These cinnamon rolls are to die for! So soft, delicious, and YES you can make them with sourdough!!!
A lot of you have made my Quick & Heavenly Cinnamon Rolls recipe made with active dry yeast. That recipe is hands down my most popular recipe to date! It has a cult following (for good reason!) and makes arguably the best cinnamon rolls on the planet.
I wanted to make a sourdough version because 1- it’s possible, 2- sourdough is delicious, and 3- sourdough is, in my humble opinion, the best way to make any type of bread product.
This sourdough version of my recipe has the same amazing taste and texture, (and even has it’s own cult following from the sourdough crowd!) with all the wonderful benefits of sourdough.
Sourdough can be intimidating at first, but trust me, it is so rewarding! You even might be surprised by how quickly you get the hang of it and then never want to stop!
So if you are going to enjoy a cinnamon roll (which you should!), they might as well be sourdough cinnamon rolls!
Sourdough isn’t just a trend. it’s a return to how our ancestors made and ate bread.
Hundreds, no, thousands of years ago when the very first loaf of leavened bread was baked, that bread was SOURDOUGH. Since the invention of bread up until the early 1900’s, allllll bread was leavened with natural yeast. All of it. For thousands of years, in the many cultures, countries and continents, our ancestors were making and eating sourdough!
Sourdough isn’t just a covid trend.
It’s a lost art.
It’s forgotten history.
It’s the *proper* way to make bread.
It’s also the most *healthy* way to eat bread.
“Sourdough”, or “Natural Yeast” (interchangeable synonyms) had been the standard for thousands of years until suddenly in the early 1900 industrialized quick yeast came to the scene. Quick yeast was so much faster! More convenient! More products could be pumped out at a faster rate! Quick yeast took the world by storm and became the most common way for leavened breads to be made.
I believe that switching to quick yeast didn’t serve us very well. I’m making it my mission to help bring back the lost art of sourdough!
Natural Yeast compared to Industrialized yeast
Breads made with sourdough not only have a richer, deeper flavor (that iconic, subtle sourdough tang!) but they also have a host of digestion benefits that you could never get from quick yeast breads. In fact, for every reason that quick-yeast breads are considered “unhealthy”, the opposite can be said about breads made with sourdough!
1. Sourdough goes through a lengthy fermentation process. The starch is broken down into sugars which then get used by the yeast and organic acids. The organic acids in sourdough slow down the rate at which glucose is released in to the blood stream. Meaning, sourdough has the potential to lower the glycemic index for the current meal and for the next several meals, helping stabilize blood sugar.
2. Because of the long fermentation process that sourdough requires, the natural yeast breaks down and pre-digests the grain, making it so much easier to digest!
3. Many people with gluten sensitivity can handle sourdough with no problem, vs. becoming sick and bloated when eating wheat not fermented with sourdough.
4. Sourdough starter is full of probiotics, which after being fermented and baked into our sourdough bakes turn into prebiotic fuel for our healthy gut bacteria.
5. Sourdough neutralizes phytic acid! This is huge.
what is phytic acid?
Phytic acid is an antinutrient, primarily found in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Phytic acid can inhibit the absorption of the magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc in our diet, making some of the nutrients in the food we eat inaccessible.
The only way to neutralize or break down the phytic acid is with an enzyme called phytase. Unfortunately, humans do not make the needed enzyme: phytase. However, (…… drum roll please …….) The lactic acid bacteria in sourdough produces… PHYTASE! Which means, sourdough breaks down and neutralizes phytic acid! Hallelujah! It’s almost like Sourdough is natures way of helping us get the most out of our food! Unless a grain is fermented with sourdough, our bodies are not able to access the full nutrition from the grain.
This is huge. This is why I am so passionate about sourdough!
does sourdough take more time?
Yes. Yes it does. Sourdough takes significantly more time. Instead of taking 2 hours from start to finish when made with active dry yeast, the sourdough version can take up to 24 hours in all. It is a labor of love.
Keep in mind that the amount of HANDS ON time remains the same, however the rising times will take much much longer. They will rise each time until doubled in size, which can take anywhere between 3 to 8 hours per rise.
But is it worth it?
how does sourdough taste compared to regular bread?
This is hard to do justice with words alone.
Does sourdough taste sour? Well yeah, there is a subtle “tang” to it. But I think maybe the best way to describe it, is that it tastes more “deep”. The flavor has more of a fantastic DEPTH. It’s delicious. Here are a few things I have noticed about the taste of sourdough.
1. Sourdough is an acquired taste. A few years ago when I transitioned all of my baking to sourdough, my kids and husband weren’t sure about it. These sourdough waffles, and their beloved white sandwich bread now had a bit of a tang to it. It did taste different. It did add a mild, tang to the flavor. They protested at first. And that lasted about a month. And then our taste buds gradually started to shift and we started to grow fond of the mild tang in the flavor. And now, whenever we eat a non-sourdough bread product, the flavor falls short. After two plus years of eating almost exclusively sourdough bread products, we prefer the flavor of sourdough to regular bread!
2. You can make the flavor LESS SOUR by adding sweeteners to the recipe. These cinnamon rolls, for example don’t have a strong sour flavor because the sweet flavor is so prominent.
3. You can make the flavor more sour by doing a long ferment. Putting the dough in an airtight container and into the fridge for 24-72 hours will sour up the dough.
4. You can make the flavor more sour by stirring the hooch into your starter. The “Hooch” is the liquid that can accumulate at the top of your sourdough starter. It is the waste product of the starter itself, and it has a pungent sour smell to it. I usually pour off my hooch when I feed my starter, but if you want to, go ahead and mix it in, which will make your sourdough bakes even more sour.
5. The more sourdough starter a recipe has in it, the less sour it will be. This seems like a false statistic, but it’s true! The greater the percentage of sourdough starter, the less sour the dough will be and visa versa.
MORE ABOUT INGREDIENTS
Having a healthy, happy, active sourdough starter is integral in the success of this recipe. If your starter is weak or has a slow metabolism, it will not be able to successfully rise the dough.
You might wonder how to tell if your sourdough starter is healthy or ready to be baked with. Sourdough can be intimidating at first, but don’t worry it’s really not hard to create a happy and healthy starter!
SIGNS THAT IT IS ACTIVE AND STRONG INCLUDE:
- Doubling in size and filling with bubbles after a feed.
- Being on a regular feeding schedule, frequently being fed and not left neglected for long periods of time without reviving.
- Float test: fill a glass bowl or cup with room temperature water, and drop a spoonful or less of the starter into the water. If it floats, it’s ready to use. If it sinks, your starter will likely need more time to develop more air bubbles and become active, or more feedings.
SIGNS THAT IT IS NOT READY TO USE AND NEEDS ONE OR MORE FEEDING(S) BEFORE IT IS STRONG ENOUGH:
- It is flat and runny with no bubbles
- It does not rise in volume or fill with bubbles in the hours following a feed.
- It smells like vinegar or nail polish remover (a sign that it is over fermented and very hungry)
- There is a layer of liquid on the top of the starter
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR STARTER ISN’T ACTIVATING?
- Make sure you are feeding it with unbleached flour and filtered water.
- Make sure that it is being left in a warm spot to ferment/activate (between 72 degrees and 80 degrees is ideal)
- You can temporarily add a bit of whole wheat flour or ground rye flour into the flour used to feed your starter to give it a little extra nutrition
- You can give your starter a series of “powerfeeds”: 1 Tablespoon of starter mixed with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water. Mix, cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. Repeat several times over the next few days.
- Make sure that your starter hasn’t been contaminated with any type of cleaning products or anything made to kill bacteria. This will kill your starter!
THE SOURDOUGH CIRCLE OF LIFE:
runny discard –> feed it flour and water –> mix –> give it time –> turns into bubbly active starter –> digests all of its food –> turns into runny discard –> feed it flour and water –> mix–> turns into bubbly active starter –> digests all of its food –> turns into runny discard –> REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.
HOW DO I FEED MY STARTER FOR A RECIPE?
For this recipe, you will need one cup of bubbly active starter. Figuring out how to feed and prepare your starter for a feed can be a bit tricky at first, but once you do it a few times, it will make so much more sense!
I like to use less starter and more flour + water because that teaches the starter to digest a large amount of food and to have a strong appetite.
For a typical pre-recipe feed, I like to combine 2 Tablespoons runny discard + 1 cup flour +1 cup water. That’s a 1:8:8 ratio. 1 part runny discard: 8 parts flour: 8 parts water. No need to weigh your ingredients, just mix it together. We are going for a thick, pancake batter consistency, so if it is too thin, add a little more flour. If it is too thick, add a little more water.
This will yield enough for the recipe, plus a little extra starter to have on hand for reserve starter that I will keep in the fridge until the next time that I bake with sourdough.
You could also do a 1:1:1 feed or a 1:4:4 feed. The bigger the feed, the longer it takes to become active. The smaller the feed, the more quickly it will become active.
Since I like to do bigger feeds, I find that it works best for my lifestyle if I feed my starter a 1:4:4 ratio or 1:8:8 ratio right before I go to bed. It will activate overnight and in the morning I can get started right away on making my dough. It will ferment/rise through the day and then bake it in the afternoon/evening. If I was short on time for my starter to activate, I would just do a 1:1:1 feed, which would only take 2-3 hours to activate.
This recipe can be made from many flour options, such as bread flour, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour or Kamut flour.
BREAD FLOUR: Bread flour always tends to be my favorite for sourdough. The result just can’t be beat! This option contains more gluten in it than All-purpose flour, so the finished product results in a tall buoyant rise, and bread that is soft with a beautiful stretch. Many grocery stores sell bread flour. I most often make this recipe with organic bread flour that I get from a local mill, Lehi Mills.* (Affiliate coupon code is AMBERSKITCHEN for 10% off) I prefer their products because they source their wheat from farmers who do not use glyphosate on their wheat crop.
ALL PURPOSE FLOUR:
This can be used as a straight across substitute for bread flour. Try and get unbleached flour if possible for all of your sourdough baking.
WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR:
This can be used in place of bread flour, however generally you will need slightly less flour because of the weight and absorbency of whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is a very thirsty flour! Instead of using 8.5 cups of flour, you may only need 7.5 or 7.75 cups. (Just an example, but be sure to check by texture when you are adding flour to see if you have the correct amount of flour).
When using sourdough and whole wheat, the rising time takes considerably longer, and it won’t rise quite as high. Just be prepared as far as timing goes if you go that route. I think a wonderful compromise is to use half whole wheat and half bread flour. It will still take longer to rise but not as long as 100% whole wheat and you will still get the health benefits of using a whole grain.
Kamut, or Khorasan, is an ancient type of wheat that hasn’t been genetically altered as much as many of the common types of wheat we use today. It is very tasty and has a slight nutty flavor. For the most part, it can be substituted for all purpose flour- but not straight across. It is more absorbent than all purpose flour, so if you use kamut, reduce the total amount of flour by about 10%-15%. In my experience I notice that Kamut doesn’t rise quite as high and it can tend to be a tad more crumbly. I buy my regeneratively grown Khorasan locally from khorasanmills.com (not sponsored) I believe they ship all over the United States!
*This is an affiliate link and I may receive a commission on your purchase. Thank you for shopping through this link.
I am very picky about Salt! I love to use fine sea salt from Redmond Real Salt. It’s the only salt I ever use! I love it because it is full of naturally-occurring trace minerals, it is pure, unprocessed, has no fillers, no anti-caking agents, no additives or unhealthy pollutants. Sadly most commercial table salt has a lot of not great things added to it, is processed, and has no trace minerals. Redmond real salt has been mined from an ancient sea bed in central Utah- making it true sea salt! I get my salt here*. To make it more cost effective, I buy in bulk and order a 25 pound bag of salt* every few years. I store it in mason jars and it lasts me a few years.
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*This is an affiliate link and I may receive a commission on your purchase. Thank you for shopping through this link.
Use room temperature to slightly warm water. The temperature matters! If it is too cold then the dough will not rise quick enough and if it is too hot it could aggravate or even kill the natural yeast. The slight warmth of the water will help the natural yeast do it’s job most effectively.
Filtered water is always going to be the best choice. Chlorinated tap water can act as an anti-biotic to those delicate yeast strains and it can potentially weaken the strength of your sourdough starter and strength of your dough. If you don’t have access to filtered water, you can fill up a cup of water and leave it at room temperature for a few hours so that the chlorine can evaporate. If you go this route, don’t worry about warming the room temperature water.
Out of laziness, I do occasionally use tap water on my starter and in my dough and it’s actually been fine. I hear from other sourdough bakers that their tap water either has no negative effect on their starter, or that it has had a strong negative effect. So while I generally recommend starting with filtered water, you may be able to get away with using tap water occasionally.
Honey is my sweetener of choice for this dough, however you could use sugar or even coconut sugar. When using sugar or coconut sugar, feel free to substitute straight across.
I recommend using the brown sugar called for in the cinnamon roll filling. Brown sugar contains molasses which gives it a deeper caramel-like taste that really makes the filling what it is.
The frosting uses powdered sugar which I also strongly recommend! Any other sweetener would produce a grainy and less-creamy frosting.
The eggs soften the texture of the rolls and help stabilize the product.
If you can not use egg, there are some great egg replacement options out there.
#1 Use 1/4 cup of Aquafaba instead of each egg. Aquafaba is water in which chickpeas have been cooked. Surprisingly, this liquid very closely mimics egg in baked goods. It is used widely in the vegan and egg-allergy community. To use it, simply open a can of chickpeas and drain 1/4 cup of the liquid and use that liquid in place of each egg.
#2 Use Flax egg replacement instead of eggs. For flax egg substitute, simply combine 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed meal, (ground raw flaxseed) and 2 1/2 Tablespoons water. Mix together and let sit for 5 minutes to thicken. This can be used as a substitute for one Egg.
If you half this recipe feel free to still just use 1 full egg instead of half an egg. it will be great. really.
Years ago, I used to make all my breads with vegetable oil. When I learned how *not awesome* vegetable oil is for my health, I decided to use melted coconut oil instead. I didn’t know if it would work, but to my surprise, it not only worked but it made the bread taste EVEN MORE INCREDIBLE. It didn’t make the bread taste like coconut at all. It was softer and had the most delicate crumb. Coconut oil is magic for bread and bakes goods. I have never seen anyone ever use coconut oil in bread recipes until I started teaching that in my recipes. Now it’s catching on everywhere like wildfire. You heard it here first!
For the best texture I prefer coconut oil in all my doughs, including cinnamon rolls!
If you cannot do coconut oil, my next recommendation would be to substitute it straight across for avocado oil or melted butter. If you don’t mind using vegetable oil, you can go ahead and use that.
The butter will give the filling and frosting a nice rich flavor and also helps keep the frosting stiff. Do not use anything other than butter. Sorry, it’s a non-negotiable.
Cream cheese plays a big role in the delicious frosting for these cinnamon rolls!
Almond and Vanilla Extract
The almond extract is optional in the frosting but it really adds a nice nutty flavor if that’s something you like. A little goes a long way. Feel free to omit it if it’s not your jam.
The vanilla extract is also for flavor. Vanilla is mild and subtle, just adds a perfect depth of flavor. I don’t recommend skipping it.
Orange Roll Adaptation
Good News! This recipe can be adapted into orange rolls! Here are the changes I make:
Make the dough as directed.
Prepare filling ingredients, however use white sugar instead of brown sugar. Instead of cinnamon, zest two oranges all over the butter/sugar filling. Then roll up and cut just as you would for cinnamon rolls. Let them rise and bake as normal.
When making the frosting, make the cream cheese buttercream as directed below, but simply add the juice and zest of two oranges to it in place of the almond extract. Mix together well and frost your orange rolls with it. Add more zest to the top of the frosted rolls as a garnish if desired.
CAN I FREEZE OR REFRIGERATE MY CINNAMON ROLLS?
Sadly, I have had really poor success with freezing pre-baked sourdough. I very rarely can get it to rise again out of the freezer. For this reason, I do not recommend freezing any pre-baked sourdough.
You CAN, however, freeze completed rolls after baked! They actually freeze pretty well in an airtight bag!
You CAN also refrigerate the dough before baking.
To refrigerate before baking, Go through the process of making the dough, rising, forming, and setting them on the prepared baking sheet. Then cover them with an airtight lid, (or cover airtight with plastic wrap) and put the baking pan in the refrigerator for 12-36 hours. About 5-10 hours before you want to bake the cinnamon rolls. take them out of the fridge, let them come to room temperature and then let rise on the counter at room temperature until nearly doubled in size. Bake according to directions above. This is a great option if you want to make the rolls ahead of time.
Figuring out the timing of working with sourdough can be really tricky at first! This is just a sample schedule of how I do it, but feel free to adapt this timeline for whatever works for your lifestyle!
Friday 10:00 PM FEED STARTER 1:8:8 RATIO. Right before going to bed, in a large jar or glass bowl, combine 2 Tablespoons of runny discard starter with a heaping 1 cup of flour and slightly under 1 cup of water (adjust the water/ flour measurement so that when mixed together it resembles a thick pancake batter consistency). Mix together, cover, and leave it in a nice, semi-warm place to activate. Mark the height of the mixture with a rubber band or dry-erase marker on the outside of the glass. Over the next 8-10 hours it should activate and double in size, so make sure that it has room to grow!
Saturday 8:00 AM MAKE THE DOUGH. Only proceed *IF* your starter has doubled in size and is full of bubbles. If it is not doing those two things, then go back to the sourdough tips above for troubleshooting. If the starter looks good, then go ahead and follow the directions below to combine all ingredients together and knead the dough. Cover with a clean dish towel or with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size. Depending on your ambient temperature and the strength of your starter, this could take anywhere between 4 to 8 hours.
Saturday 1:00 PM FORM THE DOUGH INTO ROLLS. Only proceed if the dough has doubled in size. If not, keep waiting for that to happen. Once doubled, follow the instructions below to roll out the dough, then spread out the melted butter, sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll up, then cut into sixteen equal portions and lay flat on your prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap, a clean dish towel or a lid and let rise until risen by about 150% in size. This may take anywhere from two to five hours depending on the ambient temperature and strength of your starter. *OPTIONAL* this could be a good time to refrigerate the formed dough for 12-36 hours if desired. See notes above about letting it come to room temperature and rise before baking.
Saturday 4:00 PM BAKE THE CINNAMON ROLLS. Bake according to directions below. Make frosting while the cinnamon rolls are in the oven and evenly spread out frosting once they come out of the oven. ENJOY!
See The Process!
Note: This video is the non-sourdough version in double the quantity.
What Others Are Saying
Other Ways to Use Sourdough
Once you get a hang of sourdough, it will become your best friend!
Here are some of my favorite sourdough recipes.
Directions on homemade sourdough bagels can be found here.
Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
- DOUGH INGREDIENTS:
- 1 3/4 cups warm water
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 cup 220 g active bubbly sourdough starter
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/2 Tablespoon salt
- 5 - 5 1/2 cups unbleached bread
- FILLING INGREDIENTS:
- 5 Tablespoons butter softened
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
- FROSTING INGREDIENTS:
- 4 oz butter softened (1 stick)
- 4 oz cream cheese softened
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Activate your starter by feeding it so you have a total volume of at least 1 cups. (see example feed size on sample schedule above) When your starter is active, bubbly, and doubled in size after a feed, it’s time to start making the dough.
- In a stand mixer/large bowl, combine honey, warm water, andactive starter. Mix together.
- Add eggs, oil, and salt. Mix together. Then add the flour cup by cup while mixing in between. You have enough flour when 1- the dough doesn’t stick to the side of the bowl while kneading, and 2- the dough is tacky but not super sticky on your fingers when touched. (Be careful not to add too much flour or the final product will be dense!)
- Knead for five minutes either by hand or with a mixer. If using a mixer- cover the dough while kneading to keep the heat inside.
- Cover the dough with a clean dish towel or a lid or plastic wrap. Let it rise until increased in size by 50%. (four to seven hours)
- Dump risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a large rectangle.
- Spread the butter on the dough and evenly sprinkle the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture.
- Tightly roll dough up into one long snake. Cut off the very edges. Using cinnamon dental floss, thread, or a very sharp serrated knife, cut the dough into 16 even portions per dough snake. (for slightly larger rolls, cut into 12 equal portions.)
- Onto a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper, (or greased), evenly lay out the cinnamon roll dough rounds, 4 rows of 4. (or 4 rows of 3 if making only 12 rolls). Cover and let rise until risen to 150%, about two to four hours.
- Bake at 375° F for 15-16 minutes.
- For frosting: Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine butter and cream cheese. Beat together for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Then add milk, vanilla, almond extract, salt and powdered sugar. mix until smooth. IF itoo thick, add a tablespoon of milk. If too thin, add a little more powdered sugar. *see note for orange roll adaptation.
- Spread frosting over rolls. ENJOY!