When I first started baking, I used to be very intimidated by the idea of making cinnamon rolls. It always seemed like a dessert that I should leave to the experts to make (hello Cinnabon and Pillsbury).
A while back, I finally got myself to try to make my own cinnamon rolls using store-bought, raw pizza dough, a cream cheese and butter frosting. The result? Meh. It was a nice treat, but it didn't feel like it was better than Cinnabon or Pillsbury. So it just seemed easier to buy.
I decided to try making cinnamon rolls again, this time with a homemade yeast dough and the same cream cheese and butter frosting. This result? I was getting warmer ... The rolls were amazing, but the frosting was still kind of off. The butter always ended up melting and separating whenever I'd put it over the warm rolls, and there was just way too much cream cheese flavor for my taste.
Finally I gave it one more go. This time, I made my cinnamon rolls with frosting using heavy cream instead of milk, less cream cheese, and I opted out of using any butter in it. I haven't turned back since!
The Cream Cheese Frosting:
The frosting used for these cinnamon rolls isn't very traditional. Most cinnamon roll frostings consist of butter, cream cheese, milk, and powdered sugar. I personally haven't had much success with those ingredients together, so I decided to make some of my own tweaks to the cinnamon rolls icing.
Like I mentioned above, I find that butter doesn't hold up well after I add it to my warm rolls. That's why I chose to leave it out of this recipe. Besides, butter doesn't really add much to the flavor of the frosting, so you probably won't even realize it's gone.
I do still use cream cheese, but I don't like to add a whole lot. I prefer icing for cinnamon rolls to have a light cheesy flavor. But if you like a good punch of cream cheese flavor, you can definitely add more and still get great results. You just may need to increase the amount of cream you use to get the right consistency.
For liquid, I decided to go with heavy cream instead of milk. While you can use milk instead of cream in this frosting, I prefer the thickness of the cream here. It's especially helpful considering this recipe uses less cream cheese and no butter, so the cream helps give some body to the frosting.
Make Ahead Cinnamon Rolls:
You can make these rolls up to 2 days in advance before baking them off. You can also freeze baked cinnamon rolls for up to 3 months ahead of time (more details about freezing below).
If you want to make this dough ahead of time, and then shape and bake the rolls later, you can refrigerate your dough before letting it rise. It'll rise much more slowly in the cold. I recommend using the dough within 12 to 24 hours just to prevent it from developing a sour flavor (which happens when yeast is left to rise for too long).
If you wanted to shape the dough ahead of time, you can store shaped cinnamon rolls in the fridge for up to 24 hours as well (before their second rise). If I want to make cinnamon rolls for a get together, I like to mix the dough, chill it for a day, then shape the dough and chill it for another day. I just find it easier to break up the process.
Every time you chill a yeast dough, it's a good idea to let it sit out at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes before moving on with your recipe. Letting the dough warm up slightly makes shaping easier and allows it to bake more evenly.
How to Freeze Cinnamon Rolls:
When it comes to working with yeast dough, I always recommend baking your dough off before freezing it. I personally don't like to freeze living yeast just because I don't like to put it in a condition (super cold freezer) that may kill it. Yeast is really sensitive, and it's better for it to stay around 105°F. So ... whenever I freeze homemade cinnamon rolls, I always like to freeze baked rolls.
When freezing baked cinnamon rolls, I don't like to add the frosting because I don't find it reheats very well. My recommendation is to let your rolls cool completely (icing-free), then cover your baking sheet and freeze for about 2 hours. Once frozen, transfer the rolls to a freezer safe bag, press out as much air as possible, and seal. The baked rolls will keep frozen for up to 3 months.
When you want to enjoy frozen cinnamon rolls again, let them defrost for a few hours at room temperature or in your fridge overnight. Warm the defrosted cinnamon rolls in a preheated 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until warmed in the center. Top the rolls with frosting while they're still warm and enjoy!
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls Recipe:
Description: These cinnamon rolls are light and airy, with just the right amount of sweetness. While it looks like a lot of effort, this treat is actually quite easy to make.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 20-25 minutes
Inactive Time: 1h 30m
Yield: 12 cinnamon rolls
For the cinnamon roll dough:
- ½ cup lukewarm water (between 105°F and 110°F)
- 2 & ¼ teaspoons (1 package) instant or active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup lukewarm milk (between 105°F and 110°F)
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 3 to 3 & ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the cinnamon/sugar filling:
- ⅔ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 & ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 1 (227g) package of cream cheese, room temperature
- ⅔ cup powdered sugar, sifted
- ½ cup heavy cream
For the cinnamon roll yeast dough:
1. Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let the mix sit until it starts to get foamy and bubbly (about 5 to 10 minutes).
2. Add the warm milk and egg to the bowl. Whisk slightly just to break the egg up a bit.
3. Add about 2 cups of flour to the wet ingredients. Mix together until you get a rough dough start to form. Add another cup of flour along with the salt and butter. Mix until your dough starts to come together.
4. Using a mixer fitted with a dough attachment or your hands (on a floured work surface), knead the dough for about 6 to 8 minutes on medium speed or 10 minutes by hand. Your dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl.
If you notice that it's still sticky, knead in a bit more flour until you get a smooth and tacky dough.
5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel. Place the covered dough in a warm place and let it rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour). If your home is warm enough, you can just leave the dough on your counter to rise. Because it's winter, my home is quite cold. So I like to place my dough in my cool, turned off oven just to avoid having any cold breezes hit it.
For the cinnamon/sugar filling:
6. In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and butter until you get a thick paste. Set aside while you roll out your dough.
Shaping and filling the cinnamon rolls:
7. After the dough doubles in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Don't worry if your dough deflates at this point, it's going to rise again after we shape it.
8. Roll your dough out into a rectangle that's about 9x15 inches. If you find your dough sticking, dust it with a bit of flour before continuing.
9. Evenly spread the cinnamon/sugar paste onto the surface of your dough, leaving a small border around your dough (about ¼ inch). This is just to prevent the paste from squeezing out the sides when we shape the dough.
10. Starting from the long end, roll the dough up tightly into a tube.
11. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut your dough into 12 equal pieces.
12. Arrange the rolls with the swirl facing up into a greased or parchment lined, 9x13 inch baking dish.
13. Cover the shaped rolls and let them rise again in a warm place until about doubled in size (about 45 minutes).
Baking the rolls:
Preheat your oven to 375°F.
14. After the rolls have risen, bake them in the center of a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until they cook through and turn a golden brown color on top.
15. Remove the rolls from the oven and let them cool slightly while you work on the cream cheese frosting.
For the cream cheese frosting:
16. In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat your cream cheese and powdered sugar. Whip together until smooth.
17. Add heavy cream to the cream cheese mix. Mix everything together until incorporated and you're left with a smooth frosting. If you like a runnier frosting, add a splash more heavy cream to reach your desired consistency.
18. Spread the cream cheese frosting evenly over the warm cinnamon rolls.
Cinnamon rolls are best served warm and fresh.
I would love to hear any tips you’d like to add to this post and how your cinnamon rolls turned out in the comments below. Have any questions? Any ideas to improve this recipe? Feel free to comment for that as well. Happy making!
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