This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclosure. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
These unbelievably soft whole wheat sourdough rolls use 100% whole wheat flour and are long fermented (no commercial yeast) for soft, slightly sweet, and flavorful dinner rolls. You’ll love adding this delicious and nourishing sourdough roll recipe to your baking repertoire!
*This recipe was updated on 10/29/22 for even softer rolls and a faster-rising dough!
Why Bake Sourdough Rolls with No Yeast?
Sourdough is the natural way to leaven bread. The beneficial yeasts and bacteria in the starter ferment the flour in your baked goods slowly.
The added time reduces the gluten content, makes the grains more digestible, and increases the nutritive properties of the finished product when compared to bread made with commercial yeast.
For most people, sourdough is the healthiest way to enjoy bread!
Using and maintaining a starter isn’t as difficult as many people believe. You may have to plan ahead a little more for the longer rise times, but the hands-on process is much the same as baking with yeast.
Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
To make homemade sourdough rolls, you will want a strong, healthy starter.
I have simple instructions for making a sourdough starter from scratch here.
Make sure you feed your established starter ahead of time so it’s active and bubbly by the time you’re ready to add it to the recipe.
This recipe calls for starter that is at 100% hydration. That simply means it’s been feed with equal weights flour and water.
More Sourdough Beginner Guides:
- How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter
- Essential Sourdough Bread Making Tools
- Sourdough Baking Terms for Beginners
What Makes These Whole Wheat Rolls Soft?
These rolls are 100% whole wheat (well, except for the small amount of all-purpose flour in my starter).
Though whole wheat can be notorious for baking up dense, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make these rolls incredibly soft and fluffy without adding white flour.
First, the dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and molasses (or honey, if you prefer).
I’ve also added vital wheat gluten and vinegar which both help to condition the dough for a better texture and rise.
You can probably find vital wheat gluten in the baking isle at your grocery store.
Finally, not adding too much flour and kneading properly will help you achieve the soft sourdough rolls you are after.
Brushing the finished rolls with melted butter will give them a soft exterior as well.
I highly recommend you use a mixer for this recipe because it requires a lot of kneading!
Soft Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls Baking Schedule
*The strength of your starter, the temperature in your home, and other factors will affect how long each step in the recipe will take.
- Mix and knead: 35 minutes
- Bulk fermentation: 4 hours
- Cold ferment: 12 hours+
- Divide, shape, and proof: 5 hours, 15 minutes
- Bake: 17 minutes
Feed your starter several hours prior to baking the recipe and allow it to reach its peak.
Start the dough in the morning or early afternoon on day 1. Refrigerate overnight.
Finish your rolls on day 2, leaving sufficient time for the long proof. (See notes in the recipe card for a one-day option.)
Tips for Making Soft Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls
- I like to use molasses for more depth of flavor and a deeper brown color, but honey works just as well to add sweetness to the bread.
- Don’t add extra flour to your dough. The dough will seem way too sticky as you follow the recipe, but trust me, after the long knead, it will be just right!
- Make sure you knead the dough in your stand mixer on low for 25 minutes, or until the dough passes the “windowpane test” of gluten development. I explain this more in the steps below. This is a huge key to getting the texture you’re after.
- I prefer baking in a 13×9-inch pan for pull-apart rolls. You could also bake them on a half-sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Place your dough in a warm place for the bulk ferment and proof. It’s a slow-moving dough, and a warm temperature makes the process go faster. I like to aim for 80°F for the timeline in this recipe. I put my dough in my turned-off oven with the light on or in the microwave with the light on and the door ajar. I keep my ambient thermometer in with the dough to make sure the temperature is not getting any warmer than 80°F.
- stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (I use a Bosch Universal Plus mixer)
- large bowl
- kitchen scale
- 13×9-inch baking pan
- parchment paper
- pastry brush
How to Make Soft Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls
Step 1 – Making and Fermenting the Dough
Add sourdough starter, milk, softened butter, molasses (or honey), eggs, vinegar, salt, vital wheat gluten, and whole wheat flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Mix on low speed until everything comes together. The dough will be very sticky.
Continue to knead for 25 minutes or so until your dough becomes glossy, pulls away from the sides and bottom of the bowl, and passes the windowpane test as shown in the picture below. You’ll be able to see the change in the way the dough is behaving at this point.
Wet your fingers and pull the dough, it should stretch until you can see the light through it before it tears (the windowpane test).
Form your dough into a nice neat ball, and place it into a large bowl.
Cover the bowl loosely with the lid and leave in a warm place (80°F) to ferment for about 4 hours, or until it has increased in size by about 1/3.
Now place the lid on tightly and refrigerate the dough overnight. Your dough should continue to increase in volume a little during refrigeration.
(Alternately you can skip the overnight cold ferment. For this schedule option, feed your starter the night before you make the rolls. Start the dough in the early morning and shape and proof directly after the first rise. You may need a bit of flour to prevent sticking while shaping. The proof will be faster since the dough will stay warm the whole time.)
Step 2 – Forming and Proofing the Rolls
Butter a 13×9-inch baking pan, press a sheet of parchment paper down inside, and then butter the parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the fridge. The dough will feel stiff while it’s cold, but it will be easier to work with.
For uniform rolls, weigh out 24 portions, 54g each, before shaping, but you can eyeball them if you would prefer.
Then shape the rolls into tight balls. (Learn how to shape rolls quickly with this video.)
Arrange the rolls evenly in your prepared pan.
Cover your pan with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to proof in a warm place for 5 hours (80°F), or until they have doubled in size, are touching, and bounce back only slightly when poked with a damp finger.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Step 3 – Baking and Brushing the Rolls
Remove the plastic wrap and bake your rolls on the center rack for about 17 minutes, or until they are lightly golden on the top.
Finally, brush the rolls with melted butter right after they come out of the oven. I sprinkled mine with a little coarse kosher salt this time around. This is optional!
Serve the rolls warm, or allow them to cool completely before freezing in an airtight container.
I hope you enjoy these!
If you make this recipe and love it, I would be so grateful if you would come back to leave 5 stars and a comment. Your feedback is very appreciated!
Tag your photo on Instagram @aberlehome to show me what you made!
I’m relatively new at baking with a sourdough starter but despite some problems we thought they were very good. I grind my own wheat and somehow missed your note about using wheat berries but you did say that you used a bit more wheat gluten and I’m wondering what a “bit” is. I added five more grams. Thanks. Sherwood.
Hi Sherwood, yes, I’d say I used about 5 grams extra. Did your dough pass the windowpane test after kneading? If so, I’d say you had enough gluten. Thank you for trying the recipe. 🙂
Hello! Made the dough today and am excited to bake them tomorrow! I used home milled whole wheat so I needed to add a more flour to get it to come together in a ball (that’s pretty typical for every recipe I try with these particular wheat berries–Prairie Gold). I have a question about making these for sandwich buns–how would they do spaced out wider on a cookie sheet not touching? Do you think they wouldn’t have as much structure during baking? Just trying to think about how to get them just a smidge wider for sandwiches instead of as tall as a dinner roll.
Hi Holly! I think they would bake wider if spaced out on a cookie sheet as long as you proof them sufficiently. 🙂 Let me know how they come out!
I made two batches of these for our huge thanksgiving gathering. I was skeptical of the recipe at first and did a test batch and was blown away by them. Then I made a double batch and froze them. They were extremely popular at thanksgiving. These will be the only dinner rolls I make from now on. I am thinking I will using the same recipe and turn them into cinnamon rolls for Christmas. 🙂
I’m so glad you all enjoyed the rolls, Prentice! I’ll have to try making the dough into cinnamon rolls too. That’s a great idea. 🙂
I made these and turned out amazing. I used the bread machine dough setting and then put them in the fridge overnight. Shaped and proofed for 4 hours in warming oven on bread setting. Hopefully will work out again.
I’m so glad to hear that, JJ! Thanks for letting me know!
I made these for Canadian Thanksgiving and they turned out pretty good. I had to proof longer than the recipe stated for the first proof and once I took them out of the fridge they took about 5-6 hours at room temp to get to the correct size and poofiness. Mine also took longer in the oven to bake. ( more like 23 min) I would just say adjust based on your climate and you should be good!
Thanks for your feedback, Jess! I just gave this recipe an update after re-testing it and making some tweaks.
I made these. They were a fail. I’m a seasoned baker so I’m not sure what happened. I used molasses instead of honey so they were darker than the picture . They did not rise well even after 48 hours in the fridge. Very dense. But the flavor was good. Doubt I’ll try this one again.
Bummer! So sorry these didn’t work out for you, Becky! I just updated the recipe after re-testing it and making some adjustments.
I am not sure what I am doing wrong. Twice I have followed this recipe exactly because I really want to make these. I used a scale to measure everything carefully. My starter is active and bubbly. Both times when I check it after 24 hours the dough has not doubled in size and is solid. HELP!!? 🙁
Hi Kimberly! Your dough may just need more time to ferment at room temperature before it’s refrigerated, especially if your kitchen is cooler this time of year. Look for the dough to increase in volume by 1/3 before it goes in the fridge. You could try putting your dough in a turned-off oven with the light on for extra warmth which should help speed up the process. The dough will feel stiff out of the refrigerator either way, so don’t be concerned about that. I updated the post for clarity. I hope this helps!
Thank you so much! I will try them again!