In the category Labor Of Love, perhaps there is no better poster child than Cinnamon Rolls.
Truly there is nothing quite so sublime as a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls. The warm, yeasted dough is punctuated with swirls of cinnamon sugar and butter, rolled and baked into charmingly imperfect orbs. While still warm from the oven, the entire pan is bathed in a luxurious sweet glaze that seeps into every nook and cranny. Each bite is a dream come true, and if these aren’t the best things you’ve ever tasted, I’m not sure what is.
In the spirit of full disclosure, making cinnamon rolls from scratch will require some time and attention from you. However, I would not categorize them as difficult. They are involved, perhaps unfamiliar (if you’ve never worked with dough), but they are quite forgiving. Every time I make these, I try to get the rolls to look uniform and perfect. It never works. They are misshaped, uneven, spilling their cinnamon-laden contents everywhere, and I begin to panic. However, as they rise and then as they bake, the imperfections become endearing and beautiful, transforming my mistakes into something utterly desirable.
I say all of this to encourage you to go for it. Make the dough. Get messy. Let them be imperfect, and see what happens. Also, drink in the metaphor of it all…imperfections become beautiful with time. So many life lessons in one baked good.
Two important notes. Number one, there is not a short way to compose a recipe for cinnamon rolls. It is, in fact, a novella. I encourage you to read the entire composition before beginning, and to consider that this many words comes with love in my heart to offer you guidance at every turn.
Speaking of guidance, I made a video for you that shows you exactly how to create cinnamon rolls from start to finish. For the low price at $10, you can glean the knowledge I have gained after rolling literally hundreds of pans of cinnamon rolls out by hand. I hope you will check out the learn-at-home lesson in my store, and I hope you will try your hand at homemade cinnamon rolls!
for the dough…
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon yeast
- 2 cups all-purpose flour for the first mix, plus 1/4 cup for the second mix
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
for the filling…
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
for the glaze…
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/2 pound confectioners sugar (which is about 2 cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium sauce pan, combine the milk, oil, and sugar. Gently heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until it registers at least 110 degrees, but no more than 115 degrees. The temperature range here is very important. If the mixture is not warm enough, it will not activate the yeast. If it is too warm, it will kill the yeast. Use a thermometer and pay close attention.
- Once the milk mixture has reached the ideal temperature, remove the pot from the heat and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Allow it to sit for 2 minutes. Ideally, you will see some foaming begin to form (as the yeast wakes up and begins to respirate), but don’t worry if you don’t see any. Carry on.
- Add 2 cups of flour to the yeasted milk mixture. Stir to combine. It will look lumpy and not very pretty. This is fine. Cover the pot with a dish towel and set aside in a relatively warm place in your kitchen. If it is the dead of winter, you can turn your oven on to 200 degrees for a few minutes, then turn it off and place the dough in the oven with the residual heat. Allow the dough to rise for one hour. During this time, it should roughly double in size.
- In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and Kosher salt. Once the dough has risen for one hour, stir this flour mixture into the dough. Use a strong wooden spoon and mix it in as best you can. The dough will look shaggy. The reason we wait to add the salt is because salt inhibits the growth of yeast, so we want to make sure the dough gets going before adding the salt and other leavening agents.
- Cover and chill the dough for at least four hours, but ideally overnight. Make sure there is room in your pot (or bowl) for the dough to expand. It will continue to rise slightly while in the fridge. Cold air slows down the pace at which yeast grows, but it still will continue to rise somewhat while refrigerated.
- In preparation for rolling out the cinnamon rolls, combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon and get your melted butter ready. Make sure you have everything ready (including your baking dish) before you being rolling. Prepare the space by lightly dusting your counter top or large cutting board with flour.
- Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place it in the middle of your work space. Gently begin rolling it out, working it into the shape of a long rectangle. Keep moving and rolling, aiming for roughly a 21” X 11” rectangle with the long edge nearest to you. The first time you make these, it might be helpful to actually measure the dough so you have an idea what you are going for. But once you get the idea, you can eyeball it.
- Brush the dough with the melted butter, making sure it completely covers the dough. Sprinkle the butter with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Use your hand to evenly distribute the cinnamon sugar over the surface area of the dough, brushing it to the edge of the dough.
- Beginning at the side nearest you, tightly roll the dough. It will be squishy and uneven, and cinnamon sugar might spill out everywhere. This is all okay. Keep going. As best as you can, pinch together the seam once you finish rolling. Don’t worry if you make a huge mess. The more oozing butter the better. I have made versions of this recipe where the roll was atrocious…but they still worked and tasted heavenly. The more you make these, the better you will get at rolling them.
- Cut the dough evenly into 9 rolls. I like to do this by dividing the roll into thirds, and then each third into three pieces. Place each cinnamon roll into a square baking dish.
If you want to bake them on the same day you rolled them out…
- Allow the rolls to rise, uncovered, at room temp for 45 minutes. They should fatten up a bit and smush together. Once they have risen, proceed to the baking instructions.
If you want to bake them on the next day…
- Cover the rolls and refrigerate them overnight. In the morning, remove the rolls from the fridge and allow to rise for one hour at room temp. They should fatten up a bit and begin to smush together. You may see some liquid in the bottom of the pan. This is normal. The sugar tends to liquify as it sits, but it does not have an adverse effect on the finished product. Once they have risen for an hour, proceed to the baking instructions.
- Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. While the oven preheats, place all of the glaze ingredients in a small sauce pan so they are waiting for you.
- Bake the cinnamon rolls for 12-15 minutes, or until they are lightly brown on top and show no signs of raw dough when you peek in between the rolls.
- While the rolls bake, heat the glaze ingredients over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is completely incorporated. I like to use a whisk to vigorously mix it until the lumps all disappear. Once the glaze is melted and combined, turn off the heat. You do not want this mixture to boil or simmer, but you do want it to stay warm.
- When the rolls come out of the oven, drench them in the glaze. The glaze should melt into all the cracks and crevices of the hot rolls. Serve the rolls immediately or allow them to fully cool before covering them and saving for later.
- Fully baked cinnamon rolls can be frozen. Make sure they are covered well. To thaw, set them on your counter at room temperature for several hours (or, ideally, overnight).
- You can also freeze the dough after it rises but before you roll it out. Store it in a gallon zip bag with all of the air squeezed out. When ready to make your rolls, remove the dough from the freezer and allow it to thaw on the counter until pliable. This won’t take as long as you might think. An hour will probably get you there.