Frozen Dinner Rolls
How we tested
Frozen rolls pale in comparison with good fresh ones, but they do have their perks. They keep for months in the freezer, so you can always have bread on hand. And you can bake only what you need and forgo that leftover half of a baguette that often lurks for days, stale and forgotten. We’ve tasted frozen rolls before and found them so-so—OK in a pinch, but it would have to be quite a firm pinch. Our previous winner was discontinued, so we returned to the freezer aisle and found new lines touting “stone baked,” “artisan,” “crusty,” and “French” rolls. They certainly sound better—are they?
We tasted three nationally available products; two are partially baked at the factory, and one is fully baked, quickly frozen, and reheated at home. We cooked them according to their package instructions and called 21 editors and test cooks to the table. One product completely tanked, but we liked a second product and really liked the third.
Tasters wanted rolls that were crusty outside and tender inside. Both of our top two products nailed this, but the bottom-ranking product was “gummy” and “dense.” We compared labels and saw that the dense rolls had 17 different ingredients. (The other two had seven and eight, respectively.) Among these were vital wheat gluten, guar gum, and xanthan gum; all three ingredients retain moisture and create a gummy texture. These rolls were also the only ones to include some whole-wheat flour, which makes for denser bread.
As for flavor, the two products we liked were pleasantly wheaty and yeasty. Our favorite product earned extra points for tasting “the most homemade.” We checked and found that it uses a basic recipe of mostly flour, water, salt, and yeast. These rolls also have 40 to 60 milligrams more sodium per serving than the others, which enhanced the bread’s flavor without overwhelming it. Tasters noted that the lowest-scoring product was “funky” and “tart.” We found that it’s the only one that adds sourdough starter. Sourdough flavor can be excellent, but here it was off: “Not like sourdough. More like gym shoes,” said one taster.
Pleasantly wheaty, crispy, and chewy, our dairy-free winning rolls are better than any frozen rolls we’ve tasted before. They’re also the only product that’s fully cooked at the factory in a stone oven, which yielded the crispiest, lightest rolls. Good fresh bread is always our first choice, but when it’s unavailable, we’d be happy to serve our winning rolls at our table.