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Soft and fluffy enriched yeast rolls filled with a buttery cinnamon filling and topped with a silky smooth cream cheese frosting. These fluffy cinnamon rolls only have one rise and can be made ahead of time and left in the refrigerator to bake in the morning.
I have a breakfast weakness. And that weakness, my friends, is a fluffy, gooey, cinnamon roll. But it has to be all of that. If I’m going for it, it better be made with soft dough, a very-much-there cinnamon sugar filling, plenty of cream cheese icing seeping into every crevice.
I’ve had too many cinnamon rolls in the past that didn’t fit the bill, so instead of letting all of you wander around the world possibly missing out on a really good and delicious cinnamon roll, I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting the best cinnamon roll recipe to share with you so that you, too, can have the best cinnamon rolls of your life that you made from scratch.
There’s nothing like seeing a pan full of perfect cinnamon rolls, warm and gooey straight from the oven, on Christmas morning, a special occasion like a birthday, or, you know, just because.
There is nothing wrong with just because cinnamon rolls. Ever. Cinnamon buns should make an appearance in your oven whenever you deem appropriate.
And lucky for you, I’ve laid everything out step-by-step with lots of pictures so you get the best results every time.
Also! Don’t miss out on my small batch cinnamon rolls and mini cinnamon rolls that are this same recipe but catered to different sizes. If you can master these cinnamon rolls, you’ll be able to master those, too!
There are three distinct parts to these easy cinnamon rolls: the soft enriched yeast dough, the buttery cinnamon sugar filling, and the creamy cream cheese frosting on top. Let’s break it down.
Yeast breads can be anything from lean (just yeast, flour, and salt) to enriched (yeast, flour, eggs, butter), and in the case of these homemade cinnamon rolls, we’re going the enriched route:
This means you will need:
• warm water
• active dry yeast
• warm milk (I prefer whole milk here)
• granulated sugar
• vanilla extract
• all-purpose flour
• softened butter
CINNAMON SUGAR FILLING
For the filling, we don’t want to skimp. The best homemade cinnamon rolls are bursting with cinnamon sugar filling, not just presenting the essence of it.
For the filling, you’ll need:
• melted butter
• granulated sugar
• brown sugar
• ground cinnamon
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
The best homemade cinnamon roll recipe better include the best cream cheese frosting. This cream cheese frosting is my go-to, and the one I use for everything from my red velvet cupcakes to my delicious homemade cinnamon rolls.
The key is to get the consistency perfect, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
For my cream cheese frosting, you will need:
• full fat block cream cheese
• softened butter
• powdered sugar
• vanilla extract
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS
If this is your first time making a yeasted dough, I’m here with all the pictures, explanations, and to basically hold your hand through this whole thing. I promise, it’s simple, and you’re going to wind up with perfect cinnamon rolls at the end of this, guaranteed!
PROOF THE YEAST
First, you’ll want to check that your yeast is good and alive. Inactive, expired, or dead yeast will result in sad cinnamon rolls. So let’s make sure it’s working before we do all that work for nothing!
Pour some warm water into a bowl (we’re looking for about 110ºF [43ºC] on an instant read thermometer). If you don’t have one of those, simply use your wrist as a guide.
Run your wrist through a stream of warm water from the tap. If you can feel it, it’s either too warm or too cold. If the feeling seems to disappear into your skin, it’s perfect.
Sprinkle the yeast over the water, whisk around with a fork, spatula, or wooden spoon, then allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
MIX THE DOUGH
Once your yeast appears active, you’re going to add the milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and eggs. Mix all of these ingredients together, then start adding your flour.
I much prefer using a spoon and my hands to make my yeast doughs, but you are welcome to use the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer.
I find doing things by hand gives me more control and helps me understand more exactly what my yeast dough needs, but especially if you’re a beginner, there’s nothing wrong with using a mixer.
You’ll start by adding just 3 cups of the 4 and ½ cups total and allow the dough to come together.
Once together, you’re going to add the softened butter, which has been cut into slices, to the dough. This might seem strange and lead to an odd texture, but just like we cut fat into pie crust and homemade biscuits to create flaky layers, we’re doing the same here with our cinnamon rolls, so just trust the process.
When the butter is mostly incorporated, add the remaining 1 and ½ cups of flour and continue to blend until the dough has mostly come together. It may still be shaggy, but it should pull away from the sides of the bowl fairly easily.
Next, turn the dough out dough on a well-floured surface. I say “well-floured” because the dough will still be quite sticky, and you may feel the need to add more flour as you knead, which is fine.
I’ve built wiggle room into my homemade cinnamon roll recipe for adding more flour, but kneading by hand in this step is where you become most familiar and comfortable with what the texture of enriched dough should feel like.
You’ll want to knead your dough for about 8-10 minutes, adding flour about 1 Tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky, until it smooth and elastic.
I know. That’s a long time to be kneading. Take short breaks when you need to!
Your dough should resemble the surface texture of PlayDoh when it is done.
ALLOW TO REST
During typical yeast bread making, this is where you’ll allow the dough to have its first rise. Allowing the dough to rise builds the gluten structure, but since we are going to roll and shape this dough, we want the gluten structure to be nice and relaxed, otherwise we’ll have a heck of a time trying to shape it into rolls.
Your dough will only need about 10 minutes to rest, so walk away from it and get your filling ingredients ready to go.
MAKE THE FILLING
I’ve experimented with many ways to fill cinnamon rolls. I used to mix everything all together and spread it on with a spatula, but I had a lot of trouble being careful enough not to rip the dough.
I’ve found the best cinnamon filling to be done in two parts: a butter layer and a separate cinnamon mixture. And yes, I like to call it the cinnamon mixture because while there is sugar, the highlight is really the cinnamon. No shortage of it here, that’s for sure!
PREPARE THE DOUGH
Once your dough has rested for about 10 minutes, it will be quite pliable and willing to shape.
Use a rolling pin and your hands to gently stretch the dough into a large rectangle that is about 12″ by 18″ in size.
No shame in using a tape measure, ruler, or ruled rolling mat. While it doesn’t need to be exact, it should be pretty close so we have enough surface to work with when rolling and cutting into equal pieces.
BRUSH WITH MELTED BUTTER
Here’s the fun part: all of that melted butter? It’s all going right onto that dough.
It will seem like a lot, but again, trust the process. Brush with a pastry brush almost to the edges, leaving about a ½” border.
SPRINKLE WITH FILLING
Next, spread that cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the melted butter. It will start to soak in, which is what you want to happen.
Spread as far as you spread the butter, again, taking care to maintain that ½” border.
ROLL INTO A LOG
After your dough is covered in butter and cinnamon sugar, you’ll need to roll it into a tight log.
Starting with the 18″ long side, slowly and carefully roll the dough over itself to form a log, doing your best to keep the seam side down. I like to use my fingers or palms on either end of the log to gently squeeze the log to “contain” the uneven ends.
CUT INTO INDIVIDUAL ROLLS
Lastly, cut the log into 12 equal slices. I much prefer to use a sharp knife (serrated works best) to do this step. Lots of folks have had success using the dental floss method, but I do not prefer this method.
It’s important to use a sharp knife so you don’t squish the rolls, but don’t worry if you ruin the shape. They will still bake perfectly and, most importantly, still taste delicious.
Also, don’t worry if filling spills out.
PLACE IN BAKING PAN
Once your log is cut into individual rolls, place them in a prepared pan (sprayed with baking spray) cut side down. This works best as 4 rows of 3 rolls.
Gather any cinnamon-sugar that fell out, sprinkle that over the rolls, then cover loosely with foil or a clean kitchen towel.
ALLOW TO RISE
This is where the rolls will do their full rise of 1 and ½ hours. In this time, they will puff up, which builds gluten structure and builds pockets of air for those flaky layers.
If your kitchen is particularly cold, you may need to allow them to rise for 2 hours or sit them near a heat source.
BAKE THE ROLLS
Once your rolls have risen, bake them for 28-32 minutes, uncovered. If they are browning too quickly for your liking, you can cover them with foil.
MAKE THE FROSTING
While your cinnamon rolls bake, you can make the cream cheese frosting.
With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Next, turn the mixer speed down to low and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract and the salt continue mixing until smooth.
If you feel like you need it to be thinner, add some liquid like milk, cream, or even water. Just remember that when you spread it onto the rolls, the heat from the rolls will start to melt the frosting, so it will naturally thin out.
SPREAD ONTO THE WARM ROLLS
Allow your cinnamon rolls to cool for a bit before adding the frosting, about 15 minutes. I know, it will be so hard to wait, but I promise those rolls will be much more enjoyable not completely piping hot.
Use an offset spatula, silicone spatula, or the back of a spoon to spread the cream cheese frosting into every crevice. You won’t regret that.
Also, a little bird told me that adding additional cream cheese frosting to bites as you go isn’t a bad idea, but… You didn’t hear that from me.
CAN I MAKE THESE HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS AHEAD OF TIME?
My favorite part about yeast bread is that YES, you can almost always do things ahead of time, whether it be so that you have warm cinnamon rolls for the morning but don’t have to get up early, or you just want to have some cinnamon rolls in the freezer ready to go if the craving strikes.
Think of the refrigerator as a “pause” button for your yeast bread. After your rolls are shaped, you can cover them tightly and chill them up to 18 hours.
This is a great option if you’re making homemade cinnamon rolls for a holiday– you can spend a bit of time bringing the dough together, then have glorious rolls the next morning with little hands on time.
You’ll just need to let your cinnamon rolls rise for about 1 hour before you bake them.
You can also make the cream cheese frosting and store it at room temperature up to 18 hours in advance, too.
If you want to completely bake these easy homemade cinnamon rolls and then freeze them, you can keep them in the freezer covered tightly for up to 3 months. Just thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and warm before enjoying.
If you’d like to freeze unbaked rolls, you’ll want to parbake the rolls for 10 minutes at 350°F (177ºC). Allow to cool completely, cover tightly, then freeze. Remove the rolls from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Finish baking the next day for the remaining 18-22 minutes before frosting and serving.
There are so many ways to enjoy my favorite homemade cinnamon roll recipe, and I hope that they will become your family favorite, just like they have ours over the years.
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- ½ cup (120mL) warm water
- 2 and ¼ teaspoons (7g) dry active yeast or one packet
- ½ cup (120mL) warm milk
- ⅓ cup (67g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 4 and ½ to 5 cups (540-600g) all purpose flour be sure to measure properly
- 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature and cut into 6-8 pieces
- ¼ cup (57g) unsalted butter melted
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (100g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- 4 ounces (112g) cream cheese softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup (57g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1 and ½ cups (180g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Spray a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with non-stick spray. Set aside.
- Place warm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Whisk with a fork, wooden spoon, or spatula and allow to rest and activate for 10 minutes.
- Once the yeast mixture is active and bubbly, add the milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and eggs. Whisk to combine.
- Gradually stir in flour. If using a stand mixer, use your dough hook. If mixing by hand, continue to use a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups of flour, allow dough to come together, then add the softened butter and continue to blend. When butter is mostly incorporated, add the remaining 1 and ½ cups of flour and blend until dough has mostly come together. It may still be shaggy, but it should pull away from the sides of the bowl fairly easily.
- Turn out dough on a floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes, adding flour about 1 Tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky, until smooth and elastic. Your dough should resemble the surface texture of PlayDoh when it is done. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the filling.
- In a medium size bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Whisk or stir until well-blended. Set aside.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 12" x 18" in size. Dough will be very elastic, so be patient and keep rolling. There is no need to rush this step.
- When you have your rectangle, brush the melted butter evenly over the dough, leaving about ½" border around the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the melted butter.
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE THE DOUGH
- Starting with one of the long sides, roll the dough up into a tight 18" log. Use your fingers or palms on either end of the log to gently squeeze the log to "contain" the uneven ends. Using a sharp serrated knife and taking care to keep the seam side down, cut the log into 12 even slices. Don't worry if filling spills out.
- Place the slices cut side down in the prepared pan (4 rows of 3), gather any cinnamon-sugar that fell out, sprinkle over the rolls, then press down gently to flatten slightly. Cover loosely with foil or a kitchen towel. Allow rolls to rise for 1 and ½ hours.
- When cinnamon roll dough has risen, preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Bake the rolls for 28-32 minutes or until rolls just start to brown on top. You can cover the rolls with foil to prevent browning, if desired. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the cream cheese frosting.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth.
- Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract and the salt continue mixing until smooth.
- Spread cream cheese frosting onto slightly cooled rolls and serve rolls immediately. Leftover cinnamon rolls stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave for 8-10 seconds before serving. See notes section below for other storage and preparation suggestions.
- Make ahead: this dough can be made the ahead of time through step 1 of the “assemble and bake dough” instructions. Cover rolls with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator overnight or up to 18 hours. In the morning (or when you are ready to bake the rolls), remove them from the refrigerator and allow to rise in a warm environment, about 1 hour. Continue with step 2 in the “assemble and bake dough” instructions.
- To freeze baked rolls: baked rolls freeze well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm before enjoying.
- To freeze unbaked rolls: parbake the rolls in step 2 in “assemble and bake dough” instructions for 10 minutes at 350°F (177ºC). Allow to cool completely, cover tightly, then freeze. Remove the rolls from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Finish baking for the remaining 18-22 minutes before frosting and serving.
- Nutritional information: all nutritional values are approximate.