The one thing I HAVE to bake every Thanksgiving: pull-apart butter buns

Oh, boy…  just look at these rolls.

I mean, feast your eyes on them. The golden, buttery crust. The soft, tender interior. Can’t you just imagine these, warm from the oven, the tiniest bit of steam wisping into the air as you pull them apart and reach for the butter dish?

Well, imagining is fine. But reality is right around the corner.

It’s called Thanksgiving.

Is there a baking holiday as gratifying, as delicious, as FUN as Thanksgiving? I think not. Thanksgiving is ALL ABOUT FOOD. No gift-shopping; no mall crowds. Just folks gathered together for a long, congenial day of football, friendship, family time… and food.

Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, creamed onions, peas… The delicious double cliché of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole mortared together with cream of mushroom soup and topped with canned fried onions.

Like old friends, these dishes aren’t perfect; they’re a bit tattered and worn, but comfortably so. Thanksgiving food is like that old pair of jeans you slip into when you get home from work. Undemanding; cozy; there for you, like a best friend.

We all have our signature Thanksgiving dishes. Maybe it’s homemade stuffing – buttery, onion-y, redolent of sage. Or perhaps cranberry nut muffins. Maybe your old-fashioned pumpkin pie?

Whichever of your recipes is the first one out of the box Thanksgiving morning, it’s undoubtedly a trusted standby, a guaranteed crowd favorite. For me, it’s these pull-apart rolls. I’ve dubbed around with the recipe over the years, and this is my current favorite version. I’m eager to share it with you here because it’s A) easy, B) delicious, and C) the essence of comfort food.

What better way to celebrate America’s favorite food holiday?

Let’s make Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns.

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So, what’s with the white powders here? They’re two of my “gotta have” white bread ingredients: potato flour, and Baker’s Special Dry Milk. The potato flour adds moistness and keeping quality; the Special Dry Milk, a great rise.

Can you make these buns without these two ingredients? Sure, I’ll provide substitutions below. But if you make sandwich bread frequently, I suggest making them a regular pantry item; they DO make a nice difference.

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Mix together the following:

3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons potato flour or 1/4 cup instant potato flakes
3 tablespoons Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons soft butter
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk

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Mix everything together to make a rough dough…

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…then knead for about 7 minutes at medium speed, till relatively smooth, but still rather sticky.

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Gather the dough into a ball, and put it in a greased container to rise. As always, I’m using my 8-cup measure; it’s fun to track the dough’s progress.

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Let the dough rise till it’s doubled; this’ll probably take 60 to 90 minutes. Look at those lovely air bubbles around the bottom – the yeast is growing, giving off CO2, stretching that gluten in the flour just like a balloon.

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Once the dough is risen, gently deflate it. You’re going to divide it into 16 pieces, which you can easily do simply by dividing it in half, then in half again, etc. You can eyeball the process; or actually use a scale to make perfectly-sized rolls.

The entire piece of dough weighs 812g; don’t fret if yours doesn’t weigh exactly 812g, OK? This isn’t rocket science.

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Divided in half: 405g. Remember what I just said – this isn’t rocket science. 405g is close enough.

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Continue along the same lines till you’ve made 16 pieces of dough.

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Next, shape each piece into a ball. Let’s do one at a time. First, flatten the piece of dough a bit by pulling on the edges, smoothing its top.

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Turn it over, and gather the underside into a knot; this smoothes the top side further.

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Knot-side down, gently roll the dough in circles beneath your curled fingers. No need to put pressure on it; just imagine the way you roll dice, cupping them in your hands and shaking. Same idea; the ball of dough will move freely under your hands.

You know, when we ever have video in this blog, this shaping technique is the first thing I want to show! It’s so easy to do – and so miserably hard to explain…

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Ah – lovely. Sixteen round dough balls.

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Lightly grease two 8” round cake pans, spacing eight balls in each. Can you use 9” round cake pans, or a 9” x 13” pan? Sure; the buns just won’t nestle together as closely, so their sides will be a bit more baked. And they’ll be a bit shorter in stature.

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Cover the pans, and allow the buns to rise till they’re crowded against one another and quite puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

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Now THAT’S what I call buxom buns!

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Bake the buns for 22 to 24 minutes…

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…until they’re golden brown on top and the edges of the center bun spring back lightly when you touch it. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the center bun should register at least 190°F.

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Remove the buns from the oven, and immediately brush with melted butter. You’ll need 1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter, depending on how generous you are. Trust me; this is a time for generosity.

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You may think that you’ve used too heavy a hand with the butter…

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…but it sinks in, leaving a really pretty, satiny sheen. This is why we call these pull-apart buns; they come apart very easily.

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Split open; add more butter. WOW.

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How about cloverleafs? Divide the original piece of dough into 36 small pieces. You don’t really need to try to make these 36 pieces all the same size; just divide the dough into 12 balls, then each of those balls into three pieces.

Nestle in the wells of a lightly greased standard muffin pan.

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Let rise till they’re puffing over the rims.

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Bake as directed for the regular rolls, brushing with butter when they’re done.

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Festive, huh? And so ’50s…

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So OK, I got a little carried away. But trust me, none of these had a chance to get stale. There’s just something about soft white bread that’s eternally compelling. Especially at Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns.

P.S. I notice a lot of you have been asking about preparing these buns ahead. Here’s a couple of suggestions:

To make them a day or so ahead, prepare all the way through a partial bake (parbake). This means bake them, but not till they’re golden, only till they’re set.

How long? Not sure, in your oven. Just keep your eye on them, and when they’re just starting to brown a bit around the edges; and they feel set (not soft and liable to collapse) when you gently poke one, take them out. Cool completely, then wrap in plastic – right in the pan. Store at room temperature. Just before serving, bake in a preheated 350°F oven till golden; it’ll take maybe 10-15 minutes? Brush with butter, and serve.

To prepare more than a few days ahead, shape the buns and let them rise in the pan. Don’t let them over-rise; a bit less than usual would be good. Carefully tent risen rolls with plastic, and freeze. Once frozen, wrap more securely (but not tightly – a plastic bag is good).

The night before you want to serve them, place the pan of buns, still wrapped, in the fridge. Next day, remove from the fridge, and let them warm a bit as you preheat your oven. Bake as directed; they’ll probably need a few more minutes than the recipe says. Brush with butter, and serve.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Deb

    I have made these rolls several times and we love them. Next weekend, I want to take these to a choir party on Sunday night. The problem is I will only have about 3 hours between getting home from church and needing to leave with baked rolls. Is there a foolproof method of make ahead without freezing (no room)? Also, I need two recipes. Does this double well? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Deb, you can prepare the recipe through the first rise and then divide and shape the dough, placing the shaped rolls on a greased or parchment-lined cake pans or 9″ by 13″ pans. Cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap, and then let them rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, you can take the rolls out of the fridge while the oven preheats and then bake as directed. They should have expanded nicely and risen overnight.

      As a general rule of thumb, most yeast bread recipes can be easily doubled, including this recipe. You can simply multiply most ingredients, using anywhere from 1-2x the amount of yeast called for in the original recipe. The amount of yeast used can vary depending on your preference, with more yeast leading to a faster rise but less flavor development, and less yeast leading to more flavor development but a longer rise. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Susan Reid

      Richard, you can see weights for all of our recipes by choosing how you would like the amounts to be displayed on top: volume, ounces, or grams. Susan

  2. Jocelyn

    Thank you for your roll posts! It was very helpful to see the info written out with pictures. You answered my questions and I enjoy your friendly writing style!

    Reply
  3. Brian Teruya

    Another query about omitting sugar. Are there any other steps that should be taken if sugar is left out? Will the rise take more time?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Brian, while omitting the sugar may slow the process down very slightly, you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference when such a small amount is called for in the first place. For more context, we suggest a reading How to reduce sugar in yeast breads. We think it’ll help put your mind at ease. Mollie@KAF

  4. Tim @ Food Processor Reviewer

    lovely and delicious. I have been looking for a promising recipe to experiment my new food processor I bought from a guide cuisinartfoodprocessor.com/10-best-2017-food-processors/
    Keep sharing useful recipies like this
    THank you

    Reply
  5. Katherine

    “Can you make these buns without these two ingredients? Sure, I’ll provide substitutions below.”

    I’ve not been able to find the substitutions you mentioned would be provided for the dry milk and potato flour/flakes.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Katherine, the substitutions mentioned are listed next to the initial ingredients in the dough (1/4 cup of instant potato flakes for the potato flour and nonfat dry milk instead of the Baker’s Special Dry Milk). If these substitutions still aren’t options for you, try using 2 tablespoons of real mashed potatoes instead of the potato flour and 1 full cup of lukewarm milk instead of 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup of milk. I hope that helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Ada Ardito

    It’s thanksgiving day and these are baking in my oven right now. I am going to save the last 5 minutes of baking time to pop them in grandma’s oven just before dinner is served. Will let you know how it turns out. Anyone else baking on Thanksgiving day have a fantastic holiday 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ada Ardito

      OK, we just got back from thanksgiving dinner at Grandmas and the rolls were AMAZING, definitely the best recipe I have found 🙂 Thank you for posting it!!

  7. Pam

    Is it possible to make these rolls smaller, say 10 or 12 to a pan? Looking for something the size of Sister Shuberts, I know I shouldn’t say that on here, Parkerhouse rolls.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Pam, as the baker you have total control over the size of the rolls. Feel free to bake them as big or small as you want. The only thing you’ll need to adjust is the baking time — smaller rolls will finish baking faster so check for doneness early. You also might want to consider using two 9″ cake rounds so the rolls have more room to rise and expand. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Cathy

    I want to make a HUGE hamburger bun for my husband, like the size of a dinner plate. Do you think this recipe would work for that? And if so what temp and how long would i bake it at?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, I think this work. Bake at the same temperature and check after 25 minutes. Good luck and won’t he be surprised! Elisabeth@KAF

  9. Judith

    I made these buns to take to Easten Dinner with friends this evening. They turned out gorgeous! Light, soft, and tasty. I took a picture of them, wish I could send it to you. Definitely a keeper recipe. BTW, can you substitute white whole wheat flour or bread flour? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Judith,
      If you have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, we’d love to see a pic! You can definitely use half AP and half whole wheat flour in the recipe, but bread flour tends to make them a little bit denser, just FYI. ~ MJ

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