For me, the holidays were marked with a plethora of sweet desserts, sweet bread, chocolate, and of course, cookies. I craved a savory respite: something soft, a little buttery, salty, and something ushering in a new year with a unique flavor profile.
These savory sourdough rolls evolved over many trials, trying to home in on that savory flavor profile and soft texture I was after. The result was a versatile, naturally leavened dough paired with a savory filling that I could probably eat by the spoonful straight from a bowl. And the dough itself turned out to be a fantastic base for playing with many different savory filling options.
I gravitated toward a somewhat typical Italian pairing of ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and fresh thyme to fill these rolls. But I also found I liked grated cheddar cheese with a touch of fresh sage, Gruyère with herbs and chopped ham, or even the classic bacon, cheddar, and chive that always pleases. Because the dough has no sugar added, any savory combination would work well.
As is the case when I make enriched doughs that require rolling out to fill, it’s best to refrigerate the dough after bulk fermentation (its first rise) to make rolling and shaping easier. Once the dough is in the fridge and chilled, it can rest there for hours, or even until the next day, whatever works for your schedule. —Maurizio Leo
- Prep time 7 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 35 minutes
- makes 9 rolls
Parmesan cheese, grated
unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
beaten eggs (a little shy of 2 eggs)
ripe sourdough starter
large egg, beaten
Mix the dough (9:00 a.m.)
Place the butter in a small bowl and let sit out at room temperature to soften. Measure and warm the whole milk to about 76°F/24°C, either in the microwave or on the stove. Warming the milk will lead to warmer mixed dough, which ensures ample fermentation activity.
To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, warmed milk, eggs, salt, and ripe sourdough starter. (Leave the cut butter aside for now.) 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 to 5 minutes until the dough starts to clump around the dough hook (it won’t completely come off the bottom of the mixing bowl).
Let the dough rest 10 minutes in the mixing bowl, uncovered.
The butter should be at room temperature by this time—a finger should easily push into a piece without much resistance. If the butter is still 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 ½-inch piece at a time, waiting to add the next until the previous one is fully incorporated into the dough. While mixing, continue to add all the butter and mix until the dough smooths and once again begins clumping to the dough hook. Adding the butter and finishing to mix could take a total of 5 minutes or so. The dough will be homogenous and moderately elastic at the end of mixing, but still sticky and not fully developed. We will perform a few sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation to continue strengthening the dough.
Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover, and bulk ferment.
Bulk ferment the dough (9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.)
Set a timer for 30 minutes; for the duration, let the dough rest, covered, at a warm temperature (77°F/25°C). After 30 minutes, give the dough its first set of stretch and folds (we’ll do this three times total).
For each set, use slightly wet hands to grab the edge of the dough farthest from you in the container, then stretch it up and over to the side nearest you. Then, grab the dough on the side closest to you and stretch it back up and over to the farthest side of the container. Repeat two more folds, one at the right side of the container and one at the left—you’ll now have a folded up square in the container. Let the dough rest for another 30 minutes, again covered and at room temperature, then stretch and fold a second time. Repeat this process once more for a total of three sets. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for two more hours (the whole bulk fermentation process will take 3 ½ hours).
Chill the dough (1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
After bulk fermentation, place the contained, covered dough into the refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 24 hours). This time in the fridge will chill the dough, making it easier to roll out, shape, and cut it into rolls.
Roll out the dough, spread the filling, cut the rolls (2:00 p.m.)
Liberally butter a 9 x 9-inch baking pan. I like to use my USA Pan, which has a natural nonstick liner, but you could also use parchment paper folded and pressed to the inside.
In a small bowl, add the ricotta, Parmesan, and thyme and mix vigorously until it is smooth. Set aside.
When thoroughly chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator and flour the top of the dough and your work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a rectangle approximately 16 by 15 inches, the longer sides parallel to you. If the dough begins to stick at any point, add additional flour to the dough and the work surface to prevent sticking.
Using an offset spatula or back of a spoon, spread the filling onto the dough and smooth it out into an even, thin layer. Then, starting with the dough closest to your body, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder.
Using a sharp chef’s knife (or unflavored dental floss), cut the roll into 1 ½-thick rounds. I like to trim the ends of the cylinder just about 1/2-inch, so the remaining pieces are more uniform. You might also end up with one extra roll (for a total of 10) in the end, depending on how thinly you’ve rolled out the dough.
Place the cut pieces into the prepared baking pan in 3 rows of 3 with a little space around each roll, giving it room to relax and rise during proofing.
Proof the shaped rolls (2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., temperature depending)
Cover the baking pan and let the dough proof at warm room temperature for 2 to 2 ½ hours, depending on your kitchen’s temperature. If it’s cooler, the dough may take longer until ready. When the rolls have relaxed and risen fully, the dough will be very soft to the touch.
Bake the rolls (4:30 p.m.)
Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C) with a rack positioned in the middle of the oven.
In a small bowl, make the egg wash: Whisk together the egg and whole milk until frothy. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the egg wash onto the proofed dough in a thin, uniform layer.
Bake the rolls for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the bake time. The rolls are finished when the tops are golden, and the internal temperature should be above 200°F (93°C).
When baked, remove the pan from the oven and let the rolls rest for 10 minutes in the pan. Then, remove from the pan to a wire rack, grate a little additional Parmesan cheese on top, and enjoy.