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 unique time when being chained to your oven is considered normal—nay, it's even encouraged! As you might imagine, it's my favorite time of the year. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I can't seem to help myself as all kinds of bread baking ideas swirl in my imagination, taking me in this direction and that, and lengthening my “Things to Bake” list to unhealthy measures.

For the great meals of the holiday season, I always have a favorite loaf of bread or two earmarked for the dinner table, but often I also include a (sourdough) pie, sometimes a sweet bread, and always an experimental loaf. Last year I served a variation of this roll recipe, and while they were great, they've come a long way through subsequent tests and trials. They've matured into these soft sourdough rolls, firmly on the menu for this year’s holiday meals (especially Thanksgiving).

These soft sourdough dinner rolls (which are also in my cookbook!) are incredibly light and, for lack of a better adjective, squishy. Let me take you on a quick trip.

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 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. This image is similar to these buttery dinner rolls' delicate, yielding texture.

Soft dinner rolls pull

Flavorwise, these rolls are what you want and expect from a dinner roll: slightly buttery, a smidgen sweet, and with only the slightest touch of sourness (if any). The flakey salt on top is like a lightning bolt to the taste buds, waking them up while sharpening the taste of the bread. And let’s not forget a very important purpose of rolls at any meal: to soak up all sauces (gravy! salad dressing! au jus!) on the dinner plate. And yet, they also shine when you keep it simple and plain, enjoying them 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.

Watch me make these soft sourdough rolls

Here's my video of me making these rolls from start to finish!

Flour selection and tangzhong

This recipe calls for standard all-purpose flour and higher protein bread flour (King Arthur brand will work well for both). The bread flour brings extra protein and strength to the mix that helps these rolls rise a little higher and have more structure. In testing, the 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, bringing extra tenderness to these dinner rolls. My rolls are similar to Japanese milk bread rolls (also called Hokkaido milk rolls) and my Sourdough Shokupan. The tangzhong technique is straightforward and only takes a few minutes in the first steps of the breadmaking process: you warm the flour and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture thickens, and then let it cool. Then, add this cooled gel paste (similar to a roux made with milk) to 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 (skipping the overnight levain) or they can be retarded (refrigerated) in proof to bake the next day right before dinner. This recipe is extremely flexible, and you can change the timeline to help sync the rolls up with the rest of your cooking timeline.

For example, 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 them so that the rolls are warm for dinner.

Be sure to use your levain when it’s ripe: it should be extremely bubbly, frothy, and well-risen. As mentioned in my guide to baking dough in the winter, the cold weather may make the dough move slowly in proof; give it extra time if necessary.

Baking equipment

I've tested these super soft sourdough rolls with several baking pans, and below are my two favorites.

Sourdough rolls baking pan comparison
Lloyd Pan on left, USA Pan on right—both excellent choices for rolls

Round pan choice: LloydPans 10×2.25-inch round pan.

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

Square pan choice: USA Pan 9-inch square pan.

I love this square pan because it has a nonstick liner on the inside, and it's extremely versatile. I use it for sweet cardamom rolls, cinnamon rolls, and even cakes or brownies. It bakes rolls that are evenly browned and cleanup is a breeze.

Sourdough rolls on table

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 Flour12.5%
Levain in final dough37.1%
Hydration43.0%
Yield16 x 70g sourdough dinner 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 the dairy milk in the roux below for water, nut milk, or full-fat oat milk (like I discuss in my guide to tangzhong). For the butter, go with Earth Balance Vegan Butter or similar.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
41gTangzhong: Medium-protein bread flour or All-purpose flour (~11% protein, King Arthur Baking All-Purpose)7.00%
166gTangzhong: Whole milk (see vegan options above)28.00%
402gMedium-protein bread flour or All-purpose flour (~11.7% protein, King Arthur All-Purpose)68.00%
148gHigh-protein bread flour (~12.7% protein, King Arthur Bread Flour)25.00%
95gButter, unsalted16.00%
53gCaster sugar9.00%
254gWater43.00%
11gSalt1.80%
30gRipe sourdough starter, 100% hydration5.00%
Total yield: 202.80%, 1,200.0 grams

Additional ingredients:

Egg wash: 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon whole milk, for brushing

Coarse sea salt, for topping (optional)

Super soft sourdough rolls method

1. Prepare Levain – 9:00 p.m.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
74gMedium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)100.0%
15gCaster sugar20.0%
74gWater100.0%
30gRipe sourdough starter, 100% hydration40.0%

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

Like my pumpkin cinnamon sourdough bread, this recipe utilizes a sweet levain, or 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

2. Make the tangzhong – 8:00 a.m.

In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, add the 41g tangzhong flour and 166g tangzhong milk. Cook, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens and becomes a paste, 5 to 8 minutes. In the beginning, whisk vigorously to break up any flour clumps, and continue to whisk well to avoid burning. The mixture won’t seem to do anything for a while, but it will thicken.

Remove the pan from the heat and spread the tangzhong on a small plate to expedite cooling. Set aside.

3. Mix – 9:00 a.m.

WeightIngredient
AllTangzhong (from Step 2)
328gMedium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
148gHigh-protein flour
95gButter, unsalted
39gCaster sugar
181gWater
11gSalt
192gLevain

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.

First, cut the butter into 1/2″ pats. Set them on a plate to warm to room temperature.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the water, flour, ripe levain, sugar, tangzhong, and salt. Mix on low speed (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 to 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 bowl for 10 minutes.

Turn the mixer on low speed and add the room temperature butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add each pat until the previous one is fully absorbed. Adding all the butter will take 5 to 8 minutes. After this time, mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough smooths and clings to the dough hook.

In the end, the dough will still be very soft, and it will not completely remove from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

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

At a warm room temperature, 74-76°F (24°C), bulk fermentation should take about 3 1/2 hours. If your kitchen is cooler, place your bulk container in a small home dough proofer, or extend the bulk fermentation time to give the dough more time to ferment.

In the image below (tap/click to zoom in), you can see my dough at the start of bulk (left) and after 3 1/2 hours (right). The dough is ready when it has risen in the container, smooths, and is puffy to the touch.

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

Give this dough three sets of stretches and folds during bulk fermentation at 30-minute intervals. The first set starts after 30 minutes after 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. The dough should be 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 it in the refrigerator for 15 to 25 minutes. Chilling the dough will help it firm up which will 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).

If your dough is extremely soft, keep the bulk container covered and chill the dough for up to 1 hour.

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 of the fridge, let it warm up for 30 minutes, and then resume with the Shape step below.

6. Shape – 1:15 p.m.

Butter your baking pan (even if it's nonstick) to ensure that the rolls come out cleanly after baking.

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

Remove the bulk fermentation container from the fridge, lightly flour the top of the dough in the bowl, and gently scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. The dough will be cool to the touch but still very soft. Lightly dust the top of the dough and divide it into sixteen 70g pieces (or fourteen 85g pieces for larger rolls).

Because the dough is so soft, 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. Place the ball in the prepared baking pan. When using a round pan, I prefer to start placing the rolls along the outside in a ring, and then work inward as each ring is filled in.

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

Cover the pan with a large, reusable plastic bag and seal it shut.

7. Proof – 1:45 p.m. 4:15 p.m. (2 to 3 hours)

At warm room temp, 74-76F (23-24C), this dough should take 2 to 3 hours to fully proof. If your kitchen is cooler, expect it to take longer.

When fully proofed, the dough should be well-risen in the pan and very soft to the touch. 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.

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

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Make an egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon whole milk.

Remove the pan from the bag, evenly brush the egg wash over the tops of the rolls, sprinkle with 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 for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180° in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F (175°C). Bake for an additional 20 minutes until the tops of the rolls are golden and the internal temperature is around 204°F (95°C). 

Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool for 30 minutes before eating.

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 for all holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving. They're just the right mix of buttery, sweet, savory (thanks, salt!), and squish-in-your-hand tender.

If you'd like to explore the ideas in this recipe even further, check out my sourdough shokupan loaf (which also uses tangzhong) or my sourdough pumpkin dinner rolls for a different take on rolls!

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Super soft sourdough dinner rolls

Super Soft Sourdough Rolls (with Tangzhong) Recipe

  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 24 hours
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 24 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 16 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

Levain

  • 74g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 74g water
  • 30g ripe sourdough starter, 100% hydration

Tangzhong

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

Main Dough

  • All the tangzhong
  • 328g medium-protein bread flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 148g high-protein bread flour (bread flour)
  • 95g butter, unsalted
  • 38g sugar, caster
  • 181g water
  • 11g salt
  • All the levain

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Pre-cook flour (Day Two, 8:00 a.m.)
    To a medium saucepan, add the tangzhong flour and milk. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens and becomes like a paste, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Mix (9:00 a.m.)
    Cut the butter into 1/2″ pats. Set them on a plate to warm to room temperature. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the water, flour, ripe levain, sugar, tangzhong, and salt. Mix on low speed (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 to 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 bowl for 10 minutes. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the room temperature butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add each pat until the previous one is fully absorbed. Adding all the butter will take 5 to 8 minutes. After this time, mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough smooths and clings to the dough hook. In the end, the dough will still be very soft, and it will not completely remove from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Shape (1:15 p.m.)
    Butter your pan. Divide the dough into sixteen 70g pieces (or fourteen 85g pieces for larger rolls) and shape each as a very tight ball. Place the balls in the buttered pan to proof.
  7. Proof (1:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.)
    Cover the pan with dough and let proof for 2 1/2 hours.
  8. Bake (4:15 p.m.)
    Preheat your oven to 400°F (220°C). Whisk together one egg and a splash of whole milk for the egg wash. 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 minutes until the tops are well-colored and the rolls have reached around 204°F (95°C). 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 30 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 it warm for 30 minutes, then continue with the Shape, Proof, and Bake steps. Alternatively,  shape the dough into small balls and place them into the proofing pan. Cover the pan and put it into the fridge overnight. The next day, take them out 3 to 4 hours before you want to bake them and proof them on the counter until puffy and ready to bake.

To make these rolls vegan, substitute the milk for a full-fat nut or oak milk, and instead of an egg, use a flax egg.

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

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram so I can take a look!

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