Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

Big, fluffy and tender yeast rolls, reminiscent of those old school cafeteria rolls so many of us loved.
Big, fluffy and tender yeast rolls, reminiscent of those old school cafeteria rolls so many of us loved.

Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

If you're a parent or grandparent who has had the occasion to attend a child's elementary school lunch in recent years, you know that kid's school lunches are nothing like the ones we used to enjoy as children. Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school, lunches were home-cooked meals, and many my age have fond memories of cafeteria favorites - brownies, goulash, even sloppy joes seem to top the list, but the one I find most often mentioned are those homemade yeast rolls.

Many of us have been on a quest for a roll that is as close to those amazing homemade yeast rolls from our elementary school memories, but in more reasonable batches. Fresh baked in the morning, you could smell those rolls all over the school, getting a symphony of tummy rumbling going.
Just inserting a quick reminder here.... that this is a blog, not just a "recipe site," and yes, there is a difference! I want to first thank all of you who have supported my work over the years, but if you aren't interested in the chit chat, info, photos, tips and such in a post, as always, you'll find the complete recipe text with measurements and instructions, as well as a printable document, a little bit further down the page. Just swipe or scroll down to the bottom of the post!
For several of my early school years, my Mama was a cafeteria lady and I went to school extra early and helped out. Three of my duties were to push the dirty dishes into the gigantic commercial washer, punch holes into the milk cartons and put in straws and brush butter on those rolls when they came out of the oven and were headed to the warmer.

Of course, I always got one, fresh and hot right out of the oven. I'm pretty sure that was the beginning of my bread addiction! Now, it's been a long time, but they had a certain texture and appearance, and I have made so many recipes that tried to tell me it was the one, only to leave me disappointed. I think this recipe is finally the one that I've gotten the closest, yay!
When I set out to make these, The Cajun had, as usual, drank all the dang milk! This man drinks milk like a 10 year old boy, I swear. Anyway, I didn't realize it until I was into the recipe, so I rooted through the pantry and found a can of evaporated milk, and wrote the recipe using that. Whole milk is what I usually use for rolls, but I really liked this result so I may stick with canned!

When it's time to knead, you'll find the dough to be gooey and sticky - that's normal and what you're looking for with this dough recipe. Once you knead it and begin to draw a bit more flour, it turns into this absolutely gorgeous dough. Speaking of kneading, since I wanted a light, airy roll, I thought I would fold the dough like I do with biscuits, just before forming them into rolls. Wow was I happy with the results!

There are a few different kinds of yeast, dry active yeast being the most commonly used for rolls. You can interchange instant yeast for that, though some will tell you that you don't need to proof instant yeast. I am of the school of thought that says, proof your yeast, no matter what! That's the only way you will know if it's still alive and active. Why would you want to invest all those other ingredients and time, only to find in the end, your yeast was dead? That would be a bummer.
To do that, I first combine the yeast with a portion of the sugar from the recipe and then add another portion of the warmed liquid the recipe calls for. Stir it up and leave it sit for about 5 minutes.

When it puffs up like this, you know it's alive!

Southern Style Hissy Fit: The temperature of the liquid you're using for making bread and rolls is critical. Too hot and it will kill the yeast, too cold and it won't activate it. You'll often see talk of using the water for a baby's bath as a reference point for temperature. Well, let's just dispel that rumor right here! While feel may work occasionally, yeast needs a temperature of about 110 to 115 degrees F to activate correctly. A baby's bath water should never be much more than warm, about 75 degrees and 90 degrees is already getting close to being too hot for a baby's bath. If you judge water for yeast by touch, the water is probably actually too cool. Invest in an inexpensive, instant read thermometer for your baking and cooking needs. Problem solved!

Look how tender... oh my gosh, just seeing them again makes my mouth water for one!

So airy, tender and delicious!

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Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

Old School Cafeteria-Style Yeast Rolls

Yield: About 12 rolls
Author: Deep South Dish
Prep time: 40 MinCook time: 20 MinInactive time: 2 HourTotal time: 3 Hour
Big, fluffy and tender yeast rolls, reminiscent of those old school cafeteria rolls so many of us loved.


  • 2-1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk, heated to 110 degrees F
  • 4 cups bread flour*
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature


  1. Combine yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1/4 cup of the warmed milk. Stir together and let rest until puffy and doubled, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, aerate flour before measuring, then spoon into measuring cup and level, placing into large bowl. Whisk in remaining sugar and salt.
  3. Add remaining evaporated milk, oil, one of the eggs, yeast and butter; stir until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel, set aside for 15 minutes.
  4. Turn out onto floured surface and knead by hand for 20 minutes, or until dough is elastic and can be stretched without tearing, or add dough to mixing bowl with dough hook and knead on speed 2 for 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to bowl, return dough to bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and towel and let rest in a draft free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  6. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan and set aside. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 times, drawing in flour if too sticky.
  7. Use rolling pin to roll into a rectangle and fold the sides into the dough, as with biscuits, rolling and folding 4 more times. Roll out to rectangle again, cut dough in half lengthwise, then into 12 equal squares. Shape into balls and place into buttered pan.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size.
  9. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  10. Beat remaining egg and gently brush tops of rolls with beaten egg. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and transfer to a cooling rack as soon as possible to prevent bottoms from getting soggy.


I prefer bread flour for this recipe, which is higher in protein and gluten and produces a lighter crumb but chewy result. All-purpose will be more dense and a different texture but can be substituted if that's all you have. May also substitute 1-1/2 cups whole milk. I made the batch pictured into 12 large rolls, though you could certainly shape them smaller. I also baked them using the convection setting on my oven. At 350 it took about 10 minutes. Of course, all ovens cook differently, so the timing for your oven make vary from this.

Tip: Measure the flour by first aerating the flour container, then spoon flour into a measuring cup without shaking the measuring cup and level off with a straight edge knife. This will help to keep from using too much flour, which happens when you scoop the measuring cup into the flour container to measure. That packs down the flour, meaning you use too much, creating a more dense and dry roll.

To assist rise, bring water to a boil in a saucepan or microwave in a 4 cup or larger Pyrex measuring cup. Turn on the oven light only, and place heated water into unheated stove before adding the covered dough bowl. This will help to create a steamy, warm environment. Line baking pan with parchment paper leaving enough overhang to easily remove rolls from pan to assist removal and avoid soggy bottoms.

Bread, Cafeteria Recipes, Rolls, Southern Style Hissy Fit, Yeast Rolls
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