I am fascinated by sourdough and using sourdough discard in recipes. I’ve developed a whole list of dishes that use it just so the discard isn’t wasted. I first developed a recipe for biscuits. It was such a success that I was inspired to adapt it to making cinnamon rolls, and this is the result.
Because I wanted to make a sweeter roll, I added additional sugar to my biscuit recipe and reduced the ingredients to make one pan of rolls. I also noticed in researching other cinnamon roll or sticky bun recipes that they often put caramel and nuts in the bottom of the dish. My filling oozes out the bottom as it cooks to create that base for these cinnamon rolls.
Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Make the dough
Begin by making the dough. This recipe is for using sourdough discard, but I will give the alternative at the end of this section.
1 ¼ cup (178 grams) all-purpose flour — Reserve ¼ cup
2 tablespoons (24 grams) sugar
½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt
4 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, ice cold
½ cup (113 grams) sourdough starter discard
¼ cup (50 grams) buttermilk
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Cut the butter into ½" cubes before trying to mash it into the dry ingredients using the tines of a fork. You will continue to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it looks crumbly. You can use a dough blender, if you have one.
In a separate small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the sourdough starter and buttermilk until it is smooth. Add this to the flour mixture. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, gently mix by pulling the dry ingredients from the bottom of the bowl and pressing the dough down over the top of the ingredients, like folding it over.
You want to continue to mix in this manner until all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture holds together without crumbling apart. If it is too wet and sticky, add a tablespoon of the remaining flour and mix together, adding additional flour, if needed, up to an additional 2 tablespoons. It will still be somewhat sticky.
Shape the dough into a rectangular brick and wrap it in plastic wrap or put in a quart size storage bag. Put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling. This will allow the butter in the dough to get cold again and make it easier to handle while rolling it out and filling it.
Instead of using sourdough discard, use the full amount of the flour, add 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon (2 grams) of baking soda to the dry ingredients and increase the buttermilk to ⅓ cup (75 grams.) The baking powder and baking soda will act as a leavener in place of the yeast in the sourdough starter.
Make the filling
The filling is the star of this recipe, so you need to have plenty of it. You can also add your favorite add-ins like pecans and raisins, or keep it simple.
¼ cup (48 grams) granulated sugar
¾ cup (144 grams) packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, melted
⅛ teaspoon (1–2 grams) kosher salt
1 teaspoon (5 grams) ground cinnamon
½ cup (56 grams) chopped pecans — optional
¼ cup (42 grams) raisins — optional
In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until well mixed.
Fill the dough
Spread the reserved flour on your countertop. Coat your hands and rolling pin. Remove the dough from your refrigerator and place it on the floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12" x 12" square. It will be about ¼" to ½" thick. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, spreading it evenly and leaving a ½" border around the edges. This will make it easier to seal the dough.
If you are adding pecans and raisins, sprinkle them evenly across the dough and slightly press them into it. This will keep them in place as you roll it up. Starting at the edge closest to you, begin by tightly rolling the edge away from you. Continue rolling the dough until you have rolled it into a log.
Wet your fingertips and lightly moisten the inside edge of the dough. This will help it to stick together and not unwind when you cut it. Smooth the outside of the seam to completely seal it.
Using a serrated knife, even up each end of the log by cutting off the uneven edges. Then cut 1 ¼" slices along the rest of the roll. You should get 10 slices. Turn them on their sides and place in a greased 9" round cake pan or pie plate. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the biscuits to proof for 2 to 8 hours.
For proofing these rolls, you have two options. The first is to put them into your oven with the light on for 2 to 4 hours. The second is to allow them to proof overnight in your cool house, if the temperature is lower than 75℉. This will slow the rise and allow you to bake them first thing in the morning.
If you are not using sourdough discard, you will omit the rise time and bake these immediately. If you wish to bake them the next morning, you can cover them with plastic and put them in the refrigerator. Remove them from the refrigerator and let warm to room temperature before baking them.
Bake the rolls
Preheat your oven to 350℉. When it is preheated, place the cinnamon rolls on the center rack in your oven. Remove the plastic wrap and allow the rolls to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. I baked mine in my countertop air fryer/toaster oven combo oven. It has the ability to convection bake, so I set the temperature to 325℉ and let it cook for 20 minutes.
Check the rolls for doneness during the last 5 minutes of baking. The top should be golden brown, but not too dark. If you are using a glass baking dish, the bottoms and sides should also be browned. If they don’t seem to be browning evenly, you can move the pan to a lower rack to make sure the bottoms and sides get that golden color, too.
Make the icing
While the rolls are baking, make the icing. Each roll will get about 1 teaspoon of icing. We like to ice each one when we are ready to eat them. That way we do not have to refrigerate the rolls, and can heat them up without the icing running completely off the roll.
2 tablespoons (28 grams) cream cheese
1 tablespoon (15 grams) buttermilk
2 tablespoons (14 grams) powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream together the cream cheese and the buttermilk, until it is smooth. If the mixture appears lumpy, it helps to microwave it for 10 to 15 seconds and whisk vigorously. Stir in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. It should be slightly runny.
Come and get it
When the cinnamon rolls finish baking, remove one from the dish and place a dollop of icing on top. The heat of the warm roll will melt the icing slightly and cause it to run down the sides. Yummy!
I doubt that there will be leftovers, but if there are, you can store these in the pie plate or cake pan by covering with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Reheat on high for 15 to 20 seconds in your microwave before topping with the icing. You can also put each roll in a sandwich bag and place in your freezer.
My final thoughts
My first attempt at making these cinnamon rolls browned a little too much on top in my countertop oven before the sides and bottoms were sufficiently browned. They still tasted delicious. Next time, I will try lowering the rack to see if that produces more even results.
In my second attempt at making these, I used my full-sized oven and placed them on the rack at the lowest position in my oven for the first half of the bake. Then, I moved them to the middle rack and rotated the pan 180° to finish baking. The results were perfect.
I can’t wait to make these for Christmas. I will let them rise overnight so we can eat them hot and fresh in the morning.
Merry Christmas and Bon Appetit!
Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking.