I don’t know about you guys, but one of my favorite thing mall foods when I was a kid was cinnamon rolls–specifically cinnamon rolls from Cinnabon. Those giant fluffy pillows of bread smothered in thick, decadent cream cheese frosting made for a delicious treat to share with a friend (because we all know from Louis C.K.’s experiences what kind of suffering you’d endure if you tried to eat one by yourself).
As an adult (kinda) now, I still love cinnamon rolls. I love making things by myself though, so I’ve tried my hand a couple times at the art of crafting cinnamon rolls at home. After trying a couple recipes over the years, my favorite recipe for cinnamon rolls comes from Paula Deen. I know what you’re thinking. Paula Deen, the lady that pretty much eats sticks of butter for a snack? Yes. She might’ve been a little butter crazy, but she makes some dang good cinnamon rolls. I follow this recipe pretty closely since it’s really good, but I have made some modifications that I think make the cinnamon rolls easier to make and slightly tastier in the end. Also, I know. This isn’t my typical just for one recipe, but it’s one of my favorites. And really, these cinnamon rolls are good enough to eat the tray by yourself if you don’t want to share with friends…
I must warn you–this recipe is not for those that want to make something quick. Cinnamon rolls take a lot of time. I have some tips on how to shorten your overall cook time, but even with that, it takes at least 3 hours to make these babies. With my friends and family, that’s actually a test of my love. I’m generally not an outwardly emotional person, so if I’ve ever made cinnamon rolls for you, that’s a silent (and tasty) declaration of my fondness for you because I spent hours kneading dough, waiting for the dough to rise, rolling out the dough, waiting for the dough to rise a second time, baking, cooling, and frosting. I mean, over 3 hours–gotta make sure the baked goods don’t fall into the hands of evil, right?
Not feeling like reading through my long explanation? Jump to the recipe here!
Notes for this recipe: Make sure you knead that dough at least 5-10 minutes! Why the need to knead? Kneading helps activate the gluten in the dough. Gluten is what makes your dough nice and elastic/stretchy. When you add yeast to the mixture, the yeast will be releasing air. Because gluten makes the dough stretchy, the air will be trapped inside the dough in little air pockets. This is what makes your cinnamon rolls (and all other kinds of bread) nice and fluffy! All those pockets created by the trapped air keeps your pastry nice and light instead of just a dense block of flour and water.
Speaking of trapping air, note that there are two rises in this recipe: the first rise of the dough, then the second rise after you’ve cut the cinnamon rolls and set them into the pan. I know some bread baking purists might scold me for this, but I swear it works! When I make this recipe, I do a “quicker” rise by putting my dough in a warm environment to speed up the process of the rise. I do this by heating the oven to 200F for about 1 minute so it’s barely warmer than room temperature. Then I stick the dough in the oven for 45 minutes instead of the suggested 1 to 1.5 hours. It’s cheating a bit, but the last few times I’ve done this, the dough integrity hadn’t been compromised–everyone said the rolls were nice and fluffy!
In Paula Deen’s recipe, she wants to spread the melted butter onto the dough, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on afterwards. Personally, I find it much easier to get an even distribution of filling by mixing the melted butter and cinnamon sugar together THEN spreading that mix on top of the dough.
I also think her rolls are way too big, so they feel a little dry to me if I bake them that large. I think that’s mainly because the outside overbakes by the time the middle of the roll is cooked. Thus, I made the decision the last time I made these and cut the dough in half so I could make smaller rolls. This worked out much much better than when I make them with the original 9×15″ rectangle that Paula wants you to roll out.
Lastly, and this is important–make sure you don’t have yeast that’s too old. Because this recipe takes so much time already, make sure your yeast isn’t expired. A little bit over the date is fine (especially if you keep it refrigerated or frozen), but be careful with using yeast that’s months old. It’s not so much that you’ll get a tummy ache; it’s more that your dough won’t very well (or AT ALL!) and it’ll just be a waste of your time. This has happened to me before, and it’s devastating to pull out a dough you’ve been proofing to see that it hasn’t risen. You think I’m joking, but I’ve legitimately wanted to cry the few times this has happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you! Use good yeast! If you’re unsure about your yeast, I found this guide to be very useful. You’ll also know your yeast is working properly if you smell the bread-y smell as you wait for the dough to rise!
All right! Recipe time 🙂
- 1/4oz yeast (1 packet)
- 1/2 cup of warm water
- 1/2 cup scalded milk
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 medium egg
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- Dissolve yeast in warm water. Make sure the water is WARM, not hot! You should be able to stick your finger in the water.
- Mix milk, sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg together until combined.
- Then add 3 cups of flour and mix until smooth. I like mixing at this point with a whisk.
- Mix in your yeast mixture.
- Switch to a mixing spoon and add in the rest of your flour, a little bit at a time. Continue to add flour until you get a workable consistency. Basically, whenever you get a ball of dough. I start mixing by hand once the dough starts having shape. Add in flour as needed but not too much! You want the dough to be able to touch the dough (poke it and it shouldn’t be too sticky).
- Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. You can’t really overknead the dough by hand, so work those arm muscles!
- Place your dough ball into a greased bowl and cover to rise until it doubles in size (around 1-1.5 hours). For a slightly quicker size, turn your oven to 200F for about 1 minute, then turn off. You should be able to stick your hand into the oven and just feel that it’s slightly warm (make sure it’s not hot!). Then stick in your bowl of dough and let that rise for 40-45 minutes.
- Punch down your dough. Yes, literally punch it.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and roll it out into about a 15″ by 9″ rectangle. A little bigger is fine. Cut the dough in halfway, lengthwise.
- Mix together melted butter with cinnamon and sugar. Spread onto the dough pieces evenly, leaving about a 1″ margin of dough on each piece uncovered. This will prevent the rolls from oozing out the filling too much once you roll it later.
- Roll up the dough from the longside. Cut out into portions (I like about 1.5″ slices) and place them into your greased 13×9 cake pan. I use soft butter to grease my pan. Adjust the shape of your rolls as necessary (so they look nice and round and pretty!). Make sure you leave about 1/4″ of space between the rolls because…
- …you’re going to let them rise for about 30 minutes in your oven (remember, warm, not hot!). The oven should be still warm-ish from the first time you warmed it, so don’t warm it again.
- Take the rolls out and set aside for a sec. Heat your oven to 350F.
- Bake your rolls at 350F for 25-30 minutes (until golden brown). Make sure to watch them because you don’t want them to overbake!
- For the cream cheese frosting, whip together the butter and cream cheese first. Make sure the cream cheese is at room temp or you will have lumpy frosting!
- Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time until fully combined. Add a splash of milk if you want to thin out the frosting a bit.
- Add the frosting to slightly cooled cinnamon rolls, then get ready to eat!
Did you make the rolls and want to let me know what you think? Do you have a fond memory of a favorite childhood snack? Let me know below in the comments!