Dinner Bell Rolls

by Carilyn on February 1, 2023

As kids of the 70s, my siblings and I were part of the original “free range” generation. We ran wild, along with all the other kids in the neighborhood. Hide-n-go-seek, kick the can, fort building, tree climbing, water balloon fights, skateboard races, badmitton and ping pong tournaments, and backyard carnivals. Nobody was sitting inside watching television because there was nothing on during the day. No young kid was watching Edge of Tomorrow, trust me. So we played. And we played hard.

Until it was dinnertime. Like roaches when a light is turned on, the first call to dinner had every kid scattering. Despite all the freedom we had, we also knew better than be late for dinner unless we were looking for 70s style punishment. To summon their kids home, most mothers would rely on the standard open the front door and yell. So long as one kid heard the call, everyone was safe. But, too many times we would be playing in one of the many arroyos around our neighborhood, and no human voice was going to be loud enough to get us to the dinner table.

With four kids eleven years apart, my mother had no time for this malarkey. She refused to serve a cold dinner because her brood didn’t make it home on time. As a daily cook, she would spend a couple of hours every night making sure we had a from-scratch meal, and her lack of a bullhorn voice was not going to interfere.

Enter the Dinner Bell.

Now, I know what you are thinking: how the hell would a dinner bell bring all the kids running? Well, our dinner bell was a Liberty Bell replica (minus the crack) mounted on a basketball pole. When it was time for dinner (or, in the summer after dinner, at bedtime), my mom would head outside and pull on the long, hanging rope.

“Clang! Clang! Clang!” the bell reverberated all around the neighborhood, and beyond. Even with most houses on our block filled with kids, there were a few houses with elderly neighbors who I now realize were exercising an off-the-charts level of patience by not complaining. Picture the cannon scene in Mary Poppins. That was our neighborhood every single night. And my mother was the Admiral.

One of my favorite parts of dinner were the rolls. My mom wasn’t a baker, but my grandmother was. So, when we were lucky, we would get a fresh batch delivered, or brought back from a family meal at Grandmother’s house, to have with whatever Mom cooked that night. They were amazing – soft, pillowy, browned with butter, and topped with a sprinkling of flaky salt. Hot, with melted butter can still be an entire meal for me (okay, maybe three or four rolls make a meal, but who’s counting?).

As a fan of Smitten Kitchen, I was so happy to discover Deb’s Dinner Roll recipe. They are exactly how I remember my grandmother’s – and they are a regularly requested item again in my family. While the recipe is a little time consuming, I promise it is worth the effort. You will not get a better roll, I promise.


Dinner Bell Rolls

(adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup (235 grams) warm water (about 85 degrees)

1 1/4 oz. packet (2 1/4 teaspoons/7 grams) instant yeast

2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter, diced

1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar

1 large egg

2 1/2  teaspoons salt

3 1/2 cups (455 grams) AP flour

oil for bowl

3 tablespoons salted butter for dipping, and then brushing, the tops of rolls (2 separate steps)

flaky salt for finishing (optional)


In a bowl or measuring cup, mix warm water and instant yeast. Add to bowl of a stand mixer, then whisk in diced butter, sugar, egg, and salt.

Replace whisk attachment with bread hook. Slowly add flour on low. Mix for 2 minutes until all flour is incorporated, then turn to medium/medium high and mix for 8 more minutes. Dough should pull away from sides of bowl.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap. Proof (at about 80 degrees F) for approximately 1 and 1/2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.

Melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a pan on low. Line a half-sheet baking pan (or 2 smaller sheet pans) with parchment paper.

Measure out 20 rolls, 40 grams each, to make 5 rows of 4 rolls. Handle gently. No need to knead dough. Simply roll into a ball and place in rows on your baking sheet.

Next, take the rolls over to your pan of melted butter. Tip the pan of butter so that you can “bathe” each roll in the “shallow” end of the pan where there is simply a layer of butter. You just want a thin coating on each roll, NOT a dunking. Deb describes it as a “kiss” of butter. Gently place each roll back in its place on your sheet pan.

Cover your pan of now-buttered pan of rolls with plastic wrap and let them proof for another hour. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. After the hour is up, uncover and bake for 10 – 14 minutes until golden brown. Light brush the tops again with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle with flaky salt, if desired.

Best straight out of the oven, so plan accordingly (I usually eat too many and then am full at mealtime).



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