Instructions

  1. If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar in 2 tablespoons of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.

  2. Combine the dissolved yeast with the remainder of the water and the rest of the ingredients. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a smooth dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take about 5 to 7 minutes at second speed. In a bread machine (or by hand), it should form a smooth ball.

  3. Mix and knead everything together — by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle — until you've made a smooth dough. If the dough seems very sticky and you're using a stand mixer, it helps to beat it with the beater blade at medium-high speed for several minutes (if the warranty on your mixer allows this), until it starts to come together in a mass. After that, switch to the dough hook at medium-low speed for 5 to 7 minutes.

  4. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, till it's quite puffy but not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy.

  5. While the dough is rising, lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan, or two 9" round cake pans.

  6. Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into 16 pieces, or 24 pieces, depending on whether you want larger or smaller rolls.

  7. Shape each piece into a rough ball by pulling the dough into a very small knot at the bottom (think of a balloon with its opening knotted), then rolling it under the palm of your hand into a smooth ball.

  8. Place the rolls in the 9" x 13" pan, or divide them between the round cake pans, spacing them evenly; they won't touch one another. If you've made 24 rolls and are using a 9" x 13" pan, position them in four long rows of six.

  9. Cover the pans with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the rolls to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. They'll become very puffy, and will reach out and touch one another. While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

  10. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes then, if they appear to be browning too quickly, tent them loosely with aluminum foil. Continue to bake until they're mahogany-brown on top, but lighter colored on the sides, an additional 10 to 13 minutes.

  11. Remove the rolls from the oven, and after 2 or 3 minutes, carefully transfer them to a rack. Brush them with melted butter, if desired, for a soft, buttery crust. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Tips from our Bakers

  • No dry milk in your pantry? Substitute 1 cup lukewarm milk for the 1 cup water and 1/4 cup dry milk.
  • Don't bother heating the orange juice to lukewarm; you can use it straight out of the fridge. The orange juice won't add its own flavor to the rolls, but will mellow any potential bitterness in the whole wheat.
  • For a shiny crust, whisk together 1 large egg white + 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush on rolls just before baking; sprinkle rolls with quick-cooking oats as a garnish, if desired.