Just in time for Thanksgiving, a no-muss, no-fuss sourdough roll recipe! I’ve posted sourdough biscuit or roll recipes previously, and I liked them, but this one is my own, and I like it best, because of the no-muss, no-fuss part. What I mean by that is there’s no prep to do for the night before, and no rising time before baking, which makes it much easier to coordinate for Thanksgiving dinner.
The previous sourdough biscuit recipes I used came from a friend who gave me some of her husband’s family’s heirloom sourdough starter. This was back in the ‘80s. I kept that starter alive for many, many years, but when my mom passed away, I went through a period of depression and inactivity, and I let the starter die in the fridge. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. Sadly, the rest of my friend’s family also let the starter die, so it is gone from this world. And that’s a shame, because it was a good one.
I tried starting new batches of sourdough starter using baker’s yeast, but they were less than successful long-term. They just couldn’t survive the periods of inactivity in the fridge the way that strong, old heirloom starter did. However, some years ago, I learned that sourdough could be started with just flour and water. That was how the old-timers did it, and that was surely the origin of the heirloom starter I let die. So I finally got around to trying that method, starting with 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of water. You just mix that up in a glass bowl or jar, cover loosely, and set it in a warm place to let the yeasts in the flour start feeding. Every day, twice a day, you feed the starter the same amount of flour and water, stir, and watch for bubbles. On the third or fourth day, you have to start feeding a little more flour and increasing the water. A quarter cup of flour to a quarter cup of water, still twice a day. It really couldn’t be easier.
On about the fifth to the seventh day, you have to discard half of the starter to keep it to a manageable size that won’t consume massive amounts of flour. It takes a while for the starter to develop enough yeasts to leaven a loaf of bread, and in the meantime, feeding the starter will create prodigious amounts of discard, as in several cups a week. Some people throw it away, but I am using rather expensive flour, and I didn’t want to waste it. (I am using Guisto’s Organic Bread Flour that I bought at our local health foods store.) When the starter is a few weeks old, you can start feeding it ½ cup of flour and water once a day. And when it is over a month old, you can stash it in the fridge for a week or so, with a tight lid, and only take it out the day before baking to feed and reactivate.
Because my starter is young and producing lots of discard, I’ve been testing recipes and have found some I liked and some I didn’t. I tried a sourdough cookie that was very similar to Snickerdoodles. Joel and Kaedynce really liked those. I’ve also been making a lot of sourdough pancakes, and I adapted my sourdough pancake recipe for waffles. I made sourdough pizza crust that turned out great, and I even made extra and froze it for later. (If anyone is interested, let me know in a comment and I’ll provide those recipes and links in a separate post.)
When I tried my old sourdough biscuit recipe with my new starter, I had not exactly a total failure, but what I ended up with was not something I’d serve at Thanksgiving. My sourdough biscuits are a tradition at Thanksgiving, so I wanted to get the recipe right. And goodness knows, I had plenty of discard to experiment with!
It took two more batches of biscuits to get the adjusted recipe right, but wow! When I got it, I was really happy. My starter isn’t very sour yet because it is still young, only six weeks old, but I’ve been assured that typical sourdough flavor will come in time. For now, these rolls are perfect to continue the Thanksgiving tradition, and I figured out a short cut to save prep time the night before. This recipe uses fresh discard, that is, sourdough starter that has been fed within 12 hours. I’m calling them rolls, because they tasted more like a yeast dinner roll than a sourdough biscuit. (Again, that’s because my starter is young. If yours is mature, you’re going to get more of that classic sourdough flavor.)
(makes one dozen rolls)
2 cups sourdough starter/discard
1 cup dry powdered milk (see notes)
2 cups flour (I used organic pastry flour—see notes)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar (see notes)
1 teaspoon salt
Additional ¼ – ½ cup flour for kneading
2 tablespoons butter, melted in 9×12” pan (see notes)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix starter and powdered milk together in a large bowl until smooth. Mix baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into 2 cups of flour in separate bowl. Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients until flour is moistened. Dough will be wet.
Sprinkle ¼ cup of flour onto board. Turn out soft dough onto board and knead until smooth, adding more flour as necessary (up to ½ cup total) to keep dough from sticking to board. When dough is stiff enough to cut, pat down to about ¾ inch thickness and shape rolls as desired. (I use a biscuit cutter or a small glass, dipped in flour after each cut.) Dip one side of the roll into melted butter in pan and turn over so butter-coated top is up. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. The rolls will rise during baking.
Why powdered milk? Sourdough starter is wet and runny. It’s half flour, half water. Rolls and biscuits need milk, but sourdough discard recipes typically don’t need more liquid. My old sourdough pancake recipe used powdered milk, so I thought why not try it in the rolls? It worked beautifully. I can only find non-fat powdered milk, and I get it in bulk at Winco, so it is inexpensive.
I used organic pastry flour for my rolls. All-purpose flour will work fine—I used it for years in sourdough biscuits. I would not use bread flour for the rolls because there’s no long rising and working periods to develop the gluten.
I used organic cane sugar. If you object to sugar, don’t use it, but sugar gives the rolls that old-timey, yeast bread flavor that I love. There’s no reason you couldn’t use honey or any other sweetener of your choice, adjusting as necessary for your taste. If you use honey or any liquid sweetener, add it to the sourdough starter and powdered milk before adding the flour mixture.
As for baking the rolls in butter, you can substitute any oil you like to use for baking, but you will lose flavor. These rolls contain no other fat (unless you use powdered milk that contains fat), and the butter helps them brown on top and bottom and gives them delicious flavor. Melt the butter in the pan and then allow the pan to cool down before you put the rolls in. You don’t want the bottom of the rolls to start cooking right away in a hot pan. You want them to rise before they start to brown.
One last note. The baking powder and baking soda react with the acids in the sourdough starter to make these rolls rise as they bake. My old recipe (also using baking powder and baking soda) called for allowing the biscuits to rise for 30 minutes before baking, but I found that with my young starter, I had better results baking as soon as the rolls were in the pan. They rose higher and were lighter with better texture.
I only have one picture of my recent batch of rolls in the pan, and it is a bit blurry. I took it in a hurry on my phone because I was getting ready to leave on a trip. It’s not the best picture, but trust me, the rolls tasted so much better than this picture might indicate. There’s one missing from the pan because it was snitched as soon as they came out of the oven for a taste test! Mmmmm.