The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
Whether you want gooey buns that are ready in under an hour or you’re looking for an all-day baking project, we’ve got an amazing cinnamon roll recipe — and tips to help them come out perfectly.
I think about comfort food a lot these days. Maybe you do, too? Living in these crazy times sends me off in search of the familiar, the comforting. One food that always lifts my spirits: Fresh, homemade cinnamon rolls.
The classic roll is my favorite, with soft, fluffy dough rolled around a buttery cinnamon-sugar filling. (Think homemade Cinnabon.) On top I prefer a simple glaze made with powdered sugar and whole milk, but I’ll never say no to a thicker, tangier cream cheese icing.
I don’t always have time to make a yeast dough, but that’s OK. Cinnamon rolls adapt to your situation. You can spend hours letting the dough rise, forming the rolls, and letting it rise again (aka proofing) before baking; or you can skip the yeast and use a leavener like baking powder instead. Or you can forego homemade dough entirely and use a store-bought shortcut. The best cinnamon rolls are whichever ones you just pulled out of the oven.
Jump ahead to:
5 steps to assemble cinnamon rolls
Once you’ve got your dough, the basic procedure doesn’t change much.
Roll out your dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll with a rolling pin or pat it out into a large rectangle. Do your best to get it as close to rectangular as possible, or the rolls on either end will have uneven amounts of dough. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re like me and appreciate a little crispy treat for the baker.) Do your best to maintain an even thickness across the whole piece of dough — thicker dough will be chewier after baking, while thinner dough will give you a higher filling-to-dough ratio. Just know that going thinner also means the rectangle will be larger, so you may need a little more filling to cover the whole surface.
Top it with filling. This step depends on your recipe. Some have you combine sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter to make a spreadable paste, while others have you brush melted butter on the dough and sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar. I prefer the paste approach, since it’s easier to make sure everything is evenly distributed — and you don’t wind up with cinnamon sugar leaking out as you cut the dough into rolls.
Roll it up. Start at one of the long sides. Take care with the very first roll, making it as tight as possible — that sets the stage for the rest of the rolling. Aim to keep the whole roll snug, so the individual rolls don’t unravel in the oven. Keep in mind that the dough will expand during baking (yeast dough more than baking powder dough), so don’t sweat it if your roll looks kinda puny. Pinch the seam shut.
Floss your roll. To get the cleanest possible cut without squishing the rolls or flattening the bottoms, use unwaxed, unflavored dental floss rather than a knife. Before you make the first cut, measure the whole log. How many rolls does the recipe yield? Divide the length by that many, and make a gentle notch at each point to help keep things even as you go. Now, grab a length of floss and slide it underneath the log. At the first notch, pull either end of the floss up and across, and it’ll give you a nice smooth cut. Keep flossing until all your rolls are cut.
Leave room to grow. Two things to remember about the baking dish: First, make sure it’s well-buttered or coated with cooking spray — think about how sticky melted sugar gets. And second, leave a little space between the rolls, so they’ll have room to rise as they bake.
How to store, freeze, and reheat cinnamon rolls
My immediate family only has three people. Even though we absolutely could eat an entire batch of 12 rolls, we shouldn’t. There are several ways to handle this.
Freeze some unbaked. This takes the least effort up top, but takes more time on the day you want to eat them. After rolling and cutting, you have two choices: I like to freeze the rolls individually on a sheet pan then transfer to a freezer bag, which lets me take out just a few at a time. The other option is to nestle the rolls in the pan you plan to bake them in and freeze the whole thing. Once they’re solid, pop them out of the pan and transfer to a freezer bag. With either of these, transfer rolls to the baking dish the night before you want to bake so they can thaw. In the morning, let the rolls sit at room temperature until they’ve risen, then bake.
Freeze some baked. Definitely the easiest way to go, it means you’ll have slightly less fresh-tasting cinnamon rolls whenever you want them. The key here is to let them cool completely before wrapping and freezing. Warmth will turn to condensation, which freezes into frost. Reheat your frozen rolls, loosely wrapped in foil, in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes, then add icing.
Store baked rolls at room temperature. If you know you’ll want to eat cinnamon rolls again within four or five days (I mean, who doesn’t?), there’s no need to freeze. Just wrap them tightly and put them away. When you’re ready for more, they’ll need less than a minute in the microwave to reheat, or about 10 minutes in a 350° oven. Because I know we won’t be eating all the rolls right away, I usually make a partial batch of icing in a small bowl and leave most of them naked. The day-of, I’ll make a little more icing, and drizzle the reheated rolls while they’re warm.
How to make homemade cinnamon rolls with yeast
When you picture the classic light, fluffy cinnamon roll, I guarantee it’s made with a yeast dough. The time it takes for yeast dough to rise means these rolls typically take longer to make — but you can cut some corners and get them on the table in around an hour.
These have no bells or whistles — other than the fact that they’re an absolutely perfect example of a cinnamon roll recipe. Tender dough, a brown sugar-butter-ground cinnamon filling with just a bit of nutmeg, and a rich cream cheese frosting: Who needs bells and whistles? You'll make the dough in a large bowl with active dry yeast, all-purpose flour, large eggs, warm milk, unsalted butter, salt, and a little sugar. Then knead it using a stand mixer and dough hook, or knead it by hand until it's smooth and stretchy (about 10 minutes). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to let it rise, or with a towel if you prefer, and then continue with shaping. For the filling, this recipe goes for the paste approach, where you combine softened butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, rather than spreading the dough with melted butter and then cinnamon sugar, which can get messy.
Most recipes for yeast doughs include two rises, one before the rolls are shaped and one after. This clever recipe skips the first rise, and uses a warm-oven technique to speed up the second one. (It also calls for instant yeast, which works faster than regular active dry yeast.) As a result, you’ve got yeasted cinnamon rolls in about an hour! They won’t be as tender and fluffy as double-rise rolls, but you’ll be too busy eating to notice.
This is my favorite way to have cinnamon rolls ready in time for breakfast or brunch. The day before you want to eat them, make the dough and let it rise as usual, then roll, fill (pecans are optional), and slice. Put the cut cinnamon rolls into a baking dish and refrigerate them overnight. In the morning, set them in a cold oven with a baking pan of boiling water to steam for 30 minutes (and create the perfect warm place) for a fast second rise. Another 30 bakes them up golden brown and ready for icing.
Quick and easy cinnamon rolls without yeast
If you don’t have time for kneading and letting yeast work its magic, your family can still enjoy homemade cinnamon rolls. The dough won’t have the fluffiness you’ll find at Cinnabon, but they’ll still taste pretty darn good. (Actually, is there such a thing as a cinnamon roll that doesn’t taste good?)
When I want a super-fast breakfast treat, turning biscuit dough into cinnamon rolls always works. In this recipe you’ll start out making biscuits: Toss 2 cups all-purpose flour with 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; cut in cold butter; then mix in a little buttermilk. From there you roll and fill as usual. The best part: They only need 15 minutes in the oven. A simple powdered sugar glaze finishes them off. (And about that flour — all-purpose is going to make the most tender rolls, but if all you have is bread flour, go for it.)
Baking powder, and the carbon dioxide you get when buttermilk meets baking soda, do the leavening here. The cinnamon roll dough comes together in minutes, and after baking they're like less-crumbly biscuits. These are about as low-fuss as you can get, and the tang of the buttermilk is lovely in the icing.
What if you want all the flavor of a cinnamon roll, without actually rolling anything? Bites to the rescue! It couldn’t be simpler: Roll balls of biscuit-like dough in 1/2 cup butter (melted), then coat in cinnamon sugar. Pile them into a pie plate, drizzle with more melted butter, and bake. They come out bubbling and perfectly yummy and ooey-gooey, especially after you top them with a 2-ingredient glaze. Total time: 40 minutes.
Shortcut cinnamon rolls
Store-bought dough and baking mixes help you get your cinnamon rolls in the oven lightning fast. And you can make almost any dough or mix work — even puff pastry and boxed cake mix. Consider one of these recipes if this is your first time making cinnamon buns.
Pizza dough has yeast in it, but it’s already gone through its rise before it reaches you. The end result won’t be quite as fluffy, but as far as shortcuts go, this gets my vote as best recipe for pulling off a quick tray of warm, sticky cinnamon rolls.
In my book these are the fastest cinnamon rolls in town. Using a baking mix (e.g. Bisquick) saves you from measuring a bunch of different dry ingredients, and baking the pinwheels in a muffin tin helps them cook faster. You’ll be eating in less than half an hour!
OK, it may be possible to make cinnamon rolls even faster. The key: Using a canister of pre-made crescent roll dough, the kind you pop open with a spoon. The dough’s already rolled out and pre-cut, so all you need to do is brush on some melted butter, sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, and roll them up. From fridge to table takes only 20 minutes.
Cinnamon rolls for special diets
Dietary restrictions shouldn’t keep you from enjoying a freshly baked, gooey cinnamon roll.
You might think that an extremely low-carb diet would rule out cinnamon rolls. Luckily, ingenious bakers have figured out a workaround. The dough employs mozzarella cheese, cream cheese, almond flour, and baking powder to recreate the dough, and erythritol sweetener replaces the sugar in the filling and glaze. They look and taste just like the real thing!
Cinnamon rolls didn’t exist in the Paleolithic era, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one if you follow the Paleo diet. Here the dough consists of coconut and almond flours, an egg, honey, vanilla extract, and baking soda. The filling gets its sweetness from dates, and the glaze uses honey and coconut cream. While they’re not a replica of the original, these rolls will definitely satisfy a craving.
Milk, butter, and eggs all appear in traditional cinnamon rolls, but vegan replacements like almond milk and coconut oil work beautifully. This yeast dough will bake up into the soft, tender rolls you’re dreaming of, and the vanilla-scented powdered sugar glaze adds just enough sticky sweetness.
Got a yen for more baking?
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