easily handle this very soft dough.

Turn the mixer on low to evenly distribute the yeast.

With the mixer running, add the liquids in a slow, steady stream. When all the liquid has been added, turn the mixer up to medium and let it run for 1 minute. Add the salt.

Keep mixing for another three or so minutes, or until the dough starts to form strong webs as it mixes.

Rub the inside of a very large bowl with oil.

(See how soft the dough is? You can practically pour it.)

Place the finished dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Place dough in a warm, draft-free spot where it can rise.

(Test your dough, if needed. It should be strong and stretchy.)

When the dough has doubled in size, sprinkle it with about 1 Tbsp. flour and punch it down. (Don’t use too much flour–just enough so the dough doesn’t stick to your hand.)

Wrap the bowl well with a few layers of plastic wrap. (You don’t want the dough to dry out.) Refrigerate the dough until chilled. It can be kept overnight and up to 5 days.

When you are ready to bake the rolls remove the dough from the fridge.

Sprinkle a little flour over a flat, clean surface. (I like to use my silicone baking mat for this.)

**For crescent rolls, roll dough into a large circle and use a pizza cutter or knife to cut dough evenly into triangles. Start with the wide end and roll up the dough to form the crescent.**

(See note at the bottom of this post for tips on making sweet rolls.)

For round, dinner rolls:
Cut the dough into equal pieces. For smaller rolls–make 24, medium–16, large–12.

Roll dough into a rough ball.

Place your finger in the center of the dough.

Push your finger up from the bottom while using your other hand to form a round ball on the top.

(This is what the underside will look like.)

Squish the flaps on the underside together. The top should be relatively smooth and will get smoother once the rolls have raised.

Place the rolls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (If you don’t have either of these, don’t fret. It’s fine to use a plain baking sheet that has been greased.)

Cover with a large disposable aluminum pan or a clean, plastic garbage bag. (I use a grocery sack that I cut up one side and lay flat.)

Let the rolls rise until double in size. (For speed rise method, place the rolls in a slightly warm oven–about 150 degrees F with a pan of boiling water beneath them.)

(The note in the Lion House Cookbook says they can even be left to rise for as many as 5 hours without any damage being done. Great for a day when it’s uncertain when the rolls will go in the oven–like Thanksgiving.)

Brush the tops of the raised rolls with a little melted butter or a beaten egg.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until the rolls are golden.

Serve warm. We like them with honey butter.

Other notes:

These rolls are best the day they are made. To keep them fresh for longer, store in a large Ziploc bag or airtight container and gently reheat in a warm oven.

They freeze well if you need to make them in advance. Bake the rolls partially for about 7 or 8 minutes–not until they are golden brown. Let the rolls cool completely and freeze them for up to a month. To reheat and finish baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls for about 5-8 minutes or until golden brown on top.

**For making sweet rolls**

Cinnamon Rolls:

Roll dough out into a large rectangle. Spread dough with a mixture of softened butter. cinnamon and sugar. (I usually use 1/4 cup butter and sprinkle the dough with either brown sugar or premixed cinnamon and sugar.) Top with raisins or nuts, if desired. Using the longer side of the dough, roll the dough over itself and seal the edge. Cut into 16 equal pieces. Let raise as directed above (no egg wash is needed) and bake rolls at 350 degrees F until lightly golden. Let cool slightly before serving. If desired, spread rolls with icing.

1 stick butter
3 cups powdered sugar
a few Tbsp. milk
vanilla extract
Beat butter and slowly add the powdered sugar, using milk if needed to reach a spreadable consistency. Add vanilla extract, if desired.

Orange Rolls:

After you add the salt to the dough while it is mixing, add the zest from 1 orange. Continue with the recipe as directed. Shape doughs into round balls or twist into knots. Raise and bake as directed.

For the orange glaze/icing:

3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
a few Tbsp. orange juice
a little vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange

Beat butter and cream cheese. Add the powdered sugar and orange juice to reach desired consistency–thicker for a frosting, thinner for a glaze. Add the zest and a little vanilla.

Related posts:

Homemade Buns for sandwiches
Elaine’s Sweet Rolls
Cooks’ Illustrated Crescent Rolls

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  1. I love making rolls and have to say I am not too bad at it either. I usually make the Butterhorn shape. I tried to just do the perfect little balls one time – ugly! Good tips thanks!

  2. Oh bless you! I can make pies with my eyes closed, but I have never been able to succeed with rolls. Not only that, I never seem to convert my SAF to the proper amounts for regular recipes. You’ve solved both issues for me. I can’t wait to try these!

    Oh–one question. I have four kids–three teenagers–so how do you think this recipe would handle being doubled?

  3. Thanks for all the comments!

    Compulsive–if you have a mixer big enough, go ahead and double it. But…if I’m remembering correctly from past experience, it works better if you make two separate batches.

    Lauren–just make sure the liquid feels warm to the touch after you add the eggs. The butter and milk should be hot, but it won’t burn you. The hot water in my kitchen is about 140 degrees and I can touch it for a few seconds before it starts to hurt. :)

    Leslie–I wish I had one in my kitchen, too!

  4. Wow, just love the tutorial (and the rolls)!! I’ve been looking for more info on making rolls – that’s exactly what I needed! Thanks a lot.

    One quick question: do you think the recipe could be made in the dough cycle of a bread machine?

    Thanks again!

  5. Thanks for all the sweet comments everyone!

    Rita–I don’t have a bread machine, so I may not give you an accurate answer. (Sorry!) Because this isn’t a traditional kind of dough, I’m going to say that you’ll probably have better luck mixing it by hand with a wooden spoon or even a hand mixer. It is really loose enough that it doesn’t need a stand mixer, I just think the mixing goes by faster.

    But, give it a try. I don’t think it could hurt to use the bread machine. I’m curious to see what would happen. Let me know and thanks for the question!

  6. I made these rolls and they are gorgeous. I have blogged them. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve put in a link to your post. I was so impressed at the time you took to do the tutorial I thought others would like to see.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this! I was too scared to try rolls before, after seeing your tutorial I thought maybe I could do it. Thanksgiving was the first time I tried them and they were wonderful!

  8. The Lion House rolls do rock. I like all your variations and tips. Your rolls look great! (Have you ever tried them with the raspberry butter recipe they used to make at the Carriage House?) YUM!

  9. Wow!! Refrigerator Rolls…..this is just delicious. its looking great I would love to try them.its very good recipe for breakfast.i want to make this recipe tomorrow morning and give a little surprise to my husband.Thanks for the recipe.

  10. I know this post is old…but once the dough has been refrigerated does it have to be used all at once or could I take some out for rolls and then use the rest a few days later? Thanks for the recipe!

  11. Natasha–if I remember correctly, the dough keeps well for up to 5 days in the fridge, so I would say yes. I’ve never done it that way–can’t think why not–what a great idea!

  12. I proff my packets of yeast by warming the water in the microwave for 30 sec on high, add yeast and a little sugar, becuase yeast feeds on sugar, and will do great with it. Let sit until it froths.

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