Freeze and bake rolls: a head start on the holidays

What’s the best way to put fresh, hot, homemade yeast rolls on the dinner table at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or [name your holiday] – without making yourself absolutely crazy?

Well, you can bake them now, wrap, and freeze. Then thaw and rewarm and serve. But somehow, they just won’t taste quite like fresh-baked.

Or you can make the dough, shape the rolls, refrigerate them overnight, and bake them the next day. But what if you don’t have time for that 2-day process and the day-before prep work (as you probably won’t, on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, or Christmas Eve)?

Freeze and bake rolls to the rescue!

I tested a slew of different make-ahead roll techniques for this post, from par-baked and frozen to risen and chilled to halfway risen and frozen to… well, it was controlled chaos in my kitchen, if you know what I mean.

And after the flour dust had cleared, the simplest solution was this: shape your kneaded (but unrisen) yeast dough into rolls. Place them in a pan and freeze. Once frozen, bag them airtight and stash in the freezer.

The day you want to serve them, take as many rolls as you want out of the freezer; place them in a pan; and let them thaw/rise for 4 to 5 hours or so. Bake. Enjoy.

You’re up at the crack of dawn anyway on Thanksgiving, right? If your turkey’s going to be hogging the oven from 6 a.m. to noon, get your frozen rolls out at about 7:30 a.m., and put them in their pan. By the time they’re fully risen, the turkey should be out of the oven and resting; pop the rolls in, along with any vegetable dishes that need rewarming. Bake for 20 minutes, while you’re carving the turkey.

Plated turkey. Hot vegetables. Oven-fresh dinner rolls. That’s the goal, and it looks like you’ve reached it.

Let’s take a look.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

1. Make your dough with cool, not lukewarm, liquid (water or milk).

Why is this? You want the yeast to remain as dormant as possible for as long as possible, so it’s less vulnerable to damage during the freezing process.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

2. Shape rolls as soon as your dough is fully kneaded.

I’m making our guaranteed Soft White Dinner Rolls here. Potato and milk make them moist and tender, adding rich flavor as well.

Note: If I plan on freezing these rolls for longer than 2 to 3 days prior to baking, I increase the amount of yeast by about 20% – just to be safe.

As soon as you’re done kneading the dough, shape it into rolls. That’s right; you’re not going to let the dough rise in the bowl first, as you usually would. Again, you want to minimize yeast activity.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

3. Shape the dough into rolls.

Do this quickly; remember, you don’t want the yeast to start percolating.

Place the rolls in a pan lined with waxed paper or parchment. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or, as I’ve done here, a clear shower cap.

Place the pan in the freezer. Make sure to place it in the coldest part of your freezer, then leave the freezer door shut until the rolls are frozen hard. The more quickly they freeze solid, the better your final result will be. More on that later.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

4. Freeze the rolls completely.

They should be rock-hard, with maybe a little frost on their surface. We’re not just chilling here; we’re FREEZING.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

5. Bag the rolls and stash them in the freezer.

Frozen rolls should be good for a couple of weeks; longer than that, they start to noticeably lose their rising power due to yeast die-off; again, more on that later.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

6. The day you want to serve freeze-and-bake rolls, remove them from the freezer.

Space the rolls in a lightly greased pan. Cover the pan (there’s that handy shower cap again!), and let them rise.

You can hurry the process by putting the pan somewhere warm, like in a corner of your busy kitchen. Or slow it down by putting it somewhere cool, like on the back porch. But standard-size frozen dinner rolls, frozen for just a couple of weeks, will take about 4 to 5 hours to thaw and then rise at cool room temperature (about 65°F to 70°F).

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

7. Bake the risen rolls.

Wow, these poor rolls are all by their lonely self! More typically for a holiday, they’d be surrounded by a green bean casserole, mashed squash, and scalloped potatoes.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

8. Serve freeze-and-bake rolls warm from the oven.

Brush them with butter. Just because.

OK, that was easy, right? Well, scientifically speaking, it’s like that famous duck: serene up above, paddling like heck below the surface! For a relatively deep dive into yeast, freezing, and bread dough, keep reading.

I’m part of the EAT team here at King Arthur Flour. And while we do enjoy eating, the acronym stands for Education Advisory Team. Made up of various bakers/teachers/chefs from around the company, we make sure that the baking information and advice we pass along to you – via our baker’s hotline, kids’ classes, website, and printed materials – is accurate, consistent, and scientifically sound.

In starting this freeze and bake project, I turned to the team for advice on the best way to freeze yeast rolls.

Their answer? Don’t do it!

But after rounds of emails, the team concluded that yes, you can freeze yeast rolls, given a few caveats:

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

• Freeze for no longer than 2 weeks, 3 at the outside;
• Freeze as quickly as possible: in a 0°F freezer, without opening the door;
• Store where rolls will remain at a constant temperature, and completely frozen. This rules out self-defrosting freezers, which continually warm up, then cool down.

Why the cautionary notes? Well, some (but not all) of the yeast will be killed during freezing, thus lowering the rolls’ rising ability. But the bigger culprit is ice crystals, which develop during freezing. And the longer it takes for the rolls to freeze solid, the larger the ice crystals will be.

So what, you say? Ice crystals cut through the rolls’ gluten strands, creating a permeable network that allows CO2 from the developing yeast to escape. In other words – your rising rolls are full of (microscopic) holes. Not the best way to ensure a strong rise. In addition, those same ice crystals damage yeast – which is already stressed by being frozen.

Oh, and one more roadblock to high-rising rolls from the freezer: dead yeast releases a substance called glutathione, which acts as a natural dough relaxer. The more relaxed your dough, the less eager it is to rise upwards; it would rather spread outwards. The result? Rolls that don’t rise as high.

Dying yeast. Ice crystals. Glutathione. It’s a wonder frozen rolls turn out at all! But after explaining all of this to me in great detail, Jeff Yankellow, one of our company’s most talented bakers, summed it up like this: “Now having said all that, if I were to freeze dough for 2 to 3 weeks I probably wouldn’t change a thing to my process – although I would expect the leavening power to reduce over time.”

My advice? Do what I’ve done here. Use our guaranteed recipe for Soft White Dinner Rolls. Freeze the unrisen, shaped rolls for no longer than 2 weeks. Let them rise for 4 to 5 hours, then bake.

Freeze and Bake Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Trust me, you’ll think you’re enjoying absolutely fresh-made rolls.

Surely you can find the 20 minutes or so it takes to make and shape yeast rolls during those 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, right? After struggling for years with “When should I start the rolls?” – this is my favorite solution yet.

Now, what about using this technique with your own favorite dinner roll recipe? It should work just fine. We’ve found that the richer the roll (e.g., rolls made with milk, butter/oil, and/or eggs), the better the results. A “lean” dough (one made with simply flour, water, salt, and yeast) is more susceptible to freezer damage, since it’s easier for ice crystals to form in this type of dough.  

PJ Hamel

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!


  1. Stephanie

    What about just freezing par baked rolls? That seems less complicated. Is there really a huge difference in taste? What would be the best method to do this?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to give this a try, Stephanie, and see if you like the results. Essentially you’ll want to follow the recipe for rolls, all the way through baking. Take the rolls out of the oven only about 3-5 minutes early. You want the rolls to be fully cooked in the center but not quite as brown as you’d like the final results to be. Let the rolls cool completely, and then wrap well and freeze. When you’re ready to serve, let the rolls thaw at room temperature in their wrapping. Then uncover them and place them in a warm oven (about 350*F) for 5-10 minutes until they’re warmed through and nicely browned. It’ll be like they just came out of the oven the very first time. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  2. Hedy Rutman

    Can you freeze a kneaded yeast bread and then bake it?
    Do you need extra yeast if the dough is frozen?
    My recipe calls for two risings, then shape and rise a third time.
    When would be the time to freeze it (if this can be done)? After
    the second rising?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Hedy! If you can avoid freezing yeast breads before baking, we’d recommend it if at all possible. If you’d like, you can follow the tips given here about freezing rolls but applying them to your recipe, expecting the finished loaves to not be as light and fluffy as they would be without freezing. You’d likely freeze the loaf after it’s shaped but before the final rise. Experiment adding additional yeast if you plan on freezing the dough longer than a week. Happy experimenting! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Dallas, you’ll want to follow the baking time and temperature that are listed in the recipe you’re using. If you want to make the recipe that we use here to demonstrate the technique, bake the rolls at 350*F for about 25 minutes until they’re a deep golden brown. Find the full instructions to make the Soft White Dinner Rolls here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Shirley Woodman

    I use bread flour in rolls and bread. Is it acceptable for the freezing method? I’ve never tried freezing before baking.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Shirley, this method should work well whether you’re using bread flour, all-purpose flour, or even a whole-grain flour like White Whole Wheat. The idea is to get the rolls in the freeze as quickly as possible to prevent the yeast from becoming active and then stalling it. Instead, we want to encourage it to save as much energy as possible for the final rise, which will result in perfectly risen and lofty rolls. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Jamie

    Thank you for your very helpful instructions!
    Can this be done for a bread dough, and specifically a natural yeast starter or sourdough starter type of dough?
    I typically bake with a homemade starter and have had tremendous success converting almost any yeasted recipe into a natural or sourdough starter recipe, but I have never tried freezing my raw dough…just a fear of a major fail/baker’s nightmare and having to toss it all in the trash :-(. Many sourdough bakers retard their dough (sometimes for up to 1 week) but I do not seem to get the same lift success when I do this so I avoid chilling altogether. Unfortunately this leaves me in a time crunch when I am trying to bake multiple fresh recipes for get-togethers. Any insight would be a help, particularly about the freezing. Do you think adding a pinch of “packaged” yeast could help this “lack of lift” problem?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jamie! We would recommend avoiding freezing your unbaked sourdough rolls or breads if at all possible. They really struggle to rise after a freezing. However, you can freeze the already baked and cooled sourdough breads and rolls no problem! Just wrap them well in plastic wrap and they’ll keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
      Adding a bit of yeast to a sourdough recipe does help it rise higher and more quickly, but again, even with a little yeast, a sourdough bread really does best when baked right away. We hope this helps! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Carolyn

    Could the rolls be modified with perhaps half whole wheat flour?
    Also, what about freezing bread dough?
    I believe same as the rolls except you’re freezing the loaf,right?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Carolyn, you can easily add whole wheat flour to many of your favorite recipes, including dinner rolls. Start by replacing half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour (either white or traditional whole wheat). There’s no need to make any changes to the recipe with this approach. If you’d replace 100% of the white flour with whole wheat, add about 2 teaspoons of additional liquid per cup of whole wheat flour. Before baking, allow the mixture to rest for about 15 minutes so that the whole grains can absorb the additional liquid and soften slightly. Add extra liquid if the mixture seems dry or stiff, and then bake as you normally would. Kye@KAF

  6. Sarah

    I love this idea! My absolute favorite recipe on your site is the beautiful burger buns. Would it be possible to freeze & bake those, either as full size buns
    or slider bun size?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s definitely worth giving it a shot, Sarah, using the same techniques that are outlined in this post. They also freeze beautiful after they’ve been baked and cooled for 2-3 months. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  7. Larry Lou

    I started to get concerned when it sounded like one could not freeze, thaw and bake as I have been doing it for years. But when you gave the instructions, I gave a sigh of relief lol, that’s exactly how I’ve done mine for years. Thanks for your instructions and ideas for other goodies to freeze, and I’ll continue to check out your website for a wealth of good advice, instructions and products!

  8. Patti

    Thank you for this!! I’m making 125+ dinner rolls for Saturday, and was looking for a way to make batches that I can freeze. I googled it, there’s King Arthur and the answer! Thank you, again! I tried this a long time ago and it didn’t work, but I let them rise first. I also brushed an egg wash on before freezing. THAT didn’t work, lol! Now I know what I did wrong (besides the egg wash). Your cautionary notes are most appreciated, and almost changed my mind, especially Glutathione. But I use a rich dough recipe, and since it will only be a couple days, I’m going to try it. Thank you again for this! I’ll definitely be checking out your website for more advice.

  9. GrammyP

    Thank you so much! I’ll give these methods a try. In the meantime, Grandpa P is quite happy to continue the bake/taste tests! Merry Christmas!


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