Hawaiian rolls are soft and tender, with a hint of sweetness from the pineapple juice, brown sugar, and honey. These sweet rolls are yeast-leavened until they double in size, then watch them bake into golden pull-part rounds.
Freshly baked homemade Hawaiian sweet rolls are an irresistible treat at the dinner table. Most people just don’t have the time to bake from scratch, so when developing this recipe I cut the preparation time in half by using dried instant yeast. The time needed to ferment the dough is only required after shaping them into rounds.
This type of bread is considered an enriched sweet dough that calls for more butter, eggs, and sweetener than lean doughs like my classic dinner rolls. The result is a more tender interior with a nice golden brown, buttery crust.
This recipe is inspired by the store-bought King’s Hawaiian bread rolls which my kids absolutely love, and it’s even featured in my cookbook Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking .
There are a few different types of yeast that help bread rise. Dry instant yeast, also called “fast-rising” or “fast-acting” reduces the fermentation time which is where live organisms produce carbon dioxide and create air pockets. It requires no initial proofing step and can be added directly to the dry ingredients then rehydrated with the warm liquid in the recipe.
Don’t kill the yeast!
The yeast used in baking is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is dormant when dried but activates in warm and wet conditions that contain carbohydrates like bread dough. It’s extremely important when adding liquids that they be between 120 to 130ºF (49 to 54ºC) so that the dough rises.
This temperature range wakes them up and keeps them alive. Too low and they don’t activate, any higher and they will die. If the dough does not rise, it’s a strong indicator that the yeast was killed.
Flavoring the bread
What makes these rolls addicting and gives them an island twist is the addition of pineapple juice, honey, brown sugar, milk, and butter. This combination adds a hint of sweetness and helps to make the bread more tender, but it also makes it stickier to work with.
Add some additional flour when kneading, but not too much or they’ll become too dense. It’s okay for the dough to be slightly tacky.
Best way to portion the rolls
The most accurate way to portion the dough is to weigh them on a digital scale. I found that this formula makes between 2.5 to 2.75 ounce (71 to 78 grams) dough balls, so target that weight. Otherwise, do you best eyeballing the dough, pinching off pieces to bulk up others if needed. Since they’re all baked together, it’s okay to be close but not exact.
Cutting down the rise time
Instant yeast is highly active, therefore only needs to rise for about 30 to 60 minutes after rolling into balls. After initially mixing the dough make sure to give 10 minutes to allow the gluten to rest so it’s easier to cut and shape.
Typically dough needs two rise steps, one right after mixing for 1 hour, but the instant yeast cuts the time in half. I recommend making a simple oven proofing box to create the optimal warm humid environment for the dough to properly rise.
Storing, freezing and reheating
These Hawaiian rolls taste best when eaten the same day, but they can be stored in a resealable bag or airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.
- Room temperature rolls: Reheat in the microwave on high power for 30 to 60 seconds, or in the oven at 300ºF (149ºC) for 10 to 15 minutes on a sheet pan.
- Frozen rolls: Reheat in the microwave on high power for 60 to 75 seconds, or in the oven at 300ºF (149ºC) for 15 to 20 minutes on a sheet pan.
Can active dry yeast be used?
Yes! Active dry yeast can be used instead of instant yeast. About 1.33 times more needs to be added for the same fermentation power, 18.2 grams for this recipe. This type of yeast requires rehydrating in warm water first between 100 to 110ºF (38 to 43ºC), then two rise steps after kneading and shaping for about 1 hour each.
- 5 cups (710 g) all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting
- 4 1⁄2 teaspoons (14 g) instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 2 1⁄2 teaspoons (15 g) kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup (135 ml) whole milk, plus 1 tablespoon (15ml), divided
- 1 cup (240 ml) pineapple juice
- 8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
- 1⁄3 cup (80 ml) honey
- 2 tablespoons (16 g) dark brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs, divided
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
- Use a stand mixer fitted with a greased dough hook to make the rolls.
- Add 5 cups (710g) flour, yeast, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer, and use a whisk to combine.
- In a medium-size microwave-safe bowl, add 1⁄2 cup (120ml) milk, pineapple juice, 6 tablespoons (84g) melted butter and honey, whisk to combine. Microwave the mixture in 20-second increments until it reaches 120 to 130°F (49 to 54°C), about 90 seconds.
- Add the brown sugar, 1 egg, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla to the flour mixture.
- Set the mixer to low speed and gradually add the warmed milk mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to incorporate the flour.
- Knead the dough on low until it begins to pull away from the bowl, 2 minutes.
- Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is elastic and smooth in texture, about 7 minutes. The dough should start to clear the sides of the bowl but will be sticky on the bottom.
- Add 1⁄4 cup (36g) additional flour, mixing on low speed, 1 minute.
- Add another 1⁄4 cup (36g) if needed, until the desired texture is achieved and a slightly sticky ball is formed. Use as little added flour as possible.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.
- Cut the dough into 18 even-sized pieces, about 2 ½ to 3 ounces (71 to 81g) in weight.
- Roll dough pieces into balls with smooth tops, lightly flouring the work surface as needed.
- Place the dough balls into the greased pan, 3 balls per row, 6 rows total. Leave about 1⁄2 inch around the corners of the pan.
- Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and place it in a warm draft-free place. Allow the dough balls to rise and double in size, 30 to 60 minutes. They should be touching each other and nearly filling the pan completely.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (177°C).
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon (15ml) of milk. Brush the egg wash on the tops and sides. Bake until golden brown and shiny on the surface, 18 to 25 minutes. Make sure to rotate the pan halfway through baking.
- Cool the rolls on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the rolls from the tray and brush with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Serve immediately while warm.