Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls

April 22, 2021
35 Ratings
Photo by Maurizio Leo
Author Notes

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. —Maurizio Leo

  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Makes 16 rolls
  • Levain
  • 24 grams ripe sourdough starter
  • 60 grams all-purpose flour
  • 60 grams water
  • 12 grams caster sugar
  • Dough for Rolls
  • 440 grams all-purpose flour
  • 180 grams warm water
  • 115 grams whole milk, cold
  • 75 grams unsalted butter
  • 23 grams caster sugar
  • 10 grams fine sea salt
  • Egg Wash
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 splash whole milk
In This Recipe
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kerynn Fisher
    Kerynn Fisher
  • Jill Fergus
    Jill Fergus
  • PhillipBrandon
  • Virginia Varland
    Virginia Varland
  • Ling Lin
    Ling Lin
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. He grew up in an Italian household and spent many summers in the back kitchen of his family's Italian restaurant, learning the beauty of San Marzano tomatoes and the importance of well-proofed pizza dough. He went on to get a master's degree in computer science and co-create the stargazing app, SkyView, before eventually circling back to food and discovering the deep craft of baking sourdough bread. Since that first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough.

130 Reviews

SPask July 13, 2021

I tried this recipe and think I went wrong somewhere. They ended up quite flat. In terms of troubleshooting, I think it could have been that my starter wasn't at its ripe stage, although the levain bubbled up nicely. I used unsalted Arla dairy free butter as lactose intolerant and lactose free milk, would that have affected it? I've used these items before in bakes and never had an issue. The other thing was perhaps my tray (I used a circular 9 inch cake dish, as I didn't have a square one the correct size) could have been too big or perhaps I didn't wedge them in enough! I just wondered if you have any advice, as I'd love to try these again!
Author Comment
Maurizio L. July 13, 2021
If your levain was very active when you mixed the dough, it should be just fine. I don't think the dairy-free butter would cause an issue, I've used these in the past with no problem. If the pan was too large, they'd spread instead of stay together and rise, but my feeling is it had to be something else as long as the pan wasn't excessively large. Be sure to use the levain when it's very, very bubbly and has risen significantly—it needs to be very ripe! If you used your starter a little early, it might have meant more time for that levain to ripen. That's my guess here!
tinatangos December 1, 2020
I have just made these, and am absolutely thrilled!
I'm afraid, however, I might eat the whole batch before sharing them. :( Well, I suppose then I'll have to make more. :)
Author Comment
Maurizio L. December 1, 2020
That's the risk with making them... But it's a good risk, right!? Thanks for the feedback and enjoy 🙂
Kerynn F. November 28, 2020
These are amazing! The dough was very soft and somewhat sticky. The first stretch and fold with my hands was a sticky mess. I used a bowl scraper for the subsequent ones and that worked perfectly. I made them for my solo Thanksgiving (thanks, 'Rona) and froze half - they're equally delicious toasted after freezing. Definitely a keeper.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 30, 2020
It's always amazing how the dough comes together, smooths, and strengthens during bulk fermentation! Glad to hear they worked out so well for you, Kerynn! Thanks for reporting back, and happy baking 🙂
Jill F. November 26, 2020
pillowy and delightful!
Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 27, 2020
Glad to hear they came out well for you, Jill—enjoy!
PhillipBrandon November 24, 2020
Tell me about "ripe" starter.

I have a starter I've maintained for several years. I consider its stages "bubbly" and "not bubbly."

When it is "not bubbly" and I pull some out, call this "discard" I use it in waffles, and crackers. Then I feed it, and in several hours it is "bubbly." If that "bubbly" starter floats, I consider it ready to use in bread dough.

Could you let me know where in this pattern I would find starter appropriate for using in this recipe's levain?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 24, 2020
When I say "ripe" I mean a starter that's well-fermented: bubbly, has a sour aroma, has broken down some. It's an indication that the mixture has high populations of bacteria and wild yeast, which is what seeds our dough and kickstarts fermentation. For yours, I'd say when it's "bubbly" 🙂
PhillipBrandon November 24, 2020
Carolyn November 12, 2020
Delicious as-in. Thank you! Do you think this dough could stand up to incorporating caramelized onions or another fold-in?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 13, 2020
Glad to hear that, Carolyn! I think these could, especially since they're baked in a pan (which helps add structure).
CaptainGroovy November 7, 2020
I am just starting to venture into baking rolls and breads that use milk and butter (up until now I have been baking "skinny breads and rolls" except for the occasional batch of pretzels. The first is why "warm water" and "Cold Milk" in the recipe dough ingredients list. It would seem to me that they should both start off at the same temperature because they will be once mixed. The next is I do not own a stand mixer so what is the best technique for adding in the butter, would it be best if I incorporated in the dough after mixing "the wet" and "the dry" together or should I turn my dough out and start kneading it and add it a couple pieces at a time whilst I am kneading it. Additionally you gave a recommendation for temperature for the proofing of the shaped dough in the pan (second rise) but none for the bulk fermentation and what are your thoughts on retarding the second rise overnight in a 38-40 degree F cold box and if one was to retard the dough overnight would you recommend it be warmed up an hour or two before baking it or baking it cold right out of the cold box. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas. Have a great day and StaySafe-n-StayHealthy

Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 9, 2020
Hey there! I call for warm water to offset the cold milk, which is typically cold since it's coming straight from the fridge (to make things easier). This way, the temperature will approximately end up around warm room temp or so. For adding the butter by hand, I'd first knead the dough for several minutes until smooth, then add the butter a pat at a time while continuing to mix and knead. Proofing overnight at 39F or so will work well—I'd stick them into the fridge right after shaping. You won't have to bring them up to room temp unless they look very under proofed (dense, not well risen), bake straight from the fridge. Happy baking!
bina November 4, 2020
This is one of the best "Milk Rolls" recipes I've tried, and the sourdough makes them even more flavorful and more digestible in my opinion. I have one question - could they be made even fluffier and softer by using tangzhong? And what would the proportions look like? Thanks so much
Author Comment
Maurizio L. November 5, 2020
So glad to hear that, Bina! Yes, they can be made fluffier, coincidentally, I just posted a recipe for sourdough tangzhong rolls at my website: 🙂
WoodgroveChef September 21, 2020
Made this yesterday and it’s wonderful, will definitely keep this recipe for good! My husband and son loved it, finished the first batch that I baked and ask me to do another again, today!
Author Comment
Maurizio L. October 23, 2020
So glad to hear that! Be careful, you might find yourself making them every week (like I do 🙂). Enjoy!
dipity September 20, 2020
I would like to retard because I like my sourdough really sour. And also I almost always find myself making the bread late into the night and retarding really helps with the scheduling. Question please: After shaping do I put it into the refrigerator right away or should I let it proof in room temp for a while and if so for how long? Also after retard, do I let it sit in room temp before baking and if so for how long? Thanks in advance for your response.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 21, 2020
That'll work fine with these rolls. I would put them into the fridge right away after shaping, then in the morning, take them out and let them sit out until they meet the criteria I outline in the post when they're fully proofed: very soft to the touch and well-risen.
hannahrmoser November 24, 2020
I'm making 10 batches of this today and am almost ready to shape. Is there a maximum amount of time to keep them in the fridge? I was hoping to bake right away in the morning, but that means they'll be in the fridge for at least 12 hours. The only other time I baked these I baked same day and they were phenomenal. I'm ok with some more sourness after retarding in the fridge, but I'm worried they'll be overly sour at 12+ hours in the fridge.
beccaainsley September 19, 2020
Would love to make these but am cooking for two! Any thoughts on freezing either finished buns or prepared dough?? Thanks!
sheepdog55 September 19, 2020
I've made them several times and have frozen the baked buns. They turn out fine! I haven't tried freezing the dough.
Cathy G. September 19, 2020
We cook for 2 and they were half eaten in one evening and gone by day 3. Stored them in a plastic locked container on the counter. Split them in half and heavily buttered the rolls and a skillet. Heated on low with a lid on the skillet. Oh yeah......
Vida September 19, 2020
I freeze bread I've made all the time. I find it easier to just make a full batch and freeze whatever we won't eat quickly.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 20, 2020
I haven't tried freezing these yet, they are usually gone so quick. I'd imagine if they were wrapped very well they'd do just fine! As far as the dough, I always prefer freezing the final baked loaf/rolls rather than the dough itself, as freezing could compromise some rise in the oven.
Karinlerew December 8, 2020
Maurizio, I was wondering if I could bake the rolls to the point they have risen to their max and just started to brown. Then let them cool and then wrap well and freeze? I’d love to give these as Christmas gifts and want the recipients to enjoy the fragrance of the bread.

Also, I live in Santa Fe and didn’t know if your recipes needed high altitude adjustments? Thank you in advance!
Sonia September 17, 2020
The rolls look dashing, am gonna try this on Sunday. One Q what if we increase the final proofing time in fridge? Cold retard? Will it work? As I generally mix everything by Saturday nigjt n put in fridge n bake in morning
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 17, 2020
Thanks, Sonia. You can definitely retard these. You will likely get a slightly sourer roll, but they will still be wonderful!
Cathy G. September 20, 2020
I did this last night and baked them this morning. They rose about an inch overnight. I should have left them in the fridge until I was ready to bake (two loaves of sourdough went first) because they continue dto rise on the counter when they warmed up to room temp. Some of them produced large balloons on top from the extra rising, the gas had no where to go but up! The rolls are good, actually VERY good, but were definitely more sour than a same day bake. I think I like the same day bake flavor better for these with a more subtle sourdough tang.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 20, 2020
Thanks for all the feedback, Cathy! It does sound like yours may have proofed too long, but that's an easy fix next time. Happy baking!
Maria September 13, 2020
I made this recipe this weekend and they turned out so well! I would definitely recommend! They turned out wonderfully! Fluffy, flavorful and toothsome! Mine did get a little darker more quickly than expected, but I just moved the rack down and cooked them on 375 for that last portion for less time and went off the temperature in the rolls at 200+.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 13, 2020
Fantastic, Maria! Nice move adjusting the position and bake time, that’s exactly what I would have done as well. Enjoy!
Kim September 12, 2020
Scrumptious! I don’t have a square pan so I baked in two round cake pans. Not quite as beautiful as Maurizio’s as mine weren’t as tightly nestled together in the two pans, but the flavor was delish. I did an overnight fridge proof so I could bake first thing in the morning. Will definitely put these into frequent rotation.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 12, 2020
That’s great to hear, Kim! Flavor and texture first, looks second :) Enjoy!
Vida September 11, 2020
I made these yesterday and they are wonderful. They have a lovely soft interior, and a chewy, slightly crusty exterior. They are indeed more complex than other quicker to make non-sourdough pull apart rolls. The dough was super sticky, which made shaping a bit of a pain. Next time, I'll decrease the water ever so slightly. They also take a bit of planning, and are much more involved than classic pull apart rolls - but I think they are worth it.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 11, 2020
Glad to hear they turned out so well for you, Vida! Yes, a bit more work but I think they make up for it in flavor and nutrition :) If the dough was a bit hard to handle, pop your bulk fermentation container (uncovered) into the fridge for 15-20 minutes to let the dough dry a bit and firm up. This will make shaping easier! Happy baking and enjoy.
Eileen F. September 9, 2020
I made these rolls before, but in my attempt this morning, I weighed the liquids instead of using ml. Now I have what looks like thin pancake batter. I’m guessing I should be using the ml instead of actually weighing the liquids. What do I do with the batter now?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 9, 2020
Hey, Eileen. The ingredients should all be measured in grams by weight (not volume). Is it possible there was an error in weighing out the flour or liquids? Either way, add in more flour and mix until the dough comes together and firms up to what feels right. It's a soft dough, but shouldn't be like a batter!
Eileen F. September 9, 2020
Thanks for your quick reply. Also, I only have a hand mixer. Of course, I didn't even need that today. I don't recall what I did last time, but can it just be mixed by hand?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 9, 2020
Yes, it can definitely be mixed by hand. It's a bit more work, of course, especially getting the butter to mix effectively in the dough, but many bakers do this just fine!
Eileen F. September 10, 2020
Well, it took a lot more flour, but the result is a beautiful loaf of bread and a pan of cinnamon rolls! I won’t ever be able to duplicate it, but they’re both delicious. Thank you for your quick replies.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 10, 2020
Glad to hear that, Eileen! Next time when you're mixing this, hold back the liquid and add it in stages and see how the dough is coming together. You should find the dough soft but not soupy, if you still have liquid left when you're mixing, just leave that out! Happy baking :)
Virginia V. September 7, 2020
I made these rolls exactly to ingredient recipe for last night's supper and the flavor was excellent. The only changes to instructions were that I kneaded them by hand (no stand mixer). At the end of the bulk ferment, the dough felt a bit dense, so I extended the time by 30/40 min. They were easy to shape any rose well. I had to pull them out of the oven after 25 minutes when I went to turn the oven down as they were already above 200F in internal temp. The crumb was soft and fluffy, but seemed a bit dense somehow. Is this consistent with the intentions of the recipe, or did I take a wrong turn somewhere? Either way, I will certainly be making again.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 7, 2020
Glad to hear that, Virginia! They should be very light and fluffy, not very dense, but not open inside like a loaf of bread either. It sounds like you did the right thing extending bulk fermentation, but perhaps it needed more time in proof as well?

Also, be sure you use your starter when it's ripe to make your levain, and the levain should be used at a ripe stage as well. It's important to get these off on the right foot!
Ling L. September 2, 2020
These are so easy and scrumptious! I'm planning to make this again this weekend but am wondering if I can make this into a loaf of bread instead of 16 rolls?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 2, 2020
Yes, you could absolutely do that. You'll have to adjust the bake time as needed, shoot for an internal temp around 206-208F.
Ling L. September 3, 2020
Would you recommend baking it at 425F for around 30mins and reduce to 375F for the remaining baking time? Or should I keep the temperature constant throughout?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 3, 2020
Yes, I would drop the temp in the second part of the bake and see how it's baking. This should prevent excessive coloring before the loaf is fully baked through. If you find it still needs more color on the crust at the end, you could gently take it out of the pan, return to the oven (outside of pan) for a few minutes to finish for 5 minutes or so.
Ling L. September 4, 2020
Thank you for your advice. I can't wait to try it today!
Adrienne K. August 31, 2020
Hi! Curious about making these for someone who has a dairy allergy. Has anyone tried subbing an alternative milk?
Author Comment
Maurizio L. September 2, 2020
I haven't tried with this recipe, but I've used oak milk (full fat) successfully in others!
Adrienne K. September 2, 2020
I was thinking that would be the best option--will try and report back. Thanks Maurizio!
MontreuilMom September 7, 2020
What did you sub for the butter ? We’ve got some dairy intolérants here too !
Margie V. August 22, 2020
Soft and fluffy even with 1/3 whole wheat flour. The kids loved them. This will be my go to roll recipe for special occasions like Thanksgiving. This is not a hard recipe - worth every minute to make these rolls.
NS August 22, 2020
Thanks so much for reporting back on that substitution! I'm always trying to push the whole wheat envelope and so that is good to know.
Author Comment
Maurizio L. August 23, 2020
Thanks for the feedback, Margie! Glad to hear it turned out well for you—I've also been experimenting with more whole grains with this recipe as a base, I've been getting great results! Enjoy 🙂