Buttery Homemade Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting
Rich, buttery cinnamon rolls with gooey swirls of cinnamon sugar, slathered in vanilla cream cheese icing. If you love the kind of cinnamon rolls that are soft, buttery, and not overly sweet, this easy recipe just might become one of your favorite morning indulgences.
An Overnight Rise is the secret to Warm Cinnamon Rolls in the Morning
Who among us wouldn’t love to wake up to warm, gooey, freshly baked homemade cinnamon rolls? The problem with this scenario is that in order to enjoy homemade cinnamon rolls by 9am, you have to start the whole process at around 4am. This totally defeats what I firmly believe to be the purpose of a homemade cinnamon roll – leisurely decadence.
Because, let’s not fool ourselves here. Cinnamon Rolls are a treat. They are one of those things that you allow yourself every now and then, on a leisurely weekend morning, with plenty of good coffee and a few slices of crisp bacon. They are preferably eaten in bed. Or, at least in your bathrobe.
Cinnamon rolls are also the kind of thing I like to make for a special occasion – like Mother’s day or Easter brunch or Christmas morning. And while it’s likely that I’ll be up early enough on mornings like this to start a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls, these are also the kind of mornings on which I have about a million other things to do.
And this, my friends, is the beauty of the overnight rise. You simply make the dough the night before, which takes about 15 minutes. Let it rise on your countertop for about an hour and a half while you go about your regular evening activities. Then, right before you turn in for the night, make the rolls, place them in a baking pan and leave them in the refrigerator to rise overnight.
The next morning, remove the pan from the refrigerator, let them sit on the counter for 30-60 minutes to let the dough warm up while your oven preheats. Pop them in the oven and TA-DA! Freshly baked, warm homemade cinnamon rolls.
Of course, the overnight rise is not required
Homemade cinnamon rolls only take about 4 hours, start to finish, unless you slow down the final rise by putting the rolls in the refrigerator. And most of that time is completely hands-off. So, if you’re an early riser, or want to make cinnamon rolls for later in the day (cinnamon rolls for dinner!), whipping up a batch is a surprisingly easy project.
#1. Make the dough
The dough for these cinnamon rolls is actually the same dough I use to make my all-time favorite dinner rolls. After baking ‘those rolls’ for years and years, I realized that if it baked soft, tender, butter dinner rolls, it would also most likely make the best cinnamon rolls. Which, of course, it does.
In addition to dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls, I also use this very same dough to make Caramel Rolls, Homemade Doughnuts and Doughnut Holes, Apple Fritters, and Cinnamon Bread. There’s a reason why I keep using this same dough recipe for everything. It’s rich, buttery, and delicious, AND extremely easy to work with, even for those who don’t have much (or any) experience baking with yeast.
You can knead the dough by hand, which is great exercise and even quite fun. But, if you have a stand mixer, the whole process is ridiculously easy. Simply fit the mixer with the dough hook, add the ingredients to the mixing bowl, and let the mixer do all the work. Let the dough rise for an hour or two, until it’s doubled in size, before rolling it out so you can fill and shape it into cinnamon rolls.
#2. Fill and Shape the Cinnamon Rolls
After the first rise, dump the dough out onto a clean counter top and roll it out into a rectangle that’s about 18 inches long and 12 inches wide. Brush the dough with a generous amount of melted butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Roll the dough up into a log and slice it into 12 pieces.
#3. Let the rolls rise, then bake
Put the rolls into a buttered baking dish and brush the tops with even more melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise until they are doubled in size and reach to the top of the baking dish. At room temperature, this will only take about 45 minutes. But, as stated earlier, you can also slow this process down by putting the rolls in the refrigerator. Cold air slows down the yeast’s activity, causing the dough to rise very slowly.
Bake the rolls at 375 degrees F (190.5 degrees C) for 40-50 minutes. The range of baking time is there to account the many differences that can occur from batch to batch: the moisture content in the dough, ovens temperatures that aren’t 100% accurate, slight differences in the size of the pan and material it’s made from, etc.
After baking the rolls for about 30 minutes, take a peak at them. If the tops are getting too brown, loosely cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. Then, check the rolls again after they’ve been baking for about 40 minutes. If you stick a sharp knife in the center of the pan, between two of the rolls, and gently pull the rolls apart ever so slightly, you’ll be able to see if the center of the rolls is still doughy. If it is, keep baking. If not, the rolls are done and you can pull them from the oven.
#4. Cream Cheese Frosting
This cream cheese frosting couldn’t be easier. Set the cream cheese and butter out on the counter an hour or so before you plan to serve the cinnamon rolls, to allow it to soften. Then, simply beat it with some powdered sugar and vanilla until creamy and smooth.
In my family, we have a range of frosting lovers and frosting haters. Among the frosting lovers, there is also a difference of opinion about how much frosting is the right amount. As such, I generally serve the frosting on the side, allowing anyone who wants it to add as much as they like.
Having said that, if you frost the rolls in the pan while they are still warm, some of the frosting will melt down into the rolls making them extra gooey.
For the Dough:
- 2 cups (500ml) whole milk, at room temperature, approximately 75 - 80 degrees F (23-26 degrees C)
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 3½ tsp (10.75g) active dry yeast
- 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten (how to separate eggs)
- 6 tbsp (85.2g) salted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature + 1 tbsp (14.2g) melted butter for the bowl
- 6 cups (900g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp (12g) kosher salt - OR 1 1/4 tsp (7g) table salt
For the Filling:
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp (23g) ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt (4.5g) - OR 1/2 tsp (3g) table salt
- 1/2 cup (113g) salted butter, melted
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 6 oz (169g) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 tbsp (85.2g) salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 – 2 1/2 cups (312g) powdered sugar (confectioners sugar)
- 1/2 tsp (3g) kosher salt -OR 1/4 tsp (1.4g) table salt
- 2 tsp (8g) pure vanilla extract
Make the dough:
- Pour the milk into the bowl of a standing mixer and add the sugar and yeast. Stir to combine and then let sit for about 5 minutes to let the yeast begin to come alive. Pour in the egg, egg yolk and melted butter.
- Fit a stand mixer with the dough hook and add 5 cups (600g) of flour. Mix on medium speed until the dough comes together. (You can also hand-knead the dough - see note.)
- Reduce the mixer to low speed and slowly add enough additional flour so that the dough comes together into a soft, slightly sticky ball. Add the flour bit by bit. Depending on the humidity in the air, this might take the entire remaining cup (120g) of flour, or only a bit of it. What you’re looking for is a soft, smooth ball of dough that clings to the dough hook, does not stick to the sides of the bowl, but does stick slightly to the bottom of the bowl.
- Once the dough has come together, sprinkle in the salt. Continue to knead in the mixer for about 8-10 minutes. The dough should look very soft and smooth.
- Brush a large bowl with the remaining tablespoon (14g) of melted butter and dump the dough into the bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl so that it's coated on all sides with melted butter. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
Fill and Assemble the Cinnamon Rolls:
- Stir the 1/2 cup (113g) sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a small bowl.
- Brush one or two large rectangle baking dish with a little bit of the melted butter. (*See note)
- Gently turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is about 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Spread about 3/4 of the melted butter evenly over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush or spoon. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter.
- Roll the dough into a long, cigar shaped roll. With the seam side down, cut the roll into 12 even pieces. Place each piece into the buttered baking dish. (It will be a tight fit.) Brush the tops of the rolls with the remaining melted butter, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to rise overnight. (If you'd like to just keep going and bake the rolls the same day, simply let the rolls rise in the covered baking dish at room temperature, for about 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size, before baking.)
- The next morning, remove the pan from the refrigerator and let the rolls sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190.5 degrees C).
- Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls for about 40-50 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. (*If the tops of the rolls are getting too brown, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.) To test if the rolls are baked through, pull the pan from the oven and use a butter knife to gently separate a couple of the rolls in the center of the pan. If the rolls still look doughy, bake for a bit longer.
- Remover the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack while you make the frosting. (You can also make the frosting the night before, refrigerating it until ready to use.)
Make the Frosting:
- Add the cream cheese, butter, 2 cups (250g) of the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed just to combine and then on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy. Add additional powdered sugar if desired to get to your preferred level of sweetness and consistency.
- Slather the frosting over the top of the warm rolls and serve. Or, serve the frosting alongside the rolls, allowing each person to frost their own.
- To hand knead the dough: Dump the dough out onto a floured counter and shape it into a rough ball. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough down and away from you. Lift the edge of the dough that’s farthest away from you and fold the dough in half toward you. Repeat folding and pressing, adding flour as necissary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, approximately 10 minutes.
- Use one pan or two: As the rolls rise and bake they will get quite large and fill a 9x13 pan completely. This is usually how I bake them, but you do have to be careful about baking them long enough for the center rolls to bake through. You can also distribute the rolls between two 9x13 pans, which will give the rolls a bit more room to breath as they bake and make it easier to tell when the rolls are baked through.
- Delicious reader tip! One fellow cinnamon roll baker left a comment about these rolls with a delicious idea: "I like mine a bit heavier on the cinnamon so at the end I put a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar on the top right before baking and it made the most delectable crust on top!" Thanks for the tip, Rose!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 roll
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 541Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 93mgSodium: 791mgCarbohydrates: 83gFiber: 3gSugar: 33gProtein: 10g
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