No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Let’s face it–some sourdough recipes are anything but no-fuss. On the coattails of sourdough’s great, quarantine-inspired resurgence, many bread lovers with lofty aspirations of achieving the perfect loaf have come to the same conclusion: working with sourdough can be kind of hard.

It’s not that caring for a starter poses an insurmountable challenge. If anything, neglecting–or simply forgetting–about your starter in the fridge can be the biggest hurdle, if you don’t bake every day, or even every week.

What Does It Mean To Care For Sourdough Starter

The fact is, sourdough is alive with wild yeasts and lactobacilli, an umbrella term for bacteria strains typically found in yogurt and dairy products. These strains of bacteria excel at converting sugar into lactic and acetic acid, which translates, happily for us, into flavor. (This is why we love our artisan bakers for intimately caring for their cultured loaves, from the beginning stages of liquid starter to a gorgeously shaped levain.)

Dreamy as the sourdough life may seem, not all of us can shape our lives around a schedule dictated by bacteria, temperature, and flour. The good news is, there are many uses for sourdough starter other than making bread, many of which take much less time to master.

Ways to De-Mystify Your Starter

If pulling out the scale once a week becomes a pain-point in the process of caring for your starter, ditch it.

The deeper one digs into the realm of sourdough culture (pun intended) the more involved (and superstitious) recipes for sourdough become. A baker may weigh every ounce to the proper decimal, consider every variable impacting culture activity, and plan their life around their starter–and still bake a crummy loaf.

Don’t view your starter as a complex adversary–it is a new friend you are getting to know.

Feed your sourdough culture 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour when you pull it from the fridge. Clean the container, pour the fed starter back into its vessel, and use what doesn’t fit in a recipe like No-Fuss Cinnamon Rolls. (This is called sourdough discard.)

If you are unsure of how to use your sourdough discard, consider these ideas:

A simple rule of thumb for understanding sourdough starter behavior is, the warmer the environment, the more active the starter. This is why if you keep sourdough starter on your fridge, it requires daily feedings–versus the weekly feedings required when kept in the fridge.

Resources For Further Sourdough Recipes and Research

  • The New York Times produced a deep dive into making a sourdough loaf, with illustrative pictures and step-by-step instructions.
  • Breadtopia hosts a wealth of information about different kinds of flours, sourdough care, loaf-shaping methods, and also boasts a large collection of recipes.
  • King Arthur Flour is a trusted source for recipes with predictable levels of success for bakers of all experience levels.
  • Cultures For Health is an excellent resource for many “alive” products, including milk and water kefirs, sourdough, kombucha, and more.

But enough about starter care: let’s get to the good stuff.


hear that? that’s the sound of success. and also, my neighbors’ construction project 🙂

This recipe is for the casual sourdough fan,

who may have acquired a starter during quarantine but still would unabashedly consider themselves in the “training wheels” phase of Sourdough Understanding. Personally, I’ve had my starter for years, and I’m still getting to know it–I am still baking loaves that cause me frustration, and, occasionally, I bake beautiful ones.

These cinnamon rolls, however, have yet to disappoint. This was one of the first recipes I ever followed which yielded successful results from a starter and made me believe that maybe I was, in fact, developing the accompanying intuition for translating my starter’s behavior into an end result I wanted to eat.

vanilla cream cheese frosting makes everything better…and a flaky bun makes for a great bite

Assemble the ingredients for the dough and mix.

there’s our friend the sourdough starter, in the top left corner
she may look a little shaggy, but she cleans up real neat

It is very important not to overmix the dough at any point in this recipe!

When you first begin mixing the ingredients together, feel free to use your hands so you can experience the textural change the ingredients undergo as they combine. The dough should barely come together, feel shaggy, and also very tender. The more you “knead” the dough and mix it together, the tougher it gets (and nobody wants a tough bun!) due to gluten networks forming. Treat this dough as gently as possible and you will be rewarded with airy, delicious buns.

On paper, this shaggy mixture should hang out at room temperature overnight–but since it’s been a little colder at my place in these winter months, I let it sit on the counter, covered, for about 18 hours. Again, don’t go overboard adhering to a strict schedule on this one. I’ve made these before letting the dough rest about 10 hours with great success. This is not a recipe to stress about…promise.

Here’s what the dough looked like after resting for a glorious 18 hours:

the dough should be significantly more relaxed in the bottom of the bowl
l: filling ingredients; r: rising agents and salt for dough

Sprinkle baking soda, baking powder, and salt over the dough and mix gently until incorporated. Dough should be incredibly soft, tender, and supple at this point and will literally feel like (and resemble) a dimpled baby’s bottom. Roll dough out over a floured surface into a vaguely rectangular shape.

Filling ingredients are mashed together with a fork until a paste forms. Spread over the dough, roll into a log, and cut.

i am of the school of thought that more filling is better…
leave some space in your pan to account for growth
whipped up some vanilla cream cheese frosting, because that’s my business
good morning to me
if you like a bun with a little structural integrity, this is the recipe for you

No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

This simple dough relaxes at room temperature overnight before being rolled out, rolled up, and baked into sweety cinnamon-y goodness.
Prep Time 45 mins
Resting Time 12 hrs
Total Time 13 hrs 10 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine American, festive, holiday, Intuitive, sourdough, traditional

Ingredients
  

Dough

  • 1/2 cup cold butter, salted
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup active sourdough starter, or sourdough discard
  • 1 Tbs white sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Filling

  • 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar

Icing

  • 4 oz full fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt

Instructions
 

  • 12 hours or so before you wish to bake, prepare the dough.
  • Using a food processor or a pastry cutter, combine butter and flour until the mixture looks sandy and uniform. If using a food processor, empty contents into a large bowl. Add starter, sugar, and milk and very gently mix until dough only just comes together. It is important not to overmix at this stage. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel and let rest at room temperature 12-18 hours.
  • In a small bowl, mix salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Sprinkle over the rested dough and mix with your hands until the ingredients are incorporated. Dough should slacken considerably and feel very tender and light. Again, be careful not to overmix.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Lightly flour a clean level surface and roll out the dough until it is roughly 1/4" thick, and in a rectangular shape.
  • In a medium bowl, mash warm butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger with a fork until a paste forms. Spread the paste evenly over the dough using the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  • Roll the dough up lengthwise as tightly as possible. Cut the ends off of the log, then cut the remaining dough into roughly 1" thick rounds.
  • Place buns in a buttered cast iron skillet, cookie sheet, or muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes, or until buns are golden brown at the edges.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the icing in a medium bowl. Combine room temperature cream cheese, vanilla, salt, and milk with a whisk or spatula. Gradually add powdered sugar until incorporated, adding more sugar as desired.
  • Drizzle buns with icing and serve immediately. Keeps in the fridge up to 3 days. Reheat in small bursts in the microwave for delicious leftovers.
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