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This recipe produces 6 soft and fluffy enriched cinnamon rolls that are filled with a buttery cinnamon filling and topped with a smooth cream cheese frosting. These cinnamon rolls only require one rise or can be made ahead of time to bake later or the next day.
When it comes to writing and developing recipes, I sometimes find myself testing half batches of my recipes, especially cookies and cupcakes, because I don’t want to wind up with too many things to give away to neighbors and taste-testers.
The same thing goes for my cinnamon roll cravings. When I started perfecting my recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls, I always knew that alongside it, I wanted to share a small batch recipe as well as a mini version, because sometimes you want 12. Sometimes you only want 6. And sometimes, you just want bite-size ones (here are my mini cinnamon rolls!).
So here we are: my beloved and trusted homemade cinnamon roll recipe that has wow’ed folks all over, but half as many on the other side of the process. It really is as simple as halving the recipe for my full batch of cinnamon rolls, with a different size of rectangle and half as many slices of the log.
And just like in that recipe for the best cinnamon rolls, I’ve laid everything out step-by-step with lots of pictures so you get the best results every time.
There are three distinct parts to this small batch of cinnamon rolls: the soft dough, the buttery cinnamon sugar filling, and the cream cheese icing on top. Let’s break it down.
Yeast breads can be lean (just yeast, flour, and salt) or enriched (yeast, flour, eggs, butter), and in the case of these small-batch 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
• an egg
• all-purpose flour
• softened butter
CINNAMON SUGAR FILLING
For the filling, we are loading up the insides of these quick cinnamon rolls. The best homemade cinnamon rolls are absolutely bursting with cinnamon sugar filling, not just sort of there.
For the filling, you’ll need:
• melted butter
• granulated sugar
• brown sugar
• ground cinnamon
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
This easy cinnamon roll recipe includes my very best cream cheese frosting. This cream cheese frosting is my go-to, and the one I use for everything from my carrot cake cupcakes to these 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 MY SMALL BATCH CINNAMON ROLL RECIPE
If this is your first time making an enriched yeasted dough, I’m here with all the helpful pictures, explanations, and to basically walk you through this whole thing. I promise, it’s pretty simple, and you’re going to wind up with six perfect cinnamon rolls at the end of this, guaranteed!
PROOF THE YEAST
First, you’ll want to insure that your yeast is good and alive. Inactive, expired, or dead yeast will result in deflated cinnamon rolls. So let’s make sure that yeast is 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 to get the temperature just right.
Hold your wrist in a stream of warm water from the tap. If you can feel the temperature of the water, it’s either too warm or too cold. If the feeling seems to disappear into your skin, it’s perfect.
Sprinkle the active dry yeast over the water, whisk it with a fork, spatula, or wooden spoon, then allow it to activate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
MIX THE DOUGH
Once your yeast appears active, you’re going to add the warm milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and egg. Mix all of these ingredients together, then start adding your flour.
I much prefer using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula and my hands to make my yeast doughs, but you are welcome to use the dough hook attachment and the bowl of a stand mixer.
I find doing things like making cinnamon roll dough by hand gives me more control and helps me understand better exactly what my yeast dough needs, but especially if you’re a beginner, there’s nothing wrong with using a stand mixer.
You’ll start by adding just 1 cup of the 2 and ¼ 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 odd and lead to a strange texture, but just like we cut fat into homemade pie crust and buttermilk biscuits to create flaky layers, we’re doing the same here with our small batch cinnamon rolls, so just trust the process.
When the butter is mostly incorporated, add the remaining 1 and ¼ 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. You want this to be “well-floured” because the dough will still be pretty sticky, and you may feel as if you need to add more flour as you knead, which is fine.
I’ve built wiggle room into this homemade cinnamon roll recipe for adding more flour, but kneading by hand in this step is where you will become the most familiar and comfortable with what the texture of enriched yeast 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 yeast bread making, this is where you’ll allow your dough to have a 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 quite relaxed, otherwise we’ll have a hard time trying to shape it into rolls.
Your dough will only need about 10 minutes to rest, so fill the time by getting the filling ingredients ready to go.
MAKE THE FILLING
I’ve experimented with several ways to fill my cinnamon rolls. I used to mix everything together and spread it onto the rectangle of dough with a spatula, but I had a lot of trouble with ripping the dough.
I’ve found that the best cinnamon filling is done in two parts: a butter layer and a separate cinnamon-sugar mixture. I also used to be afraid of too much ground cinnamon, but there is no shortage of it here, that’s for sure!
PREPARE THE DOUGH
Once the dough has rested for about 10 minutes, it will be nice and pliable and willing to shape.
Use a rolling pin and your hands to gently stretch the dough into a large rectangle that is about 9″ by 12″ in size.
While this measurement doesn’t need to be perfectly exact, I always use a tape measure, ruler, or ruled rolling mat. The size should be pretty close to 9″ by 12″ so that we have enough surface to work with when rolling and cutting into equal pieces.
BRUSH WITH MELTED BUTTER
All of that melted butter? It’s all going right onto that rectangle of dough.
It will seem like a lot of butter, but again, trust the process. Use a pastry brush to brush the butter almost to the edges, leaving about a ½” border.
SPRINKLE WITH FILLING
Next, spread the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the melted butter. It will start to soak in, which is what you want.
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 roll it into a tight log.
Starting with the 12″ 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 6 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 unflavored dental floss method, but I do not love this method.
It’s important to use a sharp knife so you don’t smush 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. We’ll use it in a second!
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. I like to use either an 8″ square baking pan (3 rows of 2) or an 8″ or 9″ pie plate or cake pan (1 in the center and 5 evenly spaced around it).
You can really use any small baking dish that will contain 6 rolls nicely.
Gather any cinnamon-sugar that fell out, sprinkle that over the rolls, then press gently on the tops of the rolls to slightly flatten. Cover the rolls loosely with foil or a clean dish towel.
ALLOW TO RISE
This is where the rolls will rise for 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 the 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 to low and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract and the salt continue mixing until smooth.
If you feel like you want it to be thinner, add some liquid like milk, cream, or even water. Just remember that when you spread it onto the warm 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. Believe me, 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, I have been known to keep a small bowl of extra cream cheese frosting on hand to spread onto individual bites, but… That’s just me. Highly encouraged for you, of course.
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 (hello, Christmas morning or any holiday that involves entertaining for breakfast!) 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 the rolls are shaped and in the pan, you can cover them tightly and chill them for up to 18 hours and turn them into overnight cinnamon rolls just like that.
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 very little hands on time.
You’ll just need to allow the cinnamon rolls rise for about 1 hour before baking them.
You can also make the cream cheese frosting and store it at room temperature up to 18 hours in advance.
If you want to completely bake these small batch 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 want to freeze unbaked rolls, you’ll need 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 them to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Finish baking them the next day for the remaining 18-22 minutes before frosting and enjoying.
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.
Small Batch Cinnamon Rolls
- ¼ cup (60mL) warm water
- 1 and ⅛ teaspoons (3.5g) dry active yeast or half of one packet
- ¼ cup (60mL) warm milk
- 2 and ½ Tablespoons (32g) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 2 and ¼ to 2 and ½ cups (270-300g) all purpose flour be sure to measure properly
- 3 Tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature and cut into 4-6 pieces
- 2 Tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter melted
- ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (50g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 and ½ Tablespoons ground cinnamon
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- 2 ounces (57g) cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 2 Tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- ¾ cups (90g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Spray a baking dish1 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 1 cup 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 ¼ 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 9" x 12" 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 12" 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 6 even slices. Don't worry if filling spills out.
- Place the slices cut side down in the prepared pan, 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.
- Baking dish: I like to use either an 8″ square baking pan or an 8″ or 9″ round cake pan or pie plate. If using a square dish, arrange them in 2 rows of 3. If using a round pan, place one in the center and the other 5 evenly spaced around it.
- 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.