Making the Thanksgiving Rolls with My Mama (Complete with Recipe and Tutorial!)

I don’t know about you, but I just love the winter holidays. I can totally do without Valentine’s Day and even Halloween and all that, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are my all-time favorites. And even though realistically I know that every year will be a little bit different, I do sometimes wish that we could recreate those days from previous years. Lots of families have special holiday traditions and ours is no exception. I think as humans, we are hardwired to create and uphold traditions because they are comfortable, they make us feel nostalgic, we can count on them year after year, they give us something to look forward to, and their predictability make us feel safe. And while it feels good to remember and keep traditions from the past, I’m learning with my new(ish) little family that creating new ones can be so much fun too.

Growing up, our Thanksgivings looked a lot like this: eat a small breakfast to leave room for a huge lunch. Drive over to Grandma’s all the way from the west side of Albuquerque to the east side, with a beautiful crisp view of the Sandias. Get to Grandma’s and hug all the aunts and uncles who have traveled to town. Ask about the turkey, which has been cooking since about 6am, usually thanks to Uncle Bob. Make the green bean casserole; not a fancy recipe, just straight off the french fried onion can, and sometimes put together a pie to go in the oven while we eat. When the turkey’s done, Aunt Lucy and I loiter around whoever’s carving it and steal pieces of crispy skin, calling dibs on all the juicy dark meat (all you white meat people, I just don’t get it!). Then, we sit down to eat and everyone’s quiet for a minute, all you can hear is the sound of clinking glasses and silverware on fine china. We slide into conversations about movies or current events until everyone’s ready for seconds. After we eat, one or two people (usually including my dad) collect the dishes and get to work before we dive into dessert, grateful that they did not lift a finger with the cooking. And after the pies and ice cream have been sufficiently depleted, we all loosen our pants and settle in on couches to watch the football game or take tryptophan-induced naps.

When I was a teenager and in college, we’d meet in Denver at Lucy and Bob’s, sometimes in the snow, and basically repeat the same as I’ve just described. As you can tell, most of our Thanksgiving traditions revolve around the food (I know, surprising). I don’t think we’ve ever eaten anything other than turkey on Thanksgiving, and the “company” mashed potatoes my Aunt Heather makes, passed down from her mom, are almost always there. Sometimes we have different salads, different types of sweet potatoes, different variations on the cranberry sauce or the green bean casserole, but my mama’s rolls (recipe passed down from her mama) have been the same since I can remember. These rolls are somewhat famous in the family. I’ve heard cousins say that they’ve driven for 10 hours just to have some of Aunt Barbara’s rolls. And she has never once changed up the recipe on us. They are consistent, they are predictable, they make us feel safe. And furthermore, they are a labor of love. It takes almost all day to make them. This year, my mom and sister are with me, in my new home, and before we travel for the holiday, we are making the rolls, “butterhorn” dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls. With mom’s permission, I’m going to share our process here. Note- these are not remotely paleo or gluten-free, and I’ve thought about trying to make a copycat version, but then, why mess with tradition? Sometimes you gotta live a little.


  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. sugar
  • 6 tbsp. shortening (we used this, a healthier alternative to traditional shortening)
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 cups flour (we used 1/2 organic white flour and 1/2 whole wheat flour- the only change my mom made to her mom’s original recipe)
  • one stick of butter
  • more sugar (as much as you want)
  • cinnamon


  1. Soften the yeast by sprinkling it over the lukewarm water. Let it sit until dissolved.
  2. Scald the milk (this means warm it up until it’s almost boiling, stirring constantly) then add to the salt, sugar, and shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk to combine. 

  3. Add one cup of flour and whisk to combine. Then, add egg. When this mixture is lukewarm, add in yeast. 

  4. Cup by cup, add more flour until it forms into a soft dough.
  5. Use hook attachment to knead the dough, adding more flour if needed (we ended up using a total of about 5 1/4 cups of flour). The dough is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and kind of “cleans” the sides of the bowl. Let it knead for about 4 minutes on low. 

  6.  Grease a large bowl with more shortening and put dough ball into it with a warm damp cloth over it. Place in cold oven along with a pot of hot water to rise (about 1 1/2 hours). 

  7. Punch down dough and turn out onto a floured baking sheet or cutting board. Knead manually until all air bubbles are gone. Cut in half and place both portions back in bowl for about 15 minutes to rest. 

  8. Melt butter in pan. Spread some butter onto the work surface and then place one portion of dough on the butter. Smash down and roll out in a circular shape (or oval like ours). For butterhorns (dinner rolls), cover with more butter, then slice into triangular pieces (we got about 15). 

  9. Starting at the outer edges, roll into a crescent shape, tuck in the “tail”, and place onto baking sheet. We used parchment paper to ensure no sticking!
  10. For cinnamon rolls, add more butter to work surface and roll out dough into a rectangular shape. Add rest of butter and sprinkle sugar (we used about 2/3 cup) and cinnamon (no idea- just enough to cover and all the way to the edges).
  11. Starting at the bottom, roll dough into a log shape. Then, use serrated knife to make 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Place these into a buttered glass baking dish. 

  12. Let rolls and cinnamon rolls rise for another hour or so.
  13. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325°.
  14. Bake dinner rolls for 15-20 minutes or until lightly brown (keep an eye on them as oven temps vary). You can do these for 10-12 minutes if you want to just lightly bake to take and serve later. 

  15. Bake cinnamon rolls for 20-25 minutes.
  16. Drool. Eat. Enjoy.

Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours. Katie

2 thoughts on “Making the Thanksgiving Rolls with My Mama (Complete with Recipe and Tutorial!)

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