My mom lives in a small mining town nestled among the mountains of rural Nevada, and in that town is a gem of a deli-cafe run by a Mennonite family. This family makes the most enormous, fluffy cinnamon rolls slathered in sticky cream cheese frosting that I have ever seen.
Those cinnamon rolls were exactly what I channeled while working on this recipe. I wanted to deliver a recipe for big, puffy, bakery-style cinnamon rolls that anyone can make at home.
In my vision for these perfect cinnamon rolls, I wanted a dough that would bake up into pillowy spirals, each roll squishing up to its neighbor, leaving a feathery stretch of bread when pulled apart.
The dough I ultimately created is best made over two days. I like to mix the dough the night before baking and let it slowly rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I roll, fill, and bake the rolls.
Not only does this break up the work, but I think the flavor from a slow-risen dough tastes better. It’s also much easier to work with cold dough when you’re rolling and shaping the rolls.
You can get a lot more spirals in your cinnamon rolls with cold dough!
Also, if you’ve never tried adding butter to your cinnamon roll dough before, just wait until you try this recipe. It’s very similar to a brioche dough, and it makes rolls that are rich, fluffy, and incredibly tender.
Yes, this dough is rich, but it’s not actually all that sweet. This makes it the perfect canvas for the buttery brown sugar and cinnamon filling.
Spread the cream cheese frosting over the rolls while they’re still warm. This way some of the frosting melts into the cinnamony-spirals.
Best Homemade Cinnamon Rolls Recipe
This recipe works best if the butter for the dough is very soft. Take the butter out of the fridge a few hours before you want to make the dough to give it time to soften, or even the night before. If you forget, or don't have time to let the butter soften, slice it into tablespoons and knead each piece between your fingers before adding it to the dough.
For the dough:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter, very soft
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or slightly less table salt)
For the frosting:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 to 4 tablespoons milk, whole or 2%
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of kosher salt
1 Make the dough: Warm the milk for 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave, until it's slightly warm to the touch but not steaming. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the warm milk, yeast, and sugar. Let the mixture stand until foamy, about five minutes.
Add the eggs, flour, and salt to the bowl and mix on medium speed until a sticky dough is formed. Beat in the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, waiting until the butter is incorporated before adding the next batch. The butter needs to be very soft for this to work; if the butter isn't incorporating, knead each piece in your fingers until soft before adding it to the dough.
Once all the butter is incorporated, knead the dough for 10 minutes on medium speed (or knead by hand).
2 Rise overnight: Shape the dough into a ball, place in a large, lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight, at least 8 hours. It will slowly double in size.
3 Cut and shape the rolls: In the morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator. The dough will be quite stiff and firm, but should roll easily. Dust your work surface and a rolling pin lightly with flour, and roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 12x16 inches in size.
Spread the dough with butter, leaving a 1-inch border on one of the shorter edges. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the butter in an even layer.
Starting from the short edge (the one with butter all the way to the edge), roll the dough into a tight spiral. Pinch the spiral closed (the unbuttered edge should stick to the log of dough). Trim the ends if they are shaggy.
Cut the roll in half crosswise to make 2 pieces. Cut each piece in half again to make 4, and each piece again to make a total of 8 rolls. Place the rolls in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
4 Cover the rolls with plastic wrap, and let them rise in a warm place for 30 to 90 minutes. Rising time will depend on the temperature in your kitchen. When ready, the rolls should be puffed and pillowy. They should be touching each other with very little space between each roll.
5 While the rolls look half-risen, preheat the oven to 350°F.
6 Bake the rolls: Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden on top and puffy. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before frosting.
7 Make the frosting: While the rolls bake, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the cream cheese and butter together until creamy. Add half of the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk. Beat for 1 minute. Add the remaining sugar and vanilla, and beat for 1 additional minute. Add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is as spreadable as you like.
8 Serve warm: Frost the cinnamon rolls generously while they're still a bit warm. Serve immediately.
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