One of the questions I get all the time on my roll recipes is “can you make the dough in advance and bake it later?” It’s a great question, because rolls definitely taste the best fresh out of the oven, but it can be hard to find time to make the dough, let it rise, shape, rise again, etc., all in the hours leading up to a meal. It’s especially tough for big holiday meals when you have a lot of other things going on or are traveling to eat elsewhere. The good news is that you absolutely can make bread dough in advance and cook the rolls later on! Today I’m going to share two methods for making rolls in advance and baking them later.
A note before we get to the directions. Both of these methods should work on just about any yeast bread recipe; however, I cannot guarantee the results or timing on every single bread recipe out there. I have done this regularly on these recipes: garlic&herb rolls, best ever breadsticks, sweet brown rolls, daisy braid bread. If you want to use this method on another bread recipe it *SHOULD* work just fine, but please try it out once before your big family Thanksgiving because I’d hate to be involved in ruining dinner for 50 people I don’t know 😉
How to make rolls in advance and bake them later: the fridge method
Use this method when you want to prep rolls anywhere between a few hours and 24 hours ahead of time. This method is great for getting some of the work out of the way the day before your dinner.
Mix up and knead your dough as directed in your recipe. Let it rise the first time. Shape dough and place in a greased 9×13 pan (or whatever pan you usually use for your recipe). Lightly spray tops of rolls with nonstick spray, then cover the pan with plastic wrap:
Place rolls in the fridge for 2-24 hours (you could probably stretch this out to 36 hours if needed). Half an hour before you want to bake the rolls, take them out of the fridge. They should have done a bit of rising while they were in there:
Let them sit out on the counter for 30-60 minutes to come to room temperature and finish rising a bit (if they seem very small that may mean your fridge is extra cold and they might need longer to finish rising – try putting them in a slightly warm oven to get them going).
Bake as directed in a preheated oven.
I love this method because it makes it possible to have hot, fresh rolls even when you aren’t going to be home for 3 hours before dinnertime. I use this method often on Sundays when we’ll be gone at church in the afternoon and there won’t be time to get a batch of rolls done after we get home.
I’ve also used this method with cinnamon rolls and raspberry rolls when I wanted to serve them in the morning but didn’t want to get up quite so early to get them started.
How to make rolls in advance and cook them later: the freezer method
Use this method when you want to make rolls up to a month in advance, or when you want to make a double batch of rolls and bake some now and save the rest for another day.
Mix up and knead your dough as directed in your recipe. Let it rise the first time. Shape dough and place on a greased cookie sheet pan, then place the pan directly in the freezer.
After a few hours the rolls should be frozen hard. Place them in a ziplock bag and label with the date. They keep quite well for about a month. After that point, they still work, but I find that the texture is a little different and they don’t rise quite as well.
To bake these, you’ll need to take them out of the freezer and place in a lightly greased baking dish, cover with a dish towel, and leave for 3-4 hours to thaw and rise.
The exact amount of time will vary a bit depending on how warm it is in your house, how big the rolls are, etc, so you’ll need to watch them a be a bit flexible on your timing. You can speed things up a little by putting them somewhere warm (on the counter above the dishwasher when it’s running, in an oven that has been slightly warmed and turned back off, in a patch of sun shining through the window).
Then just bake as directed in a preheated oven.
The last time I used this method my rolls were ready to bake exactly 3 hours after they came out of the freezer, but I had to leave the house for an hour. So I just popped them in the fridge for an hour and baked them when I got back, and they worked perfectly.
I used to use this freezer method every time I made a batch of rolls when my family was smaller and I knew we wouldn’t eat an entire batch at once. I’d set out 8 rolls to rise and bake that day, and freeze the other 8. That way I could have 2 dinners with fresh homemade rolls with half the work.
I’ve only ever used the freezer method for rolls, because I don’t bake loaves very often. You certainly can use this method for loaves as well, but the thaw/rise time will be longer.
I hope this makes prepping your next holiday dinner a little easier!