Soft and fluffy pull-apart rolls make an appearance in many of our childhoods, whether they were at the dinner table during Thanksgiving, bought at the market in clear plastic bags for summer BBQs, or served at school alongside green beans and mac ‘n cheese. But these homemade soft sourdough pull-apart rolls take the classic soft roll and improve on the texture and, perhaps more importantly, the flavor.
One of the joys in working with sourdough is that unique and flavorful tang the resulting bread has, and while varying levels can be fun to experiment with, the goal for these is minimal sourness: just enough to excite the palate and make eaters wonder, where did you get these? And they are addictive. The slightly sweet, buttery, soft rolls make you reach for a second before you’re done with the first.
And what I really love about this recipe is how simple it comes together. Prepare the levain—an off-shoot of your sourdough starter—the night before and the dough starts and finishes the next day before dinner. I opt to mix this dough in my KitchenAid stand mixer, which makes mixing and incorporating the butter easy, but you could also mix this by hand in the same way, adding butter last once the dough is moderately strengthened.
These rolls are sublime the day they’re baked and will stay soft for several days after baking if tightly wrapped and kept on the counter.
This recipe was featured on our new cook-along podcast Play Me a Recipe. Listen as Maurizio Leo bakes his way through this recipe, offering insider tips and backstory along the way. —Maurizio Leo
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 35 minutes
- Makes 16 rolls
ripe sourdough starter
Dough for Rolls
whole milk, cold
fine sea salt
Make the levain
In a medium-sized jar or mixing bowl, mix together the ingredients called for in the Levain, above. Be sure to use your sourdough starter when it’s ripe—for me, this is when I’d normally give it a refreshment. Cover and let ferment overnight.
Mix together the dough
First, take out the called for butter and cut it into ½-inch pats. Place the butter in a small bowl and let sit out at room temperature to soften.
At this point your levain should look very bubbly and active, it should have risen high in the jar, and it should have a mild, sour aroma. To the mixer bowl, add all the ingredients listed for the dough for the rolls, plus the levain, except for the cut butter, this will be added after the dough is mixed for a few minutes. Set the mixer to low speed and mix until all the ingredients are combined and no dry bits of flour remain. Turn the mixer up to speed 2 and mix for 3-5 minutes until the dough starts to cling to the dough hook (it won’t completely remove from the bottom of the mixing bowl).
The butter should be at room temperature by this time: a finger should easily push into the butter without much resistance. If the butter is still very cold, place it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until it’s soft to the touch. Turn the mixer down to low and add the butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add the next until the previous one is fully incorporated into the dough. Continue to add all the butter, and continue to mix until the dough smooths out and once again begins clinging to the dough hook. Adding the butter and finishing to mix could take a total of 5 minutes or so. Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover with reusable plastic, or a silicone bowl cover, for bulk fermentation (its first rise).
Bulk ferment the dough
During the 4-hour bulk fermentation, give the dough 3 sets of stretch and folds to further strengthen the dough.
After the first 30 minutes, uncover the dough, and with wet hands, grab one side of the dough, stretch it up and over to the other side. Rotate the bowl 180° and give it another stretch and fold. Then, rotate the bowl 90° and give that side a stretch up and over. Finally, rotate the bowl 180° and stretch up and fold over the last side. Cover the bowl. Give the dough two more sets of stretch and folds at 30-minute intervals. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, until shaping.
Shape the dough into rolls
After the 4-hour bulk fermentation, the dough should have risen in the bulk fermentation container, be soft to the touch, and feel light and airy. If the dough still feels dense, very sticky, and shaggy looking, give it another 30 minutes to ferment further and check again.
This is a soft dough, to make shaping easier you could uncover your bulk fermentation container, and place it into the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to cool and slightly firm up.
Prepare a 9x9-inch baking pan by liberally buttering the interior or lining with parchment paper.
Gently scoop out the dough from the bulk fermentation container to a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench knife or plastic scraper, divide the dough into sixteen 60g pieces. Shape each piece into a small ball with a tight skin around the outside. Place the shaped pieces into the pan in 4 rows of 4.
Cover the baking pan with reusable plastic and place somewhere warm (about 76-78°F/24-26°C) to proof (second rise) for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Proof the shaped dough
At a warm temperature, 76-78°F (24-26°C), this dough will take 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully proof. If it’s cooler in your kitchen, give the dough additional time to rise. Conversely, if it’s warmer, expect to bake the dough earlier.
Bake the rolls
After two and a half hours, the dough should have risen to about 1-inch below the rim of the pan and be very soft to the touch. If the dough is still looking sluggish and hasn’t risen, give it another 30 minutes to rise and check again.
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C) with a baking rack in the middle of the oven.
In a small bowl, whisk together one egg and a tablespoon of whole milk until frothy. Using a pastry brush, gently paint the egg wash onto the proofed dough in a thin, uniform layer.
Slide the pan with dough into the oven and bake for 25 minutes at 425°F (220°C). After this time, rotate the pan 180°, turn the oven down to 375°F (190°C), and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the rolls are golden brown. The internal temperature should be above 200°F (93°C).
When baked, remove the pan from the oven, let rest 5 minutes, then turn the rolls out to a wire rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.