Overnight Milk Bread Cinnamon Rolls

Milk Bread Cinnamon Rolls are fluffy, pillowy, and soft. Make them for Christmas morning or any morning!

Overhead view of a platter of milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing.
Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas

Words like fluffy, pillowy, soft, and tender don't even prepare you for the divine experience of these Milk Bread Cinnamon Rolls. Because yes, they are heavenly.

The dough is dreamy and the Japanese tangzhong method of cooking milk and flour together is the secret to its softness. I confess I almost like it more than brioche!

In addition to the tender, delicate dough, these rolls have a robust dose of cinnamon, sugar, and butter spiraled throughout. For the finishing touch, I slather them with buttery vanilla cream cheese icing. Make them once and these rolls will become part of your weekend repertoire too!

For this recipe, I break it up over two days. Make the the dough on day one, let it sit in the fridge overnight, then in the morning, shape and roll the dough, let it rise on more time and within the hour you'll be biting into a buttery, cinnamon laden roll.

What is Tangzhong?

The feathery texture in these rolls comes from the Japanese technique of mixing a cooked slurry of liquid (milk or water) and flour, into the dough, called tangzhong. The technique is used in Hokkaido milk bread, but is now used in many baking recipes including this cinnamon roll recipe and another favorite, Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Rolls.

The technique pre-gelatinizes the starches in the flour, which allows the dough to absorb more liquid than typical bread dough. That also translates into a longer shelf life.

Two to three days later your rolls will still be soft, although it’s doubtful they will be around long enough for you to test that theory.

A platter of soft cinnamon rolls.
Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas

Why an Overnight Rise?

On day one, you will mix the dough and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight (up to 12 hours). On the morning of the second day, you’ll shape the rolls and let the dough rise again before baking.

An overnight rise gives the dough more time to develop flavor. It also breaks up the work, allowing you to fill and bake the rolls in the morning and have them for breakfast about an hour later. In addition, the dough is much easier to handle when it is cold.

Filling and Cutting Tricks

Here are a few tips to make rolling, filling, and cutting the rolls easier:

  • The dough is so pliable, that it doesn’t need strenuous rolling. Start by patting it into a rectangle on top of a floured piece of parchment paper. Finish shaping the rectangle by rolling it with a rolling pin.
  • The cinnamon filling resembles a thick icing, which is easy to spread over the dough, avoiding the messy crumbs of sugar and cinnamon.
  • Shape your cinnamon rolls with ease—since it’s on a piece of parchment, the sheet of dough can be rolled into a cylinder evenly. Just lift the edges of the paper nearest to your body as you roll the dough away from you.
  • Cutting the rolls with a knife can be tricky since the pressure of a knife can cause them to lose their shape. Instead of a knife, use dental floss or string to cut the rolls. Once you’ve marked out the portions with a paring knife, slip a thin piece of string or unflavored dental floss underneath a section. Grasp the ends and pull the string tightly in opposite directions so it cuts through the roll. Easy and fun!
Soft cinnamon rolls on a plate with a cup of tea.
Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas

How to Store Cinnamon Rolls

The best way to store cinnamon rolls is to place them in a container with a tight-fitting lid, after they have cooled completely.

You can also wrap them in aluminum foil or plastic wrap: Lay a large sheet of foil or plastic wrap on the countertop and bring the edges up and over the rolls, trying not to smash the frosting but also making sure the packet is sealed. Wrapped as suggested, you can store cinnamon rolls for up to 2 days at room temperature or up 5 days in the refrigerator (after that, refrigerated rolls tend to dry out from the cold.)

To Freeze: You can freeze them frosted or unfrosted wrapped in aluminum foil as noted above for up to 2 months. If unfrosted, store the frosting separately in the freezer and bring it to room temperature.

To reheat frozen rolls, place them on a baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Reheat in a 300ºF oven for 10 to 20 minutes, or until warm all the way through.

More Breakfast Roll Recipes

Milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing on a platter.
Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas

Overnight Milk Bread Cinnamon Rolls

Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Rise Time 12 hrs
Total Time 13 hrs
Servings 12 servings

These are overnight rolls, so you will need to mix the dough on one day or evening, and shape and bake them the following morning.

Ingredients

  • For the tangzhong
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup (43g) bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • For the dough
  • 2/3 cup cold whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cold large eggs
  • 4 cups (480g) bread flour
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons (14g) instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup powdered milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (for the rising bowl)
  • For the cinnamon filling
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the glaze
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method

  1. Make the tangzhong:

    In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, add the flour, water and milk. Whisk together until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens to a smooth, pudding like-consistency, 4 to 5 minutes.

    Transfer the tangzhong to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

    Whisking milk and flour in a small sauce pan to make soft cinnamon rolls.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
    Whisking milk and flour in a small sauce pan to make soft cinnamon rolls.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  2. For the dough:

    Add the milk, butter, sugar, and salt to the mixer bowl with the tangzhong. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the eggs and mix until incorporated.

    In a separate medium bowl, add the flour, yeast, powdered milk, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine. One cup at a time, add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl, mixing while on low speed until combined. It will be slightly sticky.

    Remove the paddle, cover the bowl, and let it rest for 10 minutes before kneading to give the flour time to hydrate (absorb the liquid.)

    Dough for soft cinnamon rolls in the bowl of a stand mixer.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  3. Knead the dough:

    Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead the dough on low speed, until it is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

    Kneading dough for soft cinnamon rolls in the bowl of a mixer.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  4. Let the dough rise overnight:

    Spread the oil over the bottom and sides of a large, clean bowl. Form the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, and turn the dough over so all sides of the dough are oiled.

    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight (up to 12 hours.) The dough will have risen in the refrigerator.

    Dough for soft cinnamon rolls in a glass bowl.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
    Risen dough for overnight milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing in a glass bowl.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  5. Make the cinnamon filling:

    Just before shaping the rolls the next morning, in a small bowl, combine the softened butter, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.

    Mixing the filling to make soft cinnamon rolls.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  6. Roll the dough into a rectangle:

    Set a 12-by-16-inch piece of parchment paper on your work surface and sprinkle with flour. Turn the dough onto the parchment paper and pat it into a rectangle.

    Roll the dough out to the same size as the parchment, stretching the corners if necessary. The dough should be around 1 1/2-inches thick.

    Dough for soft cinnamon rolls rolled into a rectangle.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  7. Prepare the baking pan:

    Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter. Fit a 12-by-16-inch piece of parchment into the pan so the 2 long sides overhang by 1 1/2-inches.

  8. Fill, roll, and cut the dough:

    With an offset spatula, evenly spread the filling over the dough, leaving a border of about 1-inch all around.

    Position the dough so the long side is parallel to the edge of the counter. Using the parchment as an aid, roll it away from your body to form a cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam and turn the log so the seam side is down.

    With a paring knife, mark the log into 12 even pieces that are about 1 1/2 inches wide. Slide a 12-inch strand of unflavored dental floss or thin string under the log.

    Cross the ends and pull tight to cut the log into 12 slices. Set them in the baking pan with the cut side up. They should just fit in the pan and be barely touching.

    Cinnamon mixture spread on dough for overnight milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
    Dough rolled into a tube to make overnight milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
    Cinnamon rolls sliced from the roll of dough.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
    Milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing set in a baking pan.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  9. Preheat the oven and let the dough rise at room temperature:

    Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    Cover the pan loosely with plastic and let rise for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the dough looks puffy and the rolls are touching.

    Milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing set in a baking pan.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  10. Bake the rolls and cool:

    Bake the cinnamon rolls for 28 to 32 minutes, until browned and a thermometer inserted into the center of the rolls registers 190°F to 205°F.

    Transfer them to a rack to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.

    Milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing baked in a baking pan.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas
  11. Make the icing:

    In mixer bowl with the paddle attachment on medium-low, mix the cream cheese and butter for 1 minute, or until very smooth and lump free. Slowly stream in the sugar and mix until smooth. Mix in the salt and vanilla. The icing will be soft and thick but creamy and still spreadable.

  12. Frost the rolls and serve:

    Use the parchment to lift the rolls out of the pan. Ice them while still warm and serve immediately.

    Overhead view of overnight milk bread cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing partially iced on a cooling rack.
    Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas