Originally published in the first year of the blog, 2009, this incredible whole wheat dinner roll recipe remains one of my most popular recipes, which it deserves – I’ve actually had a friend tell me she dreamed about these rolls! We also made a video showing all the steps, too, so you have a couple ways to learn to make these rolls, even if you’ve never made bread before. And you’ll want to – they really are amazing!
My family loves, loves these whole wheat dinner rolls (of course they all agree that wheat yeast rolls are better than baking powder biscuits, but just between us, I also secretly crave these). Along with my 100% whole wheat sandwich bread, these sweetened with honey whole wheat rolls are what made me believe that “soft” and “whole wheat” could actually happen in a bread.
Most people when tasting these don’t believe the rolls are 100% whole wheat – and just plain old regular whole wheat at that. But it’s all true. It’s the eggs and butter and honey that make these a so-good-you-can’t-eat-just-one type of roll. They are light and fluffy and almost don’t need any butter – but go ahead anyway.
If you bring (or serve) these rolls to any dinner, holiday or otherwise, everyone will be
begging asking you for the recipe. And they’re easy, too, once you get the hang of working with a slightly wetter dough. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you all the steps, including what the dough should look like so you can see that it’s all true.
How to Make Soft 100% Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
The first step is to dissolve 2Tb. of yeast in 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water. Just measure out the water in a glass measuring cup using warm tap water, add the yeast and stir it in with a whisk, and set it aside.
Then, put 1/2 cup of softened butter (no substitutes, please- now is not the time!) in the bowl of a stand mixer, add 1/4 cup of honey and cream them together with the paddle attachment.
Add 3 eggs and beat, scraping the butter from the sides. Add 1 cup of warm buttermilk (or milk) and the yeast mixture.
It will not be smooth, as this picture shows- it’s OK to see lumps of butter floating around.
Add 4-1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt (trust me, you don’t want to leave the salt out- I speak from experience), and mix well.
Change to the dough hook and knead for only a couple of minutes- we’re just trying to loose the extreme stickiness here, not really to develop gluten. Add a couple more tablespoons of flour, if needed.
This was hard to photograph, but a finger touched on the surface should not come away with any dough on it, even though the dough looks sticky. The dough is still sticking to the bowl (good), but not to my finger, so it’s ready to rise.
Just leave it in the mixing bowl, cover it with a towel and let sit at room temperature for an hour.
As you can see here, it has risen some, but is not really “doubled” but it’s OK- it always looks like this for me. They rise more in the pan.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (I always use a clean towel for easy clean-up and less need for flour) and knead with hands a few times, then cover it with 1/2 the towel and let rest for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull out a 13×9-inch pan and butter it generously on the bottom and sides.
The dough needs to be divided into 24 even (or as close as you can get) pieces. I flatten it out into a rectangle shape and use a knife to cut it into 24 pieces. As you can see above, the middle pieces are bigger than the corner ones, so I just cut some off the middle pieces and add them to the corners.
Again this is just how I do it. There could be some great math-and-science way of doing this, but I just eyeball things. I’d love to know if there are other methods out there (other than weighing each piece- that’s a little too much for me!).
Here’s how I learned to shape dinner rolls when I volunteered at my kid’s summer camp: with your left hand (if you’re right-handed) make a circle shape with the thumb and fingers then take the dough in your right hand and push it up through the circle, pushing up in the middle of the dough to form a rounded top.
Whew- that’s hard to explain- thank goodness for pictures!
Then turn the dough ball over and pinch the ends in together. Place the seam side down in the buttered dish- four balls across and six down.
They should be touching in the pan in order to make all the soft sides (the center ones are my favorites…).
Cover (I shake off the towel I used to shape them, then cover with that), and let rise for another hour. Set the timer for 45 minutes, though, so you can turn the oven on to 350 degrees to preheat for the last 15 minutes of the rising time.
This is what they will look like after 1 hour of rising. They are not spilling over the pan, but all the sides are touching now.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. I rotate them after 10 minutes for even browning.
Brush the tops with softened butter when they come out of the oven (just do it – you’ll be glad you did).
As soon as they are cooled to just warm, pull them out of the pan and pull apart to serve. Look at that texture- no heavy whole wheat rolls here. These are so good, please give them a try!
These make terrific whole wheat sandwich rolls, too – think of all the ‘sliders’ you can make healthier now!
Make ahead tip: you can make these up to a month in advance, let the cool in the pan, remove them as one piece, separate into 2 sections of 12 rolls and place each section of rolls into a gallon sized freezer baggie. Freeze until needed. When ready to serve, take them out in the morning to thaw, then wrap the 12-roll section in tin foil and heat in a 300-350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until warm.