Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

Somewhere along the way, our family’s whole wheat dinner rolls became known as my dad’s specialty. Especially when the holidays ‘rolled’ around (heh), he was usually counted on to contribute the perfectly portioned bites of soft, slightly nutty, whole wheat heaven to our family feasts.

In years past, I’m pretty sure Pops tried using only whole wheat flour in the rolls, because, “healthy.” But through experience he learned that 100% whole wheat resulted in a rather dense product. The term ‘hockey puck’ comes to mind. But as the recipe evolved, so did the enjoyment. His magic ratio is pretty close to equal parts bread flour (or all purpose flour), to whole wheat flour.

But in the years between my childhood and now, I’ve realized that my favorite element of this recipe is actually the molasses. It adds a lovely depth to the sweetness to the bread. I find molasses to be a under utilized ingredient, and I get pretty excited when I see it listed in recipes. Although, now that I’m analyzing my love of the black liquid gold, perhaps some of my enthusiasm can be attributed to a scene from either a book or a cartoon I saw once upon a time. I don’t remember it clearly, yet it consistently pops into my head whenever I’m digging in my cupboard for molasses.

INT: Kitchen. Dimly lit, but almost tangibly cozy.

A family (possibly bears?) sits around a table with a massive stack of pancakes in the center, hot and ready to be consumed.

Wanting to get the pancake party started, the youngest family member clears his throat.

“Please pass the molasses.”

But the dad gives the youngin’ a side eye, somewhat annoyed, and replies,

“No, sir. You certainly can’t have mo’ lasses until you’ve had SOME lasses.”

Everyone else:


End scene.

::::insert smirky chuckle here::::

What other sugar product has a dad joke literally built into its name? None that I can think of, although I bet when put to the task my brothers will both come up with several others, but that’s beside the point. And the point is dinner rolls! So let’s talk about what other ingredient is key when making these rounded puffs of delight.


Why, why, why are there so many kinds of yeast? I can feel the decision fatigue trying to sneak in, but let’s fight it off with the super-est super hero I know. That’s right, it’s Captain INFORMATION!

A way cooler superhero than Captain Obvious, Captain Information always says, “First and foremost we formulate a foundation.”

At this point Captain Obvious would interject that I’m making this all up, but again, he’s not the coolest superhero so who the heck cares?


Instant Yeast

Bread Machine Yeast

Active Dry Yeast

RapidRise Yeast

Fresh Yeast

Ihopeimnotmissinganyothers Yeast

Right off the bat, we can knock two of these into one because Instant Yeast and Bread Machine Yeast Are. The. Same. WOOT!

Instant (aka Bread Machine) yeast: Has been ground into finer granules to help it dissolve quickly in the dough. Which means it doesn’t need to be dissolved in water before use and can be directly added to your dry ingredients. Instant yeast can be stored in airtight container at room temp, but stays freshest in your freezer once it’s been opened – up to two years! Should you still decide to proof your yeast, instant can tolerate slightly warmer water, up to 130 F. And for those fabulous overnight recipes, it also tolerates cold proofing well. Depending on its freshness, instant yeast can sometimes give a good result with only one rise, but to fully develop the delicious depth of flavor that yeast products are known for, it’s best to allow for two rises. Winner, winner, rolls for dinner!

Active Dry Yeast: A slightly different strain of yeast, which can produce a minor difference in flavor, but is otherwise pretty similar to instant yeast. Many suggest dissolving in water is required for active dry, but others insist that’s a myth and it can be added to dry ingredients the same as instant yeast. It still tolerates cold proofing well, but is more temperamental because using water hotter than 110 F could kill the magical organisms. And if you hadn’t already guessed, active dry also always needs two rises. Not to mention we’ve learned it can somewhat unstable in storage. Active dry has a shorter shelf life than instant and can sometimes fail without much reason. That last fact seals the deal for me, and I’m INSTANTLY sure I want to pass on active dry and always purchase Instant Yeast instead. See what I did there? Captain Information approved this joke, so please instantly direct all eye rolls HIS way.

Fresh/Cake Yeast: Must be used within a couple of weeks because it’s very perishable. Should also be proofed (tested for potency) before each use, which means dissolving in warm water with a pinch of sugar. It should foam within 5 to 10 min, and if not then it’s considered DOA. In summary, fresh yeast is a hard pass unless you’re a professional baker in which case you’re probably already better versed in its usage anyway. Mooooving on!

RapidRise Yeast: A version of instant yeast from Fleischmann’s that is coated with yeast enhancers for quicker activation. Because of these enhancers RapidRise only requires one rise, and it’s usually fairly brief. It definitely doesn’t require proofing, and is in fact recommended that you don’t proof because doing so will rinse off the enhancers, returning the yeast to its previous state (basically instant). In short: don’t rinse off that special sauce, yo! RapidRise is not meant for long / slow rise dough, such as no-knead bread or pizza dough, but is best suited for sweet breads or quick dinner rolls. Do keep in mind that what you make up for in time with RapidRise, you’ll sacrifice in that special doughy yeasty flavor.


Proofing your yeast means to test whether the happy little living organisms are still alive and ready to get to work. This is achieved by letting it dissolve it in warm liquid (but not too hot, aim for 110 F or less), with a pinch of sugar, for 5 – 10 min. If it gets foamy, you’re good to go and it’s time to commence baking! But if not, then pat yourself on the back for testing your yeast’s viability BEFORE using up all your time and ingredients because guess what? If there ain’t no foam, better send that yeast home! Aka, the garbage… cuz it’s dead.

“Proof, I want proof!”

I always proof my yeast. What does that mean about my personality? Maybe it’s one part controlling, and all-the-other-parts-are-most-definitely-because-I-have-been-super-bummed-by-past-bread-attempts that resulted in loaves resembling something further from edible and closer to… well, a brick. And since I’m no construction worker in need of building materials, I always get that proof!

With that said, let’s move on to the proof that these dinner rolls are delicious! Aka, the recipe ☺


  • 2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup oil or melted unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs molasses
  • 3 ¾ - 4 ¼ bread flour*
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 pkg yeast (1 tbs + 1 ½ tsp)
  • 2 eggs

Proof yeast in 1 cup of warm water. Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add oil/butter, molasses, eggs, yeast mixture, and other cup of water. Stir, and when mixture begins to form a ball, pour onto counter top for kneading. *Start with the lesser amount of flour, and increase if the dough doesn't easily form into a ball. Variations in weather and altitude play a role in these... rolls. (Puns are required for buns!)

Knead until ingredients are combined and dough is soft and elastic. Pour about a generous tsp of oil in the bottom of your mixing bowl, and as you return the dough to the bowl spin it in the oil to cover the entire surface and help prevent sticking as it rises. Cover and keep in a warm place until doubled in size, 30 to 45 min.

Grease 9x13 inch pan. Once risen, punch down dough and divide into 36 pieces. Roll pieces into balls and place into greased pan. Cover and let rise again until light and doubled in size, 30 to 45 min.

Heat oven to 375 F and bake 15 to 20 min until golden brown. If the tops start to get too browned while baking, you can loosely cover with aluminum foil for the remainder of the bake time.

Immediately remove from pans once baked, and enjoy!



p.s. when not needing (or shall we say, kneading) to feed a crowd, this recipe is easily halved. I made a half batch for these photos and used an 8x8 pan… a little more room would have been beneficial, so perhaps consider a 9x9 if you halve the recipe!

p.p.s. big shout out to Andy and his 2020 bees who produced the frame of honey comb in the corner of our top photo, as well as the gorgeous cut honey comb pictured in the glass dish. It's such a fascinating process to witness first hand so we'll aim to do a post about bees and their incredible honey in the near future!

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