Soft Milk Rolls (and Burger Buns)
Updated: Feb 25
Pillowy, soft and light milk rolls.
What we love about this little soft roll is its versatility - with little tweak in the recipe you can bake perfect soft burger buns for savoury meals or light sweet streusel rolls. Today we are sharing both versions - for burger buns and sweet streusel rolls. The process is exactly the same and the only adjustment is change in the sugar and salt content (all included in the recipe below).
The crumb is soft and light. When pressed, the top of the roll beautifully bounces back. In this post we are sharing all the hints and steps on how to achieve that desired texture and bounce-back-ability. Burger buns from this recipe are light, airy, soft. The roll keeps fresh for 2 days. You may opt to toast it/grill it before enjoying burgers or eat plain with your favourite toppings.
Sweet rolls from this recipe are lightly sweetened, soft, pillowy, filled with your favourite jam or chocolate spread. Topped up with buttery and crunchy, cookie-like streusel. Kids love these little rolls with a glass of milk (and there is no better reward than seeing small hands grabbing the next roll and running away :).
For a good bake and bounce-back-ability:
Flour - use bread flour for this recipe (12g protein). You will get soft texture but in the same time springy and bouncy crumb structure.
Milk roux - pre-cooking flour will release additional starch. Thanks to this process, rolls will have softer texture and improved flavour. Portion of flour and milk is mixed together, cooked (whisking) until reaches 65C and achieves creamy consistency. This roux needs to rest for at least 1 hr (refrigerated) and up to 2 days. The longer you refrigerate this roux the better the outcome. I usually let it mature for 12 hours in the fridge (shared sample timing below). Why does it need to mature? Time will allow flour (starch) and milk to gel. It will improve taste and texture of your rolls.
Milk powder - marked here as optional. You will be happy if you use it but nothing will happen if you decide to omit it (don’t adjust the recipe, just leave this ingredient out). Why is it worth to use milk powder in this recipe? It will make flavour of your milk rolls milkier and smoother. Using milk powder will give you the benefit of adding extra liquid (liquid contributes to gas retention in yeasted dough = lighter texture) without adding extra water/milk. Due to higher concentration of sugars and proteins you will also get lovely brown skin on the outside.
Butter incorporation - after initial short kneading let the dough rest. The gluten will relax, yeast will start working and after 15-20 minutes your dough will be ready for butter incorporation. For best texture, add butter in small portions (3-4 turns), kneading on low-medium speed.
The dough before adding butter (initial mixing):
After adding butter, kneaded until passes window pane test:
Window pane test - after butter is incorporated, knead the dough until it passes window pane test. This will be a difference between good rolls and excellent rolls. So - what’s the window pane test? Stretch a portion of the dough and it should form thin film without breaking (see picture). It’s a sign that the gluten has been developed properly. This will allow rolls to achieve firm and bouncy structure. What if the dough is breaking? Knead for a little bit longer or you have kneaded too fast (usually an issue when using stand mixer). If you are kneading using stand mixer - use low-medium setting and don’t knead on fast speed (you will break gluten as the dough is egg-heavy and enriched, take it slow and it will pay off). If you are kneading by hand - knead in short bursts - 5 minutes kneading, 5-10 minutes break and then another 5 minutes kneading. Usually, when kneaded by hand this dough passes window pane test after 7-10 minutes of kneading (it takes about 15 minutes using stand mixer).
Proofing at warm temperature - bulk proof the dough at warmer temperature - 28-30C. You may opt to pre-heat oven for 30 seconds and place covered dough in warm-ish oven or use proofing box. Hitting lactic fermentation will help to achieve soft and feather-like texture. Shaped rolls can be proofed at ambient room temperature (21-24C).
Shaped dough; at the beginning of the rest; then doubled in size at the end of bulk proof:
Shaping - use your favourite technique for shaping rolls (see some pictures below). Whatever technique you opt to use - make sure to flatten shaped rolls after placing on the tray. The roll before second proof should resemble slightly plump hockey disk (bouncy and firm). You will de-gas extra bubbles (even crumb) and rolls will proof and then bake into a nice roll shape (rather than form a little round ball).
Storage and freezing - store baked rolls wrapped in a dry kitchen towel at room temperature for up to 2-3 days. These rolls freeze well (up to 3 months). When ready to enjoy - thaw overnight in the fridge and then heat up in the oven or microwave.
Soft Milk Rolls OR Burger Buns Recipe
Yield: 8 burger buns or 12 sweet rolls
Time: 2hrs30min (dough) + shape and proof (40-60min) + 18min bake
Tin: large tray
9pm (day 1) - prepare milk roux and refrigerate overnight
9am - 9.30am (day 2) - proof yeast and bring roux to room temperature
9.30am - 10.15am - mix dough
10.15am - 11.45am - 1st proof
11.45am - 12.45pm - shape and 2nd proof
12.45pm - 1.05pm - apply egg wash/seeds/streusel and bake
20g bread flour (12g protein)
100g full-fat milk
For yeast proofing:
180ml full-fat milk
1 tsp (5g) sugar
1 tsp (3g) bread flour
9g instant yeast (1 Tbsp) or 32g fresh yeast (yeast cake)
Dough (all at room temperature):
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
20g sugar (burger buns) or 60g sugar (sweet rolls)
420g bread flour (12g protein)
9g (1 and 1/2 tsp) coarse sea salt (burger buns) or 5g (1 flat tsp) coarse salt (sweet rolls)
10g milk powder (optional)
45g unsalted butter
1 egg mixed with 1 Tbsp water
Buttery streusel for sweet rolls:
35g all-purpose/plain flour (8-10g protein)
35g confectioners'/icing sugar
35g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
+ 250g your favourite jam, the thicker the better (for sweet rolls) or your favourite chocolate spread
For burger buns:
50g sesame seeds (optional)
40g unsalted butter, melted (brush after baking, don’t skip)
Prepare milk roux: In a pot with heavy bottom whisk in flour with milk. Warm up slowly to 65C, whisking every so often (watch after reaching 40C as if not whisked it may create lumpy texture). When you reach 65C and the mixture is creamy and smooth, transfer to a small bowl and leave at room temperature until cooled. Then, cover tightly with cling film and refrigerate for 8-12 hours (and up to 2 days). When ready to prepare the dough, take the mixture out of the fridge and bring to room temperature (30min-1hr) before adding to the dough.
Proof the yeast: Warm up 180ml milk to 38-40C, mix in sugar, flour and yeast. Cover and let proof in warm temperature (24-30C). After 15 minutes the mixture should become visibly frothy and bubbly. If it’s not, start again - the yeast might have been too old or the temperature too high or too low.
Mix the dough: Place 1 egg and 2 egg yolks in your main mixing bowl, add sugar and beat (using whisk attachment) until pale and fluffy (2 minutes). Reduce speed to low, add roux (at room temperature) and mix until combined. Change to the dough hook attachment. Whisk flour with coarse salt and milk powder (if using) - add all to the rest of the ingredients, then add proofed yeast. Knead on low-medium speed for 5-7 minutes. If you are kneading by hand - knead for 5 minutes, remembering to rotate the bowl every so often. The dough will look shaggy and that’s ok - you may opt to clean the bowl and do few slap and folds (or keep in the bowl as is). When done kneading, cover the dough and let rest at warm temperature (24-30C) for 15 minutes, then go back to the dough and knead, slowly adding butter (add in 3-4 turns). Keep kneading until the dough passes window pane test (10-15 minutes on low-medium speed or 5-10 minutes by hand). When done, tip the dough onto a surface and slap&fold few times to shape. When ready, transfer to a clean bowl lightly brushed with olive oil.
Proof the dough: Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and proof for 1hr 30min at 26-28C (or until doubles in size).
Prepare streusel (sweet rolls): Sift flour with confectioners’/icing sugar, add cold butter and using palms of your hands and finger tips rub the mixture until coarse meal is formed. Place in the freezer until ready to use.
Shape rolls: Lightly dust work surface. Knock back (de-gas) the dough. For burger buns - divide the dough into 8 pieces (approx 105g each) and shape rolls. For sweet buns - divide the dough into 12 pieces (approx 70g each), shape rolls (for empty soft rolls) or flatten, fill with jam, lock and shape.
Final proof: Place shaped rolls on a large tray lined with parchment paper (6-8 per tray). Press gently each roll to flatten (the shape should resemble plump hockey discs). Cover shaped rolls and let rest at warm temperature (24-30C) for 40-50 minutes. The rolls should become visibly puffy and plump.
Bake: Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan forced). Brush rolls with egg wash and apply streusel (for sweet rolls) or sesame seeds (burger buns). Bake for 18 minutes. When done, leave on the baking tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to the cooling rack to cool down fully. If you are baking burger buns - delicately brush hot rolls with melted butter (40g) to further soften the skin. Let the rolls rest for 30 minutes before serving, for the crumb to set. If you want to have some fun and check the bounce-back-ability - wait for the rolls to cool down fully.