Soft pull-apart wheat rolls, with sourdough starter or active dry yeast

December 16, 2010

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: This is based on the recipe I use for challah, but scaled up to produce 30 perfect dinner rolls risen and shaped in two 9x13 pans. I use about 1/3 whole wheat flour to make them a little wholesome, but they're still soft, light, and rich with honey and butter. The benefit to pull-apart rolls is that they stay fresher longer because there's less exposed surface area. You can make these up to three days in advance and pull them apart just before serving--or let your guests pull them apart themselves--and they'll still be optimally soft and fresh. I use a sourdough starter, but I've adapted this recipe to work with either a sourdough starter or active dry yeast. - smargotsmargot

Food52 Review: These lovely pull-apart rolls are quite delicious, exceptionally tender and very simple to make. They melt in your mouth and would be a lovely accompaniment to any meal! – VictoriaThe Editors

Serves: 30


Using Sourdough Starter (100% hydration, or 1:1 flour:water)

  • 1 cup refreshed sourdough starter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups all purpose or bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or other neutral cooking oil, plus a little more for coating the bowl
  • 3 eggs (2 in dough, 1 for brushing)

Using Active Dry yeast

  • 2 packets active dry yeast (4 1/2 t.)
  • 1 2/3 cups warm milk (100-110F)
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or other neutral cooking oil, plus a little more for coating the bowl
  • 3 eggs (2 in dough, 1 for brushing)
In This Recipe


  1. If using active dry yeast, heat the milk in the microwave or saucepan. If you don’t have a thermometer, test it by dabbing a bit on your wrist—it should feel hot to the touch, but should not burn. Whisk in the sugar and yeast and let sit 5-10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients except the 1 egg reserved for brushing and stir until the dough begins to come together.
  3. Knead for 10-15 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to knead, let it rest for 10 minutes underneath the mixing bowl to let the flour absorb more of the moisture. Then, continue, adding bread flour 1/4 cup at a time just until it sticks to itself more than it sticks to you.
  4. Coat a mixing bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise for 1 1/4 hrs (active dry yeast) or between 4-12 hrs (sourdough starter). You can tell when it's risen when it's roughly doubled in size and you can make an indentation in the surface and it doesn't heal automatically.
  5. Butter two 9x13 pans. Divide dough into two equal pieces, and divide each of those into 15 equal pieces. If you have a kitchen scale, you can weigh the dough and divide. For me, each roll usually ends up being between 50-55 grams (1.75-2.00 oz). Cover the dough you're not working with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
  6. Once you've divided the dough into 30 pieces, shape each one by pressing it onto a clean surface to form a small disk. Then, gather the edges together to form a ball and pinch them together to seal it. Place each ball, pinched-edge down, in the prepared pans about 1" apart. They should be arranged in rows--3x5.
  7. Cover the pans and let the dough rise for another 1 1/4 hrs (if using active dry yeast) or 2-9 hrs (if using sourdough starter). Again, they should double in size and when fully risen, an indentation will not "heal" automatically.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375 for 20 minutes. Just before placing the rolls in the oven, beat the last egg slightly and use it to brush the tops of the rolls.
  9. Bake for 20 min, or until the tops are golden brown and the interiors are between 190-200F.
  10. Let cool on wire racks for 5-10 minutes. Then, turn the rolls out of pans gently, leaving them attached. Serve warm or let cool completely on wire racks (at least 3 hrs) and store in a an airtight container--supersized (2 or 2 1/2 gallon) zip-top bags work well.

More Great Recipes:
Roll|Bread|Sourdough|Milk/Cream|Grains|Make Ahead|Christmas|Thanksgiving|Vegetarian

Reviews (34) Questions (0)

34 Reviews

Katie September 21, 2018
I made these, the sourdough method, with wholemeal spelt. The 1st prove was about 16 hours, the second was about 8. They turned out fabulously!
Kay July 2, 2018
I’ve been trying to make sourdough dinner rolls but can not get them to rise. I’m new to making bread and have a really nice sourdough starter, very active, smells great. But I believe I’m not getting the kneading technique down. Do you have any tips for first timers and I see where people are talking about increasing sourdough by 50%. Excuse me for the asking but what do they mean. I went out and bought all the ingredients and looking forward to making these rolls. And one more thing do you add all the whole wheat flour and all purpose flour at the same time. Thank you in advance.
Author Comment
smargot July 3, 2018
1) kneading: I don't know of any special technique. I just kind of grab one end, fold it over the middle, and push down, and then repeat, starting from a different end. Easier to demonstrate than to describe, but if you google "youtube kneading dough," you'll find lots of video tutorials that may be helpful. <br />2) increasing sourdough: I can't speak for other people because I use the recipe as written above, but I'm guessing they mean they're using 1 1/2 cups of sourdough starter instead of 1 cup (and probably reducing the amount of water and flour--if I increased the starter by 1/2 cup, I'd reduce the flour and water by 1/3 cup each. <br />3) flours: yes, I add the whole wheat and all-purpose at the same time<br /><br />
Julie P. November 22, 2017
Just pulled these babies out of the oven, and they are divine! Next time I make them, I may increase the starter by 50% as it took a full 24 hours for each rise in my chilly kitchen. Or, I could've put them in the oven or some smart thing like that. I used 100% whole wheat, a mixture of soft and hard white, and other than the slow rise they are a success! I cheated and ate one before they were cool and it wasn't too sour--the taste is lovely. I made a double batch and they wouldn't all fit in the oven, so I put one pan in the convection oven. It baked up nice and brown, but the big-oven pans are a little on the pale side. Oh, I also forgot the egg brush, but I brushed melted butter on them when they came out and popped the three back in the oven for a tiny bit of browning. Thanks for the beautiful recipe!
Jackie C. August 2, 2017
I made them. I started yesterday about noon and tonight, we had them for dessert! My sourdough had a very slow rise, but the wait was worth it. Thank you for sharing! I served them with unsalted butter and black sea salt from Maui. Yum!!
Ballardhonu May 29, 2017
This may seem like a strange question given that a lot of people are making this bread with the long rise, but should there be any concern about the milk and the eggs being used since it is such a long rise. My first rise took 9 hours and second rise, which I should have added another hour or two, was 4 hours. We had a cool day so i let rise in the oven with the light on.
Jim J. December 22, 2016
Maybe use measurements that aren't complete garbage? No one in the world will be able to make the same rolls as you using these garbage customary volumetric units.
Sigrid H. December 1, 2016
So my question at this point is: did anyone actually managed to make this following the sourdough starter instructions? I did and as for others, after 6h bulk and 8h cold proof my buns haven't grown a bit. I assumed that the author knows what she's talking about but besides the fact that my dough needed more liquid (I had to add between 1/4 and 1/2 c water in order to get an actual decent supple dough) as time passes my conviction that this recipe is not well written and the whole procedure desperately needed a polish grows. Will update if I ever get to bake these buns (which I doubt).
Sour December 1, 2016
Recipe worked perfect for us as written on the first try. Was exactly as stated in the review at the top of the page, "lovely pull-apart rolls are quite delicious, exceptionally tender and very simple to make. They melt in your mouth and would be a lovely accompanomens to any meal!" First rise was 10h long overnight. Second rise was 8h through day and buns were done just before supper. Temperature were dough rose was 23 C (73 F).<br />We will definitely be making these often.
Noushka November 17, 2016
I just tried this recipe (using sourdough starter) but the rolls turned out way too sour like almost inedible (although the sourdough bread I baked that same day with the same starter turned out delicious) and the rolls didn't really rise. Itdid after the first rise, it definitely doubled the size. So what could possibly have gone wrong so that the taste got so sour?
bbrowning November 16, 2016
Started these yesterday and after the first rise shaped the rolls and placed them in the refrigerator overnight. Finished rising and baking today. The best soft wheat rolls I've made to date.
Janet November 15, 2016
I followed the recipe and the ball of dough seems dense and is having problems rising (doing the sourdough method). I'm wondering if the flour, milk, honey, and starter should be added together and fermented first and then later add the salt, butter, and oil. I haven't had problems with sourdough baked goods before.
Calmyogi October 12, 2016
I tried making these with my wild yeast starter and they don't seem to be rising. Would it be possible to add more of the starter? My bread recipe calls for 2 cups of it and it seems to rise with my current starter so I was wondering if I just need more of my starter.
Lynn S. May 2, 2016
I notice a difference in the flour measurement, from 3 cups all purpose with starter, to 3 2/3 cups for active dry yeast. Is this a typo?
Author Comment
smargot May 2, 2016
No. There is flour in the starter.
Suz January 25, 2016
Wondering if I could increase honey or add sugar to make them sweeter, any thoughts?
Easer79 November 24, 2015
In your recipe using the refreshed sourdough starter you call for 1 cup of natural yeast. I'm sure you're using the starter at it's peak but are you stirring it before measuring it? I'm a sourdough newbie and have only played with a recipe that have measurements in grams. The rolls look incredible though and my family's Jewish so I think they'd enjoy these for thanksgiving :)
Author Comment
smargot November 24, 2015
I do stir before measuring. All starters are a little different, and even the same starter may vary a little from day to day so I go by texture & visual cues--adding a little more liquid or flour as needed to make a dough that's a little sticky but not too sticky to knead, rather than going strictly by measurements. And the rising time will vary depending on how active your starter is.
Easer79 November 24, 2015
Wow thanks for the quick response, smargot! I can't wait to make these... one final question - my starter is 1/3 rye and 2/3 AP flour. Do you think that'll matter? Should I transition my culture then make these?
Author Comment
smargot November 24, 2015
Depends on what you mean by "matter." I would guess that they'll still turn out fine. The rye will add a slightly different flavor and may alter the texture a little as rye has slightly less gluten. But particularly if your starter is only 1/3 rye, it probably won't be all that different.
Transcendancing July 29, 2015
Aside from my rolls deflating a fair amount when I basted them with the egg mixture prior to baking, these were a great success! I will make them bigger next time as I am using them for burgers etc - on this occasion we're making sliders which I'm charmed by though! Great tasting and the texture is incredible.
Edward F. June 7, 2015
These are stunning. I've been trying to make sourdough rolls that are soft enough to satisfy my wife's desire for soft floury rolls such as Glasgow rolls for her Sunday bacon rolls!
Emily November 27, 2014
These are terrific! You would never think these rolls have whole wheat in them.
AntoniaJames October 4, 2013
smargot, have you ever made only half of this recipe? I'd like to test drive these this weekend, using my 100% hydration wild yeast levain, but I don't need 30 rolls. Thank you so much. ;o)
Author Comment
smargot October 4, 2013
yep, works fine. can also be done in two 9" round or 8" square cake pans instead of a 9x13.
AntoniaJames October 4, 2013
Thank you for the prompt reply! Just fed my levain, will be starting the dough in the morning. ;o)
Wanda D. August 14, 2013
When the recipe calls for refreshed sour dough starter <br /> I'm prettie sure it means after starter has been fed .. & it will be okay to use 5 1/3 cups of bread flour instead of whole wheat ? I love to bake it's very soothing love your recipes<br />
Author Comment
smargot August 14, 2013
Yes, I feed my starter the night before baking, so my 6-12 hours after a fresh feed. And you can use all bread flour instead of whole wheat. You might need a little bit of additional flour as whole wheat seems to absorb more moisture--just keep adding flour until you can knead it without it sticking to you too much.
AntoniaJames December 16, 2010
This looks like an excellent recipe. Bet the honey keeps the rolls from being overly (dessert-like) sweet. My sons have been asking me lately to use more whole wheat flour in my baking, so i think I'll try these out next week when both are home from college. I'm trying to figure out if they like sourdough, which I've actually never made. The idea of a sourdough challah-type roll is utterly fascinating. Plus, my boys love any roll that pulls apart. ;o)