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Dinner Rolls, Best Cloverleaf Rolls

Updated on January 18, 2012

After fighting it for years, I became a die hard convert to the joys of homemade bread. There are millions of reasons, but it really comes down to a couple. It's easy. And it's delicious.

Once you're into the swing of baking, you'll be stunned at how lightning fast knocking out fresh bread can be - most of the time it simply means remembering to throw it together in time for it to rise. And in many cases, you don't have to do that if you have the right recipe - you can mix it up to several days ahead and it sits in the fridge, doing it's yeasty little wait until you're ready for it.

This is one of those recipes. The number one best thing about these rolls is that the dough can sit in the fridge for several days - I've used it up to three days after I mixed it. That means when it's time for dinner, you pull off the amount you want and the rest can wait for another day. The first day the lift and rise will be highest and the rolls will be the lightest and fluffiest. As the dough ages it loses a bit of its lift, but the flavor intensifies and becomes more complex. Yeast is wonderful that way - it'll reward you. Think of it as your own captured little leprechaun - stash him in your fridge and he'll grant you lots of yummy presents. Ok - it's not a pot of gold - but cover them with melted butter and these rolls ARE golden.

Golden Brown and Perfect

Now - I adore baking and I love technique, but I have the world's worst memory for the exact details of recipes. So I tweaked this one over the past years to be the easiest ever. My daughter calls them 1-2-3 Rolls - because that's how I remember what to throw into the dough. I do these in my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, although if you want to do them by hand, knock yourself out. I'd personally rather wash a bowl then clean the whole counter after kneading by hand, but I know there are bread bakers out there who scoff in horror at stand mixers. Go ahead and do it by hand, and I'll only talk about you when you're out of the room.

This recipe also doubles well. I've never made more than a double batch since it just gets too big to work with. My family easily consumes a single batch at supper time - but I cook for The Horde - and we use two pans of rolls. If you have a normal sized (4-6) family, then bake off one pan, and stash the rest of the dough for the next day.

We also tend to like the 'cloverleaf' shape best, and it's no surprise, since those hold the most butter per roll, since it ends up inside all the nooks and crannies as well as the exterior. I also flavor either the dough or the butter or both. Sometimes additional sugar or some honey in the dough, then honey butter, orange marmalade or a sprinkle of brown sugar and I've got a drippy, luscious gooey piece of mmmm-mmmm. Or, use thyme, garlic or rosemary and use flavored herb butters and they become eye-rolling fabulous.

Ok - ready? Stay with me - here we go.

Proofing Yeast

The Dough After Mixing

Risen Dough


Cloverleaf Rolls

Dinner Rolls

The Recipe - and the Method!

You'll Need:

1 cup warm water - like a baby's bath water

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (or a packet)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons shortening

1 egg

3 cups all-purpose flour*

olive oil - to oil the bowl

1. In a measuring cup place the warm water, yeast and sugar. If you use packets, you'll just use one. I use yeast in bulk and find it easier to just measure a tablespoon. Stir and set aside. You're looking for the yeast to proof, or bloom, like in the picture. It'll become foamy and smell like - well - like yeast. This should only take a couple of minutes.

2. In the bowl of the mixer, with the dough hook attachment, mix together three cups of flour, the egg, the shortening and the salt. Slowly pour in the water/yeast mixture.

3. Knead the dough - with the dough hook or by hand - until the dough is fully smooth and elastic. It'll pull away from the sides of the bowl cleanly. If you need to add a bit more flour by 1/4 cupfuls and allow it to incorporate until it has reached the right consistency. If you find the dough too dry, drizzle in tiny bits of water until it's right. It is really hard to screw this one up - trust me. I've tried.

4. Oil the inside of a mixing bowl at least twice the size of the ball of dough. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it so that all the dough is covered with oil. Place the bowl in a warm place, and cover the top with a towel. Allow it to rest/rise for about 1 1/2 hours. 2 doesn't hurt - it's really forgiving. The exact time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen - the warmer the temp, the faster the dough will rise.

5. Once doubled, punch the dough down and reform into a ball. It's ready now to do one of two things. You can either find a large container (it'll rise again) and stash it until ready to use it, or you can go ahead and form the rolls.

*The amount of flour actually needed can vary a good bit - all dependant upon the humidity, age of the flour, activity of the yeast, etc. You're looking for a nice elastic dough with just a bit of sticky left to it - see the picture. It'll pull away from the sides of the bowl, and when handled with dry hands will leave no more than the tiniest amounts of dough on your fingers.

Risen Cloverleaf Rolls

Risen Dinner Rolls

Now You'll need:

1/2 stick of melted butter

To form the rolls, which you can do with either the dough immediately after the first rise, or after you've stored it in the fridge, the fastest and easiest way is with a disher or an ice cream scoop. I'll do this to make sure the rolls are all the same size. Scoop out a roll, roll them between your palms to make them nice and round, dip them in butter (really roll them around in it) and place them in a cake pan - 8 or 9 inch rounds work well. These produce the standard soft dinner rolls.

Alternately you can make tiny balls of dough the same way, and place three balls into each of the wells of a muffin tin - these will bake up to become cloverleaf rolls.

Either way, set the pan aside and cover with a towel. Allow the rolls to double in size - about another hour and a half. I've scraped these out in an hour when I was really in a hurry, but the extra time is better. I've also let them go longer when I forgot I was making rolls (ha!), and it really didn't matter.

Preheat your oven to 400F, and bake the rolls for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and gorgeous. If you want to (and I always want to) I brush any remaining butter over the tops of the rolls right before baking. Or if I forget to do it before I bake them, I do it when they come out. You really can't mess these up.

If you want to add herbs - garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, parsley - whatever - then do it when you're mixing the rolls in the initial stages. These also work amazingly well with a good garlic/thyme compound butter. Use the flavored butter in place of the melted butter and the rolls are good enough to fight over.

You can also mix up honey butter - just a stick of butter with a few tablespoons of honey drizzled into it and mixed well - and use it the same way. I do this especially for my youngest, who has been known to sneak under the table with the remaining butter and rolls and hide until he's made himself nearly sick.

Finally - you can replace about a third of the all purpose flour with whole wheat if you wish. I've been doing this more and more - attempting to start weaning my Horde O'Precious Darlings away from processed flours and hit them sneakily with more nutritional punch. Using a third whole wheat maintains the nice soft puffy texture everyone seems to love, and doesn't affect the out come of the rolls at all. More than half whole wheat and the texture starts changing too much - so I'm happy with the compromise.

Take a few minutes and mix up these rolls. I make them multiple times a week - they are an awesomely budget friendly way to stretch food dollars - since they cost pennies, especially compared to store bought bread. And they're delicious too - on top of easy. So these are winner winner easy peasy - perfect!


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