Shaping buns and rolls require a slightly different approach than a standard loaf of sourdough bread. Typically, dough weights are much smaller, and it's also usually enriched with butter and sugar. This makes for a softer dough that can be challenging to handle depending on the percentage of these ingredients. This guide will go into my approach for shaping buns and rolls, the pans I like to use, and a few other tips and tricks I've discovered along the way.
I see buns and rolls somewhat similar, and in most cases, the dough can likely be used interchangeably. To me, rolls are typically proofed and baked closer together and usually result in “tear apart rolls.” Buns, on the other hand, are usually proofed with space between them, which causes a crust to form uniformly around the bun (as you can see in the image below). I like to use sourdough rolls for dinners (especially Thanksgiving), but they're also great with soups and stews. Buns are great for hamburgers, egg sandwiches—essentially, they're made to be filled.
While there might be some challenges to making sourdough buns and rolls, they're absolutely worth the effort. And I feel like once you get the hang of handling the soft dough, shaping becomes quick and effortless.
My Favorite Pans and Trays
Over the years I've found the following pans to be the best for sourdough buns and rolls. They're nonstick (although, I still butter the interior), extremely durable, and have lasted so many bakes in my home kitchen without any signs of giving up.
These LLoydPans are nonstick and conduct heat incredibly well, browning the bottom and sides of whatever is inside just as well as the top. They're made in the USA and are extremely durable. This pan is shown holding fourteen 85g rolls (they're large).
This 8×8-inch USA Pan is great for packing in smaller, 65g weight rolls. The pan has a natural nonstick liner, which makes cleanup a breeze. This pan is shown holding sixteen 65g rolls.
For buns, I use these Nordic Ware half sheet pans (18 x 13-inches) line with parchment paper. These conduct heat very well and are spacious enough to hold large buns. This pan is shown holding five 120g hamburger buns.
Shaping buns and rolls is a very similar process. I first divide the dough in bulk fermentation into smaller pieces, then shape immediately and place it into its proofing pan.
If the dough is very slack and sticky, I like to place the bulk fermentation container into the fridge, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the dough is slightly cool to the touch and firm. This makes shaping easier and means less flour needed for your work surface.
When dealing with a soft, enriched dough, using your bench knife can minimize the dough sticking to your fingers.
As you can see above, the process is simply taking a piece of divided dough, rounding it with your bench knife or hand, then use either to push the dough against the work surface to create tension on the outside of bun or roll.
It's essential with buns and rolls to develop a uniform and tight exterior skin on the dough. Use the side of your hand to push the dough as it slightly anchors to the work surface (see below).
How to Proof Buns and Rolls
Cover your baking pan or sheet with large reusable plastic to prevent a skin from forming on the dough during proofing. I like to either puff up the bag with air and then quickly seal it shut or use a tall cup inside the bag to prop it up off of the dough (as seen below).
Shaping Buns and Rolls Video
The video below shows me shaping my Super Soft Sourdough Rolls, a dough enriched with butter, sugar, and a tangzhong base. The dough is rather soft; you'll notice I use my bench knife to help shape the sourdough buns into a tight shape.
When shaping buns and rolls like these, it's helpful to place the dough into the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up before shaping, as discussed earlier.
Recommended reading: What is tangzhong (and yudane)?
After reviewing this shaping buns and rolls guide, check out these buns and rolls recipes to put your new shaping skills to use!