Super Soft Sourdough Rolls

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The holidays are the best excuse for binge baking. The end of the year is marked by that rare, justifiable time when being chained to your oven is considered normal—nay, it’s even encouraged! And as you might imagine, it’s absolutely my favorite time of the year. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I can’t seem to help myself as the swirl of bread baking ideas take me in this direction and that, lengthening my “Things to Bake” list to unhealthy measures. And for these meals, I always have a favorite loaf of bread or two earmarked for the dinner table, but often it also includes a (sourdough) pie, sometimes a sweet bread, and always an experimental loaf. Last year I explored a variation of this roll recipe, and while they were great, they’ve come a long way through subsequent tests and trials. Now, they’ve matured into these super soft sourdough rolls, now firmly on the menu for both holiday meals.

These dinner rolls (although honestly, you could eat them at any time of day) are incredibly soft, light, and for lack of a better adjective, squishy. Let me take you on a quick trip. Try to remember your last visit to the state fair where you ordered that massive cone of cotton candy—for me, this was many years past, yet the memory is still somehow quite keen. Now pull off a large tatter of that soft, cloud-like sugar puff and watch as it comes apart in thick sheets, floating in the air in front of your face. With that image in mind, now you’re close to the delicate, yielding texture of these buttery dinner rolls.

Flavorwise, these rolls are what you want and expect from a dinner roll: slightly buttery, a smidgen sweet, and they have only the slightest touch of sourness (if any). The flakey salt on top is like a lightning bolt to the taste buds, lest they forget the activity they’re actively engaged in. These rolls have a specific and dedicated purpose on the dinner table: to soak up all sauces (gravy! salad dressing! au jus!) on the dinner plate. But when keeping it simple and plain, the rolls equally satisfy any voracious maw when eaten as-is or simply with a pat of warm butter.

Let’s look at what flour I used for this recipe and how tangzhong helps us get to that cotton candy-like tenderness.

Flour Selection and Tangzhong

This recipe will work well with any standard all-purpose flour and higher protein bread flour (King Arthur will work well for both). The added bread flour brings some extra protein and strength to the mix to help these rolls rise a little higher and have a little more structure. In testing, these rolls were even more soft and tender without the bread flour, but I found the added high protein flour helps keep them sturdy when used for dipping.

Tangzhong for dinner rolls
Tangzhong (pre-cooked flour) cooling before adding to mix

This recipe uses a pre-cooked flour mix-in, tangzhong, to bring extra tenderness to these dinner rolls. These rolls are similar to Japanese milk bread rolls (also called Hokkaido milk rolls), which also use a roux. It’s straightforward and only takes a few minutes at the start of the process: add the called for flour and milk to a saucepan and warm over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Then, add the cooled roux into your mix as you would any other ingredient. See my guide to the Tangzhong technique for a more in-depth discussion.

Baking Schedule

These super soft sourdough rolls can be made all in a single day (ignoring the overnight levain) or they can be retarded (refrigerated) in proof to bake the next day right before dinner.

Be sure to use your levain when it’s very ripe: it should be extremely bubbly, frothy, and well-risen. The dough might move a little slow in proof; give it extra time if necessary.

Overnight proof option: These rolls are extremely flexible, and you can change the timeline to help sync these up with dinner or refrigerate them, once shaped, overnight to bake the next day.

 If you’re making these for Thanksgiving , you can make the rolls the day before and proof them in the fridge, then on Thanksgiving day, take them out a few hours before the big meal, finish proofing on the counter if necessary, and bake so the rolls are warm for dinner.

Baking Equipment

As shown below, I’ve tested with several baking pans these super soft sourdough rolls, and below are my favorite.

Sourdough rolls baking pan comparison
Lloyd Pan on left, USA Pan on right—both excellent choices for rolls
 First pan choice : LloydPans 10×2.25-inch round pan.

I’ve been using these round LloydPans for so many things in my kitchen: from my sourdough focaccia to sourdough pizza and now to these dinner rolls. They are nonstick and conduct heat so incredibly well, browning the bottom and sides of whatever is inside just as well as the top. They’re magical, actually.

 Second pan choice : USA Pan 8-inch square pan.

Second is the square USA Pan I use in my kitchen for bread and brownies and other cakes. It works extremely well but can only fit around 9-10 rolls, depending on how tightly they’re rolled. If you divide the dough into smaller 65g rolls, you can fit a full 16 (as shown above in the photo). You could also use a 9×13-inch rectangular pan for more room and fit the entire batch of 14.

Super soft sourdough rolls topped with sea salt

Super Soft Sourdough Rolls Formula

For tips on how to calculate baker’s percentages or how to modify this formula, see my post on baker’s percentages (baker’s math).

Total Dough Weight1200 grams
Pre-fermented Flour12.50%
Levain in final dough37.14%
Yield14 x 85g sourdough dinner rolls (or more smaller rolls)

Total Formula

Desired dough temperature: 78°F (26°C). See my post on the importance of dough temperature for more information on dough temperatures.

Milk & butter alternative (vegan): If you want to make these rolls vegan, substitute out the dairy milk in the roux, below, for water, a nut milk, or full fat oat milk. For the butter, go with Earth Balance Vegan Butter or similar.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
41gPre-cooked: Medium-protein bread flour or All-purpose flour (~11% protein, King Arthur Baking All-Purpose)7.00%
166gPre-cooked: Whole milk28.00%
402gMedium-protein bread flour or All-purpose flour (~11% protein, King Arthur Baking All-Purpose)68.00%
148gHigh-protein bread flour (~12.7% protein, King Arthur Baking Bread Flour)25.00%
95gButter, unsalted16.00%
53gSugar, caster9.00%
254gWater43.00%
11gSalt1.80%
30gSourdough starter5.00%
Total yield: 202.80%, 1,200.0 grams

NOTE: You’ll also need one egg and a splash of whole milk for the egg wash and coarse sea salt to top the super soft sourdough rolls (optional).

Super Soft Sourdough Rolls Method

1. Prepare Levain – Night before mixing, 9:00 p.m. (Day one)

Like my pumpkin cinnamon sourdough bread, this recipe utilizes a “sweet starter,” which calls for a little sugar added to the levain to promote yeast activity and help reduce sourness in the final dinner rolls. See my post on the differences between a starter and levain if the two terms are new to you.

Sweet starter ready for mixing
This levain will be extremely bubbly and active when ripe

Mix the following ingredients in a container and leave covered to ripen at about 76°F (24°C) for 12 hours overnight.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
74gMedium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)100.00%
74gWater100.00%
15gSugar, caster20.00%
30gRipe sourdough starter40.00%
Total yield: 260.0%, 192.3 grams

2. Pre-cook Flour – 8:00 a.m. (Day two)

Be sure to do this ahead of time to give the pre-cooked flour time to cool before mixing.

WeightIngredient
41gMedium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
166gWhole milk

To a medium saucepan, add the flour and milk listed above. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens and becomes like a paste, about 5-8 minutes. In the beginning, whisk vigorously to break up any flour clumps, and be diligent about this near the end to avoid burning. The mixture won’t seem to do anything until it reaches a critical heat point, be patient; it will thicken.

Once it transforms into a viscous paste (like mashed potatoes), remove the pan from the heat and spread it out on a small plate to expedite cooling. Set aside until called for when mixing.

3. Mix – 9:00 a.m. (Day two)

There is no autolyse step for this dough. See my guide to the autolyse technique for when and why I like to use the technique (and why it’s not strictly necessary).

I used my KitchenAid stand mixer to mix this dough, but it could also be mixed by hand using the slap and fold technique or a series of folds in the mixing bowl.

WeightIngredient
AllPre-cooked flour (see Step 2, Pre-cook Flour, above)
328gMedium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
148gHigh-protein flour
95gButter, unsalted
39gSugar, caster
181gWater
11gSalt
192gLevain (see Prepare Levain, above)

First, take out your butter and cut it into 1/2″ pats. Set the butter on a plate to warm to room temperature and reserve until the end of mixing.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the waterflour, ripe levainsugarpre-cooked flour roux (from step 2), and salt. Mix on speed 1 (STIR on a KitchenAid) for 1 to 2 minutes until the ingredients come together and no dry bits remain. Increase the mixer speed to medium (2 on a KitchenAid) and mix for 4-5 minutes until the dough starts to strengthen and clump around the dough hook. It won’t completely remove from the bottom of the bowl, and it will still be shaggy.

Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Your butter should now be at room temperature; a finger will easily slide in and leave an impression. Turn the mixer on to speed 1 and add the butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add each pat until the previous one is fully absorbed. Adding all the butter might take 5 to 8 minutes. In the end, the dough will still be very soft and not completely remove from the sides of the mixing bowl—we will continue to strengthen the dough during bulk fermentation.

Transfer your dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

4. Bulk Fermentation – 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

At warm room temperature, around 76°F (24°C), bulk should take about 3 1/2 hours. If your kitchen is cooler, place the pan to rise in a small dough proofer, or extend bulk fermentation as necessary. In the image below (tap/click to zoom in), you can see my dough at the start of bulk (left), and at after 3 1/2 hours (right).

Start of bulk fermentation after mixing (left); dough at end of bulk fermentation (right)

Give this dough three sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation at 30-minute intervals. The first set starts after 30 minutes from the start of bulk fermentation. For each set, wet your hands, grab one side and stretch it up and over the dough to the other side. Rotate the bowl 180° and perform another stretch and fold (this forms a long rectangle in the bowl). Then, rotate the bowl 90° and do another stretch and fold. Finally, turn the bowl 180° and do one last stretch and fold. You should have the dough neatly folded up in the bowl.

After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for the remainder of bulk fermentation.

5. Chill Dough – 1:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

At this point, your dough should have risen in your bulk container, be puffy to the touch, and have smoothed out. If the dough still feels dense and tight, give it another 15 minutes and check again.

Uncover your bulk container and place the dough in the refrigerator for 15 to 25 minutes. This time will help firm up the dough to make shaping and transferring to the pan much easier. Note that the longer you chill the dough in the fridge, the longer the dough will potentially take to proof (because it will then have to warm up that much more).

Overnight fermentation option: At this point, you can choose to place the covered bulk fermentation container into the fridge to retard the dough overnight and bake the next day. The next day, take the dough out, let it warm up for 30 minutes, and then resume with the Shape step below.

If your dough is extremely soft, chill the dough for up to 1 hour, covered, to make shaping easier.

6. Shape – 1:15 p.m.

First, butter your baking pan (even if it’s nonstick) to ensure the rolls remove cleanly after baking. If using a round pan, I prefer to start placing the rolls along the outside in a ring, then work inward as each ring is filled in.

Shaped sourdough dinner rolls
Just-shaped sourdough dinner rolls in a Lloyd Pan

Remove your bulk fermentation container from the fridge, lightly flour the top of the dough in the bowl, and gently scrape out the dough to an unfloured work surface. The dough will be cool to the touch but still very soft. Lightly dust the top of the dough and divide the mass into fourteen 85g pieces.

Because of the dough texture, I prefer using my bench knife to help shape each roll. Use the knife to drag the dough toward your body as your other hand rounds the dough, tucking the edge down under the ball. Repeat this dragging and tucking with the knife and your other hand until you have a uniformly round ball.

For more shaping instruction, see my guide page to shaping buns and rolls.

7. Proof – 1:45 p.m. 4:15 p.m. (2 1/2 hours)

Cover the pan with a large, reusable plastic bag and seal it shut. My kitchen was on the cooler side, around 72-74°F (22-23°C), and the dough took about 2 1/2 hours to fully proof.

8. Bake – 4:15 p.m. (pre-heat oven around 3:45 p.m.)

Preheat your oven, with rack in the middle, to 425°F (220°C).

Uncover your dough and gently press the tops of a few rolls. You shouldn’t feel any dense spots or tight areas—the dough should be very light and airy. If you do, cover the bowl and give your dough another 15 to 30 minutes to proof and check again.

There’s no need to steam the oven for this bake because we’ll use an egg wash to top the dough. In a small bowl, whisk together a whole egg and a splash (about 1 tbsp) of whole milk.

Once your oven is preheated, remove your pan from its bag, evenly brush on the egg wash, sprinkle on coarse sea salt (optional), and slide the pan into the oven.

Super soft sourdough dinner rolls ready for the oven
Super soft sourdough dinner rolls with egg wash and sea salt

Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 20 minutes. After this time, rotate the pan 180° in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F (175°C). Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until the tops of the rolls are browned, and the internal temperature is around 204°F (95°C). Once done, remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Then, remove the rolls from the pan to a wire rack and finish cooling.

These are wonderful warm from the oven, but I like to let them cool for at least 30 minutes before eating. These rolls are best the day they’re made but are still great the day after (if stored according to my post on storing bread).


These super soft sourdough dinner rolls are now my go-to dinner roll for all holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving. They’re just the right mix of buttery, sweet, savory (thanks, salt!), and squish-in-your-hand tender. Instead of thinking back on cotton candy memories, these rolls redefine the word soft from here on out.

Happy holidays and buon appetito!

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Super soft sourdough dinner rolls

Super Soft Sourdough Rolls (with Tangzhong) Recipe

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  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 24 hours
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 24 hours 35 minutes
  • Yield: 14 rolls
  • Category: Buns, Rolls
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These super soft sourdough rolls are the perfect accompaniment to any dinner table (especially Thanksgiving!). They’re slightly buttery, a little sweet, ultra-tender, and the perfect counterpart for soups, stews, and any holiday meal.


Ingredients

Pre-cooked flour (Tangzhong):

  • 41 grams medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 166 grams whole milk

Main dough:

  • 402g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 148g high-protein bread flour (bread flour)
  • 95g butter, unsalted
  • 53g sugar, caster
  • 254g water
  • 11g salt
  • 30g ripe sourdough starter

Instructions

Prepare levain (Day One, 9:00 p.m.)
Mix the following ingredients in a container and leave covered to ripen at about 77°F (25°C) for 12 hours overnight.

  • 74g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 74g water
  • 15g sugar, caster
  • 30g ripe sourdough starter

Pre-cook flour (Day Two, 8:00 a.m.)
To a medium saucepan, add the flour and milk listed above. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens and becomes like a paste, about 5-8 minutes. Let cool before mixing with other ingredients.

  • 41g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 166g whole milk

Mix (9:00 a.m.)
Cut butter it into 1/2″ pats and let warm to room temperature. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add:

  • all pre-cooked flour (roux)
  • 328g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 148g high-protein flour (bread flour)
  • 39g sugar, caster
  • 181g water
  • 11g salt
  • 192g levain

Mix speed 1 for 1 to 2 minutes until incorporated. Then, mix speed 4 for 5 minutes until dough clumps around the dough hook. Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Next, add the 95g butter, one pat at a time, while the mixer is running on speed 1 (STIR). Continue this for 5 to 8 minutes until all butter is added and the dough is glossy and soft.

Transfer your dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

Bulk fermentation (9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.)
Give the dough 3 sets of stretch and folds at 30-minute intervals, where the first set starts 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation.

Chill dough (1:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.)
Place the bulk fermentation container, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to make shaping easier.

Shape (1:15 p.m.)
Butter your pan. Divide the dough into fourteen 85g pieces and shape each as a very tight ball. Place the balls in the buttered pan to proof.

Proof (1:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.)
Cover the pan with dough and let proof for 2 1/2 hours.

Bake (4:15 p.m.)
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). For the egg wash, whisk together one egg and a splash of whole milk.

When oven is preheated, brush on the egg wash and bake for 20 minutes. Then, rotate the pan 180° in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F (175°C). Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until the tops are well-colored and the rolls have reached around 204°F (95°C) internally. Remove from the oven and let cool in the baking pan for 10 minutes. Then knock the rolls out to cool on a wire rack. Let rest for 10 minutes, then enjoy.


Notes

Do ahead: you can prepare the tangzhong the night before. Cook the flour and milk as instructed and let cool to room temperature. Cover the tangzhong and keep in the fridge overnight. The next morning, take it out to let it warm some (to room temperature would be ideal) and proceed to add it during the mix as instructed.

Do ahead: you can prepare the dough and proof them overnight to bake the next day at any time. When chilling the dough, keep the covered bulk fermentation container in the fridge to retard the dough overnight. The next day, take the dough out, let warm for 30 minutes, then continue with the Shape, Proof, and Bake steps.

Keywords: Sourdough, rolls, buns, Thanksgiving, dinner rolls, bread, levain

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!

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