Sourdough Italian Rolls

sourdough italian rolls with tomatoes

Every so often my kids and I will walk down to our neighborhood Italian bakery. I usually let them pick a treat for the road, and my son almost always walks past the cookies and pastries and chooses a plain, white Italian roll. (Once he did ask for a rum ball. Good thing I asked the cashier what it was before agreeing.) And he absolutely has no problem demolishing the whole thing (they’re probably 6-7 inches long!) in one sitting.

As an avid bread baker, I was determined to make something similar that would garner the same enthusiasm. And this is it! Simple rolls that are crusty-but-not-too-crusty and a soft but chewy crumb. They are naturally leavened, but are very mild and slightly sweet in flavor.

Also, these rolls are a lot of fun to make. The dough is easy to handle, and you can either make them in one day or retard the dough overnight (I’ve noted in the method when to refrigerate the dough if desired.) They are the perfect all-purpose roll: use them for sandwiches, as an accompaniment for soups and stews, or just eat them plain, like my kid. Personally, I like them slightly warm from the oven with some good salted butter.

(By the way, I asked my son why he liked this particular recipe so much, and he explained that it was because the rolls were oval. What can I say? That being said, you can shape this dough any way you want — baking time may need to be adjusted.)

sourdough italian rolls

Sourdough Italian Rolls

Makes 8 medium rolls | Adapted from Wild Yeast Blog

Ingredients:

For the stiff levain:
  • 64g mature 100%-hydration sourdough starter
  • 128g bread flour 
  • 128g AP flour
  • 192g water

Combine all ingredients and mix together until smooth. Cover and allow to ferment at room temperature until ripe, 8-12 hours (it should at least double).

For the final dough:
  • 224g bread flour
  • 64g AP flour
  • 32g semolina flour
  • 170 g water
  • 12g salt
  • 14g sugar
  • 28g olive oil
  • All of the levain

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low to combine, then raise the speed to low-medium (3 or 4 on a KitchenAid). Continue mixing until the gluten is moderately developed. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.
  2. Transfer the dough to an oiled container. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled, folding every 30 minutes for the first hour. The time it will take to double will depend on how active your starter is and the temperature of your room; mine took about 2.5-3 hours. (Note: if you’d like, you can retard the dough overnight after it’s almost doubled. When you’re ready to bake, allow the dough to rest and come to room temperature for 30-45 minutes after dividing.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces, about 130g each, and shape into loose rounds. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a large sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust with semolina / cornmeal. (Note: I like to double up on baking sheets for these rolls to keep the bottoms from scorching.)
  4. Shape each round into a batard (oval) and transfer, seam side down, to the prepared baking sheet. For these rolls I like to degas fairly well and shape tightly for a nice, even crumb.
  5. Lightly mist the rolls with oil and cover. Allow to rise at room temperature until the rolls have increased by about 50% (this takes me about 1.5-2 hours). About an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone on the center rack and sheet tray on the bottom of the oven.
  6. When the rolls are ready to bake, have ready a measuring glass with hot water. Lightly dust the tops of the rolls with rice flour, if desired, and slash the top of each roll down the center with a sharp blade (I like a curved lame for this).
  7. Transfer the rolls to the oven and carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water into the sheet tray on the bottom of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 450F and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

27 thoughts on “Sourdough Italian Rolls

  1. I tried to make this but the dough turn out to be soft, sticky & wet and lack of gluten development. It is different from your everyday sourdough loaf. Could you perhaps help me out? Is there a need to knead the stiff levain? Roughly how long do you knead the final dough mixture? I used kitchenaid to knead but the dough is still a blob of sticky dough. I measured all my ingredients accurately.

    1. Hi! The dough shouldn’t be wet or sticky; it should be stiffer than the everyday loaf but still soft. You shouldn’t need to mix the final dough very long, maybe 3-5 minutes. The stiff levain doesn’t need to be kneaded; just mixed enough for all the flour to be hydrated. Did you make any flour substitutions? It sounds like your dough was overhydrated so is it possible you left out one of the flours?

  2. Hi Ruth, thank you for your help! I tried it again, It is much better but still couldn’t get a nice tight batard shape (I think I need to practise more). Perhaps I could try to reduce a bit of water as I think you are right that my dough seems a bit overhydrated. Despite looking rather different from yours, it still taste really good! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Hi Ruth!
    So do you bake them on the cookie sheets? Or on the pizza stone? It never really specifies in the recipe? I’m a little confused… it said double up on the cookie sheets to prevent scorching but then you preheat a pizza stone for an hour?? Help!! Lol
    Morgan

    1. Hi! For rolls I like to bake them on a double layer of cookie sheets on the stone. I like having the stone in there because it does help keep the oven nice and hot! I have made this recipe as larger loaves and in those cases I usually bake them directly on the stone.

  4. “About an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone on the center rack and sheet tray on the bottom of the oven.”
    I guess this means you’d be doubling the cookie sheets and putting another sheet at the bottom of the oven—and this is where you would pour the water. Yes? (I think Ive answered my own question)

    1. Yes, I have used this dough to make a single loaf that fits in my dutch oven. It should work as rolls too, but will mostly depend on the size of your dutch oven. You might need to bake them in batches.

  5. I have two large Dutch ovens, but would bake in batches. Thanks they look amazing can’t wait try them. They remind me off the brotchens I used to eat when I was In Germany. I’ve been trying to find a recipes for brotchens, these seem like they would have the same characteristics.

    1. Not sure it’s necessarily a benefit, but just a different tool. Usually lower hydration levains can hold their peak longer and add more strength (vs extensibility, as with a liquid levain) to dough. There may be some flavor differences as well though not sure I could personally pick up on them!

  6. Hi Ruth,
    Can we bake these without a baking stone? I have a Dutch oven. If I use the Dutch oven, do I still need the water in the baking sheet? Thanks.

    1. Hi! You don’t necessarily need a baking stone, but it does help with creating a crisper crust. A dutch oven would work in terms of generating steam (no water in baking sheet needed), but depending on the size of your pot you’d probably need to re-think the sizing or bake in batches — the rolls would either not fit or fuse together.

      Another option is to preheat another baking sheet to use in place of a stone. It’s not quite as good as a stone, but it’ll help. (I would also use the water in the baking sheet if you go this route.)

    1. I haven’t doubled it, but it should work fine. You might need to bake in batches depending on the size of your oven.

    1. Sorry, I do not test these recipes using cups. If you want to convert to cups you can consult a site like Traditional Oven, but a scale will give you the most accurate results. Scales are not expensive and are one of the best investments you can make as a home baker, especially for bread recipes.

    2. Converting grams to cups is very difficult I already tried three different sites.
      Thank you anyway
      I will use milk bread rolls

      1. Until I get a scales.
        Also just made some rolls out of a Rustic loaf from King Arthur flour recipe
        They turned out fairly good.
        Thank you again

  7. Approximately how long should this knead in the stand mixer? I don’t want to over develop the gluten but it’s been over five minutes and dough is still sticky. All flour and liquid measurements are accurate.

    1. It usually takes me about 6-8 minutes. If it’s still sticky after that, let the dough rest for 3-4 minutes and then check on its development. Sometimes the dough can get overheated in the mixer and letting it sit for a little does the trick. If it’s still sticky, you can add a little flour a spoonful at a time if needed.

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