Join software-engineer-turned-bread-blogger Maurizio Leo, the baker behind The Perfect Loaf, as he kneads, shapes, and bakes his family's holiday (well, year-round really) favorite: Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls.
On Play Me a Recipe, your favorite cooks will walk you through their most treasured recipes, offering all the insider tips, stories, and tricks you won't get from a written recipe—and you'll be right alongside them, every step of the way. Feel free to pause, jump back, or navigate the steps via the podcast chapters.
If you're cooking along, here's the recipe we're making today. Go ahead and grab the ingredients below (Maurizio starts listing them at 1:27) before starting the episode.
Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls
Dough for Rolls
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Lobby Time Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Maurizio: Hey, everybody! This is Play Me A Recipe. I'm Maurizio Leo, the software engineer turned baker behind The Perfect Loaf. And today I'll be baking my super Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls.
When I was growing up, a version of these super soft rolls made a pretty regular appearance in our household, whether we had them at the Thanksgiving table, at summer barbecues, or even at school lunch. I think you do remember those right? Those soft and ultra-buttery rolls at the cafeteria. Probably the only thing I’d eat at school. But here, with the help of my trusty sourdough starter, I've given them a flavor and textural upgrade. The recipe for these awesome rolls can be found on Food52.com, And of course, the recipe will be linked in the show notes if you do need to refer to it. But otherwise we'll be gathering ingredients, mixing, stretching and folding, shaping and baking everything alongside each other. Feel free to pause or jump back if you need some more time at each of these steps.
Maurizio: For this recipe, you'll need an active and bubbly sourdough starter, all-purpose flour, water, and sugar for the levain. You’ll also need some all-purpose flour, water, whole milk, unsalted butter, sugar, and salt. For the main dough, you'll need a whole egg and a splash of milk for the egg wash.
You also need two bowls, one large and one small, a whisk, a stand or hand mixer, a 9x9-inch pan and a cooling rack. Go ahead and gather up all those ingredients and equipment. I'll be here waiting for you when you're ready.
Maurizio: The first thing we need to do is make our levain. It's the night before we're gonna mix and I'm about to head to bed for the day, and this is part of my routine. Each day at night, I refresh my sourdough starter and make a levain if I'm baking the next day. And the levain, which is really just a small offshoot of my sourdough starter created for just one particular bake, needs a little bit of a head start. Let's go ahead and make it now. So in a medium-sized jar, I'm going to first add 24 grams of my ripe sourdough starter, and you always want to be sure to use your starter when it's ripe, and this is about the time when you would normally give it a refreshment, so it should look really bubbly, be quite loose, and have a pretty sour aroma to it. So to the starter in the jar, I'm gonna add 60 grams of all-purpose flour. And this could be really any all-purpose flour, like King Arthur all-purpose. And to that, I'll add 60 grams of water and 12 grams of caster sugar.
So after mixing this up at this point, the levain should smell like freshly mixed dough, and it might be a little bit sweet as well. Over the next 12 hours, it will start to ferment and gradually take on a more and more sour aroma. So let's cover it loosely and let it do its thing. Oh, and right now, don't forget to refresh your starter as you normally would.
Maurizio: Okay, first, let's start with the butter. I have 75 grams here, which is about two-thirds of a stick, and I'm going to cut it into one-half-inch pats. Place each pat on a kitchen plate to let it come up to room temperature, and it's important to have your butter at room temperature before you start mixing it into your dough. Because if it's too cold, the butter won't easily absorb into the dough when you're mixing.
Conversely, if it's too warm and greasy, then your end dough at the end of mixing will also be quite greasy. So you wanna look for butter that's perfectly room-temperature so that a finger press will gently slide right into it and leave an impression, but not so much that your finger turns greasy when you pull it right out. All right, your butter is all cut. Let's put that aside and let it come to room temperature while we work on the main dough.
Maurizio: In the bowl of my stand mixer, I'm combining 440 grams of my all-purpose flour, 180 grams of warm water, and 115 grams of my milk straight from the fridge. And I like to warm the water just a little bit, just to make sure that the final dough temperature is a little bit on the warmer side, as opposed to, let’s say fridge temp. Mixing in the mixture will also warm it up some, so that will kind of make everything keep on schedule and keep that fermentation quite active. Alright, and then next with my 23 grams of caster sugar. And I like to use caster sugar because it is extremely fine grain, and it absorbs very easily into the dough once it starts mixing. But if you don't have caster sugar, you could just use the finest granulated sugar you have. Or, another trick is to take that granulated sugar and just kind of process it in your food processor for a while. Make a big batch of that ultra-fine sugar and keep it for when you're baking bread like this.
Next is 10 grams of fine sea salt. Okay and of course, my super active and bubbly levain is going right in. And next, we'll want to put our dough hook onto our stand mixer, and let's turn our stand mixers on to stir, which is the lowest speed. Just to get the dough moving together and so that there's no clumps left in the bowl. Everything should be mixed together and homogeneous after this. (Stops the mixer) Get that flour all incorporated and everything mixed together. Kick it back up to stir. Keep going until it's all incorporated. My dough is all together. It's looking pretty shaggy and wet.
Give your bowl another scrape down the sides to try and get any remaining flour. Push down into the middle. And now that it's all incorporated at this point, I'll turn my mixer up to speed to which is the speed right above stir. And I'll let this mix for 3 to 5 minutes until the dough really starts to show some strength. It'll start to clean to the dough hook, and it'll still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl. But you'll notice that there's a lot more strength to it, a lot more elasticity. It'll look smoother. And if you tug on the side of the dough, it'll really start to resist tearing apart and kind of stretching out and showing expense ability. So let's give that a go. Yeah, mhm.
Okay, at this point, your dough should be pretty strong. If you wait your hand and kind of pull on the side of the dough, it'll show some strength and cohesiveness still be shaggy, but it'll be smoother than when you first started, and it won't completely pass a windowpane test if you're familiar with that. But it will spread out a little bit and just generally show signs of being a pretty strong dough.
Maurizio: And at this point, also, my butter is right at room temperature, so when I take my finger and gently press on it, it dents quite easily. But it's not melted on my plate. It's just holding itself together and quite soft. If it's not quite there, you can toss it in the microwave for just a few seconds at a time and try to warm it up just a little bit, checking each time afterwards to see if it's just right. All right. Now we'll work with one pat at a time, and we'll put the mixer on low speed. Put one pat in as it's running, wait until it incorporates and then add another one right afterwards, and this could take up to 5 to 6 minutes. You don't want to rush this point. You don't want to just throw all the butter in, because then you'll just kind of have all the butter clumping up into a bunch or not incorporating easily. So just take your time, do one thing at a time, and let's get mixing.
Maurizio: All right, there it goes. The first pat on you could see the butter kind of going around in the bowl, but it's also breaking apart and smearing on the sides and getting incorporated quite easily. Okay, the first pat is mostly gone, and now I just need it running and with my spatula. I'll just kind of knock it on the side and drop another pat in. Let the mixing arm kind of pull it off and keep mixing.
Okay, that’s looking good over here. That was about 5 to 6 minutes in my mixer and all the butter's in, and it's starting to smooth out some. It's a soft dough, so it won't feel super strong, and it won't be fully developed at this point. And that's okay. We're gonna give it several sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation, which will further strengthen the dough and get it to where we want by the end of that time period.
If the dough feels really shaggy and it's tearing apart really easily on you, then you could keep mixing for a couple more minutes to try to smooth it out some more. But again, don't worry if it's not fully strengthened to this point, we've got much more strengthening to do during both fermentation and during the book fermentation. That's the time when it does the first rise, and a lot of the byproducts of fermentation will start to happen at that place in time. And it will be when the dough starts to rise and a lot of organic acids will be created as a byproduct of fermentation. And so, at this point, I'll take it out of my mixer, put it into another bowl, cover it with a silicone cover, go write some code for 30 minutes, and I'll see you back here soon.
Maurizio: Yeah, all right. It's been 30 minutes, and the dough in my bowl still looks shaggy with not too much rise at this point. But that's what we're expecting so far. It's only been 30 minutes. So during the bulk fermentation, which is four hours, we're going to give the dough three sets of stretch-and-folds each. One of these sets, even though it seems like it's just a simple fold, actually incorporates quite a bit of strength into the dough and helps build up the structure inside. To do each fold, just ready a little bowl of water next to your bowl. Holding your dough, dip your hands inside of the water just to get in a little bit moist, then reached into your bowl on one side of the dough. Kind of pull it up and stretch it over to the other side. Rotate the ball 180 degrees, so you're now working on the other side. Do the same. Reach down, pull up and over and then rotated 90 degrees so that you're looking at the narrow end of the dough. Now in your bowl, do another fold up and over to the other side.
Maurizio: Rotate the ball to the final side 180 degrees. Stretch the dough up and over to the last side, so I'll do that. Now the dough still feels quite weak on the first set. It's kind of, uh, shaggy and loose, but still you can feel that it's got some strength to it. And as fermentation continues, that strength will continue to build during this bulk fermentation. And by the end, we'll have a still soft but totally shapeable dough. Alright, cover the bowl and let's give it another 30 minutes.
Yeah OK, it's been 30 minutes since the first set of stretch-and-folds, and now I'll do the second set and it will be the same process. I wet my hands, give it one fold at each direction north, south, east and west, cover the bowl and then give it another 30 minutes. After that time, do the last set for a total of three sets. And then, after that last set, cover the bowl, and we’ll let the dough rest until the full four hours of bulk fermentation is complete. And at that point, we'll get to shaping. I'm gonna head back, write some code and then I'll be back after bulk fermentation.
Maurizio: Okay, so bulk fermentation has been going for about four hours and let's check on our dough. All right, so mine looks nice and puffy. At this point, I can see that at the edge where the bowl meets the dough. The dough kind of domes downward and you can see that there's been some rise in the middle, and I've got some scattered bubbles on the sides here and there and just the general smoothness to the dough. And if I kind of pull on the edges, it feels smooth and strong, so you know that there's been some healthy fermentation in there during that four hours. But if your dough doesn't look like it's smoother and stronger and kind of a transformation since the beginning of the process, then cover back up and give it another 15 to 30 minutes to rise. Another important thing with baking, regardless of whether it's sourdough or not, is that you always should be flexible and adjust the timeline to how your dough is doing that day. If it's warmer, it might be faster, and if it's cooler, it might be slower with that. I think what I'll do is I'll stick my dough in the fridge so I'll keep it uncovered and I'll place it into the fridge, or about 15 minutes or so while we prepare the pan. I'm using a 9x9-inch pan before we get shaping. Let's prepare our pan and I like to use a 9x9-inch pan that has a silicone liner on the inside, so it makes it a nonstick. And if yours doesn't have a nonstick coating on the inside, then I recommend literally buttering or greasing the interior. And if you're worried about the rolls sticking, then you could always do parchment paper liners. Just fold some paper up, put it inside and then place the dough inside that. But for me, even though I have the silicone liner, I still like to do a light buttering to the interior so that I make sure that there's no nooks and crannies for the dough to get stuck to you on the sides. And I really don't think there's any harm to adding a little more butter to these already buttery rolls.
Maurizio: All right, so it's nice and buttered, and now also grab your bench scraper and bowl scraper and your scale. We'll start to divide these into small little rounds. Okay, it's been about 15 minutes of my dough resting in the fridge. Let's take it out and see. All right, so we're here. It's nice and cool. It's not frozen solid here. It's just cold and a little bit more firm to the touch, and I've got my plastic bowl scraper here. So, first thing I'll do is I’ll lightly flour the area of my workbench that I'll be scraping this dough out with my plastic bowl scraper, and I will gently scrape this out of the bowl and onto the counter. And I like to be gentle here at this point because you don't really want to overly degas the dough and kind of knock out all those wonderful gases that have produced during that lengthy bulk fermentation. So just be gentle with it. Scrape it out and then turn your scale on. Grab your bench scraper and we'll divide this dough into 60-gram pieces and we’ll have 16 of them. So we’ll line each piece up as we shape it—four rows of four pieces, for 16 total rolls. Because the dough is kind of cold, it shouldn't be super sticky. But if it is, especially on the bottom, where it wasn't exposed to the cold air of the fridge, just give it a light dusting of flour. So with your bench scraper in one hand. I'm left-handed, so I have it in my left hand and my other hand, my right hand, is lightly dusted with flour, I will kind of cut straight down into the dough and make a long rectangle from my semi-round piece that I scraped out. Now that I have this sort of rectangle shape in front of me, I'll further subdivide that into smaller 60-gram pieces, so I'll just make a cut. Scoop it up quickly, put it on my scale...Oops, it’s 100 grams, so I'll cut off some of that. Still a little too high. Yeah, there we go. Always takes a little bit of time to dial in that divide.
It can be kind of misleading when you look at the dough just how heavy it is. 60. Continue to do this until you have all 16 pieces divided out into 60-gram pieces.
Maurizio: Okay, all of my dough is now divided. I have 16 pieces. Each piece weighs 60 grams, and the first thing I'll do is I'll make sure that my work surface is floured. This dough is soft, but it's still a little firm from being in the fridge. And you want a little bit of stickiness on your work surface when you're shaping this kind of dough because you want it to slightly pull against that work surface as you're pushing or pulling it. So the first step is, with your bench scraper, to pick up a piece. Drop it in front of you. And I like to keep my bench scraper at a 45-degree angle to my work surface and just kind of push against the dough. You're scraping against that work surface, and it will kind of pull it tight as you do that and then do it again. But rotate this time. And so you're going around in a circle as you're pushing and using your hand without the bench scraper to kind of tuck the dough under itself.
(While shaping) So you push and tuck kind of round it. Push in, tuck round, push and tuck it under. By the end, you should have a nice round top little ball shape in front of you, and if it's still a little bit loose, you can scoop it up with your bench scraper, flip it over into your hands and pinch the bottom where there's the cracker seem together to form a nice type ball while you turn it around. This is really similar to how I would do like a pizza dough ball, and it creates a nice, taut surface on the outside and then place it in your 9x9-inch pan. I'm up in the left hand corner, and continue on with the rest of the pieces so you have four rows of four pieces.
(Stumped? Here’s a video of Maurizio shaping the rolls.)
Maurizio: Well, that was fun. There's just something awesome about shaping bread dough. So grab your reusable plastic cover and now put it over your square pan. Or you could drape a kitchen towel over the top. Anything to kind of keep a hard crust from forming on top of the dough while it's proofing. And let's put this dough somewhere warm for about two-and-a-half hours, and it's about 76 to 78°F here right now, And if it's a little bit colder in your location, then it might take a little longer. But we’ll talk about judging the signs of the right proof when it comes time to baking. All right, we'll see you back here in a couple hours.
Maurizio: And we’re back! I’m Maurizio Leo, the software-engineer-turned-baker behind The Perfect Loaf, and we've been making my super fluffy, tender, sourdough pull-apart rolls. Before the break, we let our shaped rolls proof. It's about 76°F here in Albuquerque. So it took a good two and a half hours for these to fully proof. If it's warmer where you're at, it might happen a little faster, and if it's colder, it might be a little slower.
Maurizio: So right now I've got my oven preheated to 425°F. Let's get that going before we take out our dough and check on it.
All right. I took out my dough...taking a look here. It looks quite puffy. All the pieces in the 9-by-9 pan have risen up almost to about two-thirds of the height of my pan, and if you gently poke on each of them, they'll feel really airy and soft, almost like a giant marshmallow. If they still feel little dense on the inside and kind of resisting your push, then give it another 30 minutes or sort of rise just cover him up, give them another 30 minutes and then check again. But my dough looks ready to go. And this is my favorite part. We're gonna get these into the oven.
So in a small bowl, crack a whole egg with a splash of milk. It's about a tablespoon of milk in there. Use a whisk or fork. Next up, we're gonna use this egg wash to brush on top of the proofed dough. The egg part of this adds a little bit of shininess to the top, whereas the milk promotes a little more browning. And if you don't have an egg or the milk, just use one of the other. But I do like both of them.
Alright, I'm just gonna use a pastry brush. Could also use any kind of silicone-based brush or any kind of culinary brush, really. Just get this egg wash brushed lightly over the top of each of these rolls. You don't want to drench this with the egg wash because then it'll just drip down the sides and kind of burn on the sides. You just want enough to cover every exposed top part of the dough. Okay. All of my dough has been brushed lightly with the egg wash. And now we're going to get this pan into the preheated oven. Okay. Set a timer for 25 minutes, okay? And we'll be back after 25 minutes to check on the dough.
Maurizio: Okay. It's been 25 minutes. The rolls are really well risen. Nice and brown on top with some kind of light areas on the sides. They still have a ways to go. Just give your pan a 180° rotation. Set the oven temperature to 375°F and set your timer for 15 minutes.
Maurizio: Okay, It's been 15 minutes, and I'm just now taking the rolls out of the oven. They are nice and golden brown. They're shiny, and you can even see a little blistering on the crust. The color is great. It ranges from a dark mahogany to very light brown in between each roll, and we'll let them cool for five minutes here in the pan, after which we’ll turn out onto a cooling rack to let cool for about 20 to 30 minutes. Then at that point, tear away.
Maurizio: All right. These rolls have cooled enough to where I can touch them. And they are just beautiful, nicely browned on top with a light area in between each roll. Just begging to be torn apart. When you pull these, they just kind of shred apart. It's awesome. The interior is super light and soft. The top is a little bit more crunchy, and that's great—it gives it a little bit of structure and the interior just kind of shreds like cotton candy. It's beautiful to me. These are the quintessential kind of roll for something like Thanksgiving, where you just kind of tear a roll off, dunk it in gravy...just absolutely delicious. I can't wait to have these for the holidays.
Maurizio: Thank you so much for making these Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls with me today. How did yours turnout? Are they fluffy? I know mine certainly are. And will they make it to your holiday table? I'm absolutely gonna make these for Thanksgiving, and I might have to make another batch the week after for any leftovers. Let me know how yours went by leaving a review. Again, you can find the recipe for these Soft & Fluffy Sourdough Pull-Apart Rolls on Food52.com and I'm Maurizio Leo, and this is Play Me A Recipe. Happy sourdough baking and happy holidays.