What do you get when you cross a beloved family recipe with vanilla ice cream and frozen dinner rolls?
I'm not sure, but after trying the recipe myself, I concluded that the rolls tasted like warm caramel, dinner rolls and a glazed doughnut had a baby. And, in case it's unclear, I mean that in the best way possible.
"Secret rolls," recently shared on TikTok by Julia Protexter (aka @jprtxtr) and first spotted by Kitchn, are frozen yeast rolls topped with a mixture of vanilla ice cream, brown sugar and butter that's been cooked on the stove until bubbling. After letting the rolls rise, they go into the oven until golden-brown (which was about 30 minutes on 350 F for me.)
In the viral TikTok, Protexter, who lives in Iowa, weaves an entertaining story about how the recipe ended up in her family's repertoire.
"My mom and dad went over to my uncle and aunt's for a party, she shares in the video, which has since gone viral, garnering over 1.7 million views. "My aunt made these delicious rolls that my mom loved, but she would always refuse to give my mom the recipe."
Protexter explains that her mom asked several times for the recipe over the years, until one day, her uncle overheard her aunt refusing and insisted he give it to her "because we are family."
According to the story, her mom finally got the recipe and started calling them "secret rolls," vowing to always give it to anyone who asks for it.
"Do you want the recipe?" Protexter asks while making the rolls.
At TODAY Food, we always want the recipe, so of course we had to try them.
But when I connected with Protexter, she shared that the recipe for the rolls is not as secret as it sounds.
Her mom did ask her aunt for the recipe, and her aunt did say no.
"My aunt had gotten it from someone else who told her not to give it to anyone," she told me. "Mind you, this happened over 20 years ago."
Later, her mother asked for it again. Committed to keeping her friend's secret, she said no again. But after her uncle's cries of injustice about keeping the recipe secret, the recipe finally entered Protexter's mother's recipe box.
"My mom is just a funny lady and decided to call them 'secret rolls' because of all the work she went through to get the recipe," she explained.
With the proper backstory in hand, I set to work making the rolls in my own kitchen.
I combined one cup of brown sugar, one cup of vanilla ice cream, one stick of butter and some cinnamon in a pan. When it had turned into caramel, I poured the mixture over frozen rolls and let them rise for about four hours.
That may have been the toughest part of the recipe — the waiting. But they could have been prepped the night before and left to rise in the fridge overnight. However they're set up to rise, the time is worth it.
These rolls were glazed and warm and perfectly sticky. My son, who would live on bread and pasta if we'd let him, couldn't get enough.
"These are like … incredibly good," he said after taking a bite. Then he ate three in one sitting. (They're best when warm from the oven, so he was smart for doing so.)
In addition to eating them warm, Protexter suggested serving them with ice cream on the side. (Her preference is butter pecan.)
"Growing up my mom made us these rolls breakfast on Sunday mornings from time to time, and for breakfast on Easter and Christmas," she said. "Sadly, we don’t know where the recipe originated from."
So, it seems like some secrets are meant to be shared — and I am grateful to Protexter for doing so.