Buttery Sourdough Buns: a new take on sourdough

Ah, sourdough bread…

A thick, hearty crust, chewy interior, full of flavor, and absolutely addictive.

Or, thick, hearty crisp crust, chewy soft, moist interior, full of flavor, and absolutely addictive.

Are you ready to see sourdough bread in a brand new light?

Meet our Buttery Sourdough Buns.

We bake with sourdough quite a bit here at King Arthur Flour, but what we make is usually some variation on a typical rustic sourdough bread. You know the type; heck, I just described it above. A crunchy crust, an interior that’s chewy rather than soft, and lots of good, “bready” flavor.

But one day, it occurred to me there’s no reason not to take sourdough bread in a different direction.

We’d already posted a recipe for a sliceable sandwich loaf: Clay’s Multi-Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread.

So why not a sourdough dinner roll?

Easy, I thought.

Oh, how wrong I was!

I went through version after version of these buns in search of the perfect balance in both flavor (not TOO sour, but noticeably tangy), and texture (soft, not chewy, but with some body).

My first experiments included too much sourdough starter; the sour flavor overwhelmed the mild taste of the remaining ingredients (butter, milk, egg, a touch of sugar). It also weakened the gluten enough to shred the buns – so much for texture.

So I cut back on the starter, but still wasn’t getting the right taste; the starter seemed to be fighting with everything else, flavor-wise. So out went the milk; down went the sugar.

And, light bulb moment: I decided to make the butter a brush-on “filling,” rather than a dough ingredient. Ah, THERE’S that buttery flavor!

Next issue: the buns wouldn’t brown. They tasted great, but their pallid, heavy-cream color left a lot to be desired, looks-wise.

Solution? I tried brushing with beaten egg; it made their crust sticky. Egg white, ditto. Milk, didn’t help with browning. Butter, ditto.

In the end, I added paprika to the butter filling, giving the buns a deep-gold swirl. And baked them towards the top of the oven, hoping for the best.

Which wasn’t (and still isn’t) perfect. If anyone bakes these rolls and comes up with a solution that yields a beautiful brown crust, please let me know!

Anyway, this is why we call it the test kitchen, right? We test, test, test recipes, then test some more, until we come up with something we feel is good enough for you, our readers, to try.

As always, we welcome your feedback. It takes a community to make a really good, recipe, right?

Let’s start with some starter – 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces), to be exact.

Does it need to be fed before using? Here’s feedback from one of our readers: “I have made these twice so far, with both fed and unfed starter. Either way, they come out beautifully, rising a bit more with the fed starter.”

So, feed your starter for a bit more rise, but it’s not strictly necessary.

Here’s my starter – top, as it looked coming out of the fridge; bottom, as it looked next morning, after feeding it with 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water. It definitely bubbled up a bit.

Combine the 1/2 cup starter with the following:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespooon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
5 tablespoons soft butter (plus additional butter for filling and topping)
2/3 cup lukewarm water

Mix and knead — using your hands, a stand mixer, or a bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough.

If you’re using a mixer, you’ll notice the dough is quite sticky; after about 4 minutes of kneading at medium speed, scrape the dough away from the sides and off the bottom of the bowl, then knead for another 4 minutes or so. The dough will still be tacky, but shouldn’t be unmanageably sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or other container, and allow it to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s just about doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.

Roll and pat the dough into a rough rectangle approximately 12″ x 16″. Put 2 tablespoons melted butter in a small bowl, and add 1/4 teaspoon paprika, if desired; it’s there for color, and accentuates the buns’ swirl, but omit it if you wish. Spread the dough with the melted butter.

Starting with a long side, roll the dough into a log.

Cut the log in 1″ slices, using a sharp knife, or a piece of dental floss looped between your fingers.

Lightly grease two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. Arrange 8 buns in each pan.

See the picture on top? I was trying an experiment. Should I flatten the rolls in the pan (left), or just leave them as is (right)?

Well, the flattened rolls filled the pan to a greater extent; but the unflattened ones rose taller.

And after baking, they all looked the same; so no need to flatten the rolls initially.

Cover the pans, and let the buns rise for 60 minutes, until they’re noticeably puffy. Don’t let these buns rise too long; you want them to have enough rising power left to expand nicely in the oven.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter, and brush the buns with about half of it; you’ll use the remainder after they’re baked.

Bake the buns for 22 to 25 minutes; they’ll color only slightly.

Remove the buns from the oven, turn them out onto a rack, and brush them with the remaining butter.

Serve hot or warm.

You’ll find that despite their somewhat “doughy” look, these buns actually have a buttery-crisp crust; think crescent roll. I found them quite addictive, and had to stop myself from having one more bun, “just to be sure.”

Leftovers? Wrap tightly, and store at room temperature for up to a week. To reheat, place the buns on a baking sheet, tent lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for about 10 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Buttery Sourdough Buns. Remember, I’m looking for feedback on how to get a browner crust…

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Janie Higgins

    I just received my starter last week and began feeding it. When it came time to “discard”, I simply couldn’t do it. It seemed so wasteful, so I gave it a go with little expectations since it was new. I made rolls per directions. Although they are not symmetrical and as aesthetically pleasing as your photo, they turned out well enough I will be sharing with neighbors. Being made from “new” starter, they do lack the tang but that will come. I love the light texture of the interior and the delicate crust. I am looking forward to making more, especially for the upcoming holidays!

  2. Susie Holmes

    These turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done with my sourdough starter. They were tender and fluffy. Amazing…. and I don’t have a standing mixer so it was all by hand but not too hard on my arthritic hands. Definitely making again 👏🏻💕

  3. Angela

    Along the lines of the above comment by Chris D who dissolves baking soda into the melted butter, could you include a pinch of baking soda into the batter itself to increase overall browning?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Angela! For browning, baking soda only really makes a difference when it’s coating the outside rather than being incorporated into the dough from the start. It’s usually done by dunking your (usually pretzels or bagels) in boiling water with baking soda in it. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Heidi

    Ive been baking a soft bread from this! We love it as cinnamon rolls or bread. Ive found that using a thermometer really helps me get the right amount of done. 190 has worked for me.

  5. Chris D.

    Great recipe! I know this recipe has been up here for years, but I just made these yesterday after reviving some neglected starter.

    I used unfed (what would have been discard) so I’m VERY happy to have another recipe option to simply throwing away half my starter. For the first go I opted for the sweet vs savory route in order to use up a bit of homemade strawberry jam as the filling.

    As for browning the tops, when melting the butter I dissolved a bit of baking soda (maybe a smidgen over 1/4 tsp) in order to boost the pH and aid in browning (pretzel trick, same thing I do when caramelizing onions).

  6. Joy C

    At 70 I bought my first bread maker last week and your recipe was my 3rd effort. It got the thumbs up from both my husband and son. Hubby had one with dinner (with either garlic or onion powder sprinkled on it, followed up with a cinnamon and sugar one with his coffee. Your recipe rose much more than the one I tried yesterday though again, I got a positive result. My eldest son and I are gluten intolerant so will have a go at your gf starter and bread. Can the gf starter be used for making a normal sourdough loaf successfully? I hadn’t heard of the brand of flour used so just used a premium all purpose flour (perhaps not available here in Australia?)

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Joy, we’ve only tried using gluten-starters in gluten-free recipes and the same for gluten-full starters and recipes. If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind taking a bit of a risk, you’re welcome to try doing a bit of mix-and-match with starters and recipes. There’s a chance the starter won’t have quite enough strength to make the dough rise, so you may consider adding a bit of commercial yeast if there isn’t already some called for in the recipe. If the results don’t turn out to be what you were hoping for, turn back to tried and tested recipes. This will always produce the best results. Kye@KAF

  7. Fran

    I just purchased and got my sour dough started last week. Anxious to try it out, I made a half batch of these rolls. Made three plain, two with carmelized onions and three with grated cheddar. All three varieties were delicious. The rolls were moist, soft and so good. Because my starter is so new they didn’t really have a tang to them but the recipe makes a lovely roll. They kept four days and were still delicious warmed up.


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