Lunch Lady Rolls

From what I’ve read, school lunches are improving. They’re trimming fat, reducing sugar, adding whole grains, and baking instead of frying. It’s about time these changes were made, but I have to admit I’m glad to have the taste memory of old-school school lunches where they served things like macaroni & cheese, peanut butter cookies and those hot rolls you could smell from the other side of the building.

The description of this recipe as being “just like the ones served at the cafeteria” reeled me in. I didn’t really believe the rolls really would remind me of school days, but they did. That or the rolls fried chicken places used to serve before they all switched to biscuits. Remember those days? Anyhow, these were undoubtedly the best rolls I ever made. I don’t know if it was the actual recipe or rather that I’m getting better at making yeast breads, but these were just the lightest, tightest crumbed, delicate rolls to come out of my kitchen — and they didn’t call for any tricks like adding potato flakes or beer.

lunch lady rolls

I adapted this from an Cafeteria Rolls which makes this recipe x3. So this is actually 1/3 of the original recipe and it gives you 12 good sized rolls. for our small family, that’s a lot of rolls, but I baked them all at once and froze the rest.

This scaled down version worked perfectly, but there is one catch and that’s the egg. The original recipe called for 2 eggs and since I was making 1/3, I had to do the silly maneuver of cracking the egg, spooning out about a tablespoon and using the remainder. Whatever. It worked! If you buy small eggs you can skip that, but who buys small eggs?

dinner rolls

For the flour, I weighed out 15 oz of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose.

Lunch Lady Rolls
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Light textured rolls that might remind you of the ones in old school lunches.
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 1 cup warm water (110-120 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour (15 oz) -- If you don't weigh it, fluff it up very well before measuring.
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon shortening
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon butter, melted
  1. In bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the warm water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, and let it stand for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl then measure out about 1 tablespoon and discard. Whisk in the milk and salt, then add the egg milk mixture to the yeast mixture.
  3. Combine the flour and sugar in a separate bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the yeast mixture. Set the mixing bowl on the stand mixer with the dough hook and knead for about 3 minutes or until dough appears smooth and elastic and is pulling away from the bowl. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap or a warm towel and set it aside to rise for 1 hour.
  4. When the dough has risen, pour the melted butter over it, return to stand mixer and knead with the dough hook for about 3 more minutes. (See Note). Dough should be smooth, elastic, slick, but not shaggy. Flour a large surface. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then roll or pat out to a little less than 1 inch thick. Using a knife, cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Tuck the corners of the squares under to make smooth rounds and set them in the pan (I used two 9 inch round pans with about 6 balls of dough in each. Space about 1 inch apart.
  5. Set pans aside for another 40 minutes rise. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If you like, brush the rolls with some extra melted butter. Bake the rolls for about 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. I brushed them with a little more butter before serving.
One step I've kind of modified over the years is when adding the butter after the first rise, I just stir it a bit and then knead it by hand rather than returning to the stand mixer. The dough is squishy, scraggly and weird. Rather than roll it out, I pick up lumps a little smaller than a plum, squish them into lumpy balls and set them about an inch apart in two 9 inch round cake pans (about 7 to a pan). They look lumpy and terrible at this point, but they look pretty when they are fully risen and baked.

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  1. says

    These look similar in texture and appearance to the rolls served at Texas Roadhouse. Those things are amazing, and served with a whipped cinnamon butter that makes me go weak in the knees. I’ve already bookmarked this recipe for a snowy day!

  2. says

    Caroline, Todd and I went to the Texas Roadhouse the other day. The one in our area is partially owned by Willie Nelson. Anyway, we loved their rolls. I think theirs have a little bit more butter flavor than these — and it’s that slightly artificial yet good tasting butter. You could get these to taste that way by using butter flavored shortening, I suppose. The texture was the same.

  3. Jennifer says

    Those look really good. I’ve been working this year on my yeast skills, too. I’ve never been really good with anything that requires kneading or rolling out. I figure the raw ingredients for yeasted breads are usually so cheap though (flour, water, yeast, salt..) that I can experiment and really only lose some time if things don’t turn out well.

  4. says

    Yum! I just love a warm roll with a touch of butter. I’ll have to compare this recipe to the one I used for Christmas dinner rolls. I’ve tried a number of recipes that use potato flakes, and I don’t like them. I’m glad you found one that you like that doesn’t use them.

  5. Fat Fudge says

    You got rolls?! In our cafeteria, you got a piece of white bread spread with whipped margarine.

  6. says

    Love those old memory type foods. I have a recipe for rolls that my mom actually got from a school lunch lady. It’s called 30 minute rolls and works great for cinnamon rolls, too.
    For measuring part of an egg, I like weighing a whole egg (out of the shell) in grams and then just dividing it by three, rather than trying to get all the egg goo into measuring spoons. Each egg isn’t always exactly the same in grams, but close enough.

  7. says

    I love the beautiful golden brown sheen you got on top of your rolls. I think I’ll make a batch this week. It seems like they’d make a good sandwich with the leftover ham I’ve got from Sunday dinner. Thanks again!

  8. says

    Those look wonderful, Anna! I have one standard roll recipe…but don’t make them often now that the kids are grown and gone.

    When I was in boarding school, meals were pretty well balanced, but we all went for the fattening stuff! And in college, donuts and pizza. So bad for us! (but I lived to tell the tale!)

  9. Kris P says

    Can’t wait to try these. Thanks for bringing back good memories of elementary school lunch. The rolls were the best.

  10. stephanie says

    I have to try them, just because of the name itself! we are getting snowed in here in Michigan, this might be a good roll for tomorrow with a big pot of soup or chili. THanks!!

  11. Shelly says

    I made these yesterday. They did indeed bring me back to my high school days! Wonderful with pasta!

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