Is there anything more appetizing than the smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven? There’s something magical about the combination of cinnamon, sugar, butter, and yeasty dough baking together. The best part is, cinnamon rolls actually taste as good as they smell! This recipe for easy-to-make cinnamon rolls is a total winner. It delivers a cinnamon roll that is soft, tender, swirling with buttery cinnamon and brown sugar, and topped with a classic cream cheese icing.
Cinnamon rolls are a perfect treat for breakfast or brunch, and they transport well so they’re ideal to bring to a potluck or gathering. Everyone loves a cinnamon roll!
Components of a great cinnamon roll
All the best cinnamon rolls share these common traits:
- Soft dough. For me, a cinnamon roll has to be soft and tender. When I was a kid, I loved it when cinnamon rolls were actually a bit doughy inside. Nowadays I prefer them fully cooked, but that dough should still be soft and squishy. To achieve that, you need to start with an enriched dough, and be sure not to over bake the cinnamon rolls!
- The right amount of buttery cinnamon filling—with just the right amount of cinnamon.
- Cream cheese icing. I am a huge fan of cream cheese icing, and I sorta wish there were more opportunities in life to eat it. I mean… how often do you eat cinnamon rolls or carrot cake? (Probably not often enough!)
How to make cinnamon rolls
We’ve established that a great cinnamon roll has three main components:
- The dough
- The filling
- The icing
Let’s break these down so you can see just how easy it can be to make the best cinnamon rolls at home. Scroll down to the recipe card to get the full step-by-step process.
Making the dough
The standard dough used for cinnamon rolls is an enriched yeast dough recipe. These cinnamon rolls are made with the same dough recipe I use for dinner rolls and burger buns. It is slightly sweet, with a bit of milk and just the right amount of butter.
Making the filling
Many cinnamon roll recipes instruct you to spread the butter over the dough, then sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon over the butter. I prefer mixing these ingredients into a paste first, so I know for sure that every cinnamon roll has the right amount of everything. This cinnamon roll filling only takes a few seconds to whip together. It’s just a matter of mixing soft butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. I like to use a spatula to mash everything together. Here’s what it looks like when it’s spread over the dough. 👇
Making the icing
Cream cheese icing is a cinch to make. Just mix butter and cream cheese in a bowl, and add sifted icing sugar (AKA confectioner’s sugar) and beat it together. I like to use a spatula to mix the icing sugar in, so I can sort of mash it with the butter and cream cheese against the sides of the bowl until smooth. Add in a pinch of salt to balance out all that sweetness, and a splash of vanilla for depth of flavor. I forgot to take a photo of the icing, so here’s what it looks like once its dolloped onto the rolls. 👇
Bringing these easy to make cinnamon rolls together
Once the components are ready, it’s time to assemble the cinnamon rolls. You just need to roll out the proofed dough into a big rectangle, then spread the room-temperature filling over the rectangle. Roll the whole thing into a tight log, slice, proof again, and bake.
How to slice cinnamon rolls
Instead of using a knife to slice your cinnamon rolls, which would squish the dough, get yourself a length of dental floss or fine string. To slice your rolls, slide the string underneath the cinnamon roll log, then bring the ends of the string up and around the log, cross them over each other and pull. The string cuts cleanly through the dough so the slices retain their nice round shape.
I learned this trick when we made cinnamon rolls in high school cooking class, and I still use it today!
*Remember to wait until the cinnamon rolls have cooled (almost completely) before topping them with the cream cheese icing. Otherwise the icing will melt and make a big mess.
Cinnamon roll variations
I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to cinnamon rolls, but there is no reason why you can’t jazz these up with some additional bits and pieces. Just distribute the add-ins on top of the filling layer before rolling your log. A few ideas to try:
- Raisins: You either love ‘em or hate ‘em! (I happen to love them and wouldn’t say no to a cinnamon raisin roll!
- Dates: Dates are a delicious addition to baked goods. They’re super sweet and sticky, and they would be delightful in these cinnamon rolls.
- Dried cranberries or cherries: These would be especially good for a holiday brunch gathering. Plus, they’d add some nice tangy sweetness to the cinnamon rolls.
- Nuts: Pecans or walnuts would be nice in these cinnamon rolls for some extra crunch.
How to store cinnamon rolls
To store cinnamon rolls, make sure they have completely cooled down. Once cooled, you can store them in an airtight container for up to 2 days. If you want to store them for a longer period, you can refrigerate them for up to a week. To reheat, you can warm them up in the oven or microwave before serving.
*If you are planning to reheat your leftovers, keep the icing separate so you can smear it on after you have reheated your cinnamon rolls, otherwise you’ll have a messy melted icing scenario. (Not the end of the world, but definitely messy! 😅)
Cinnamon roll success tips
- Be careful not to over-bake the cinnamon rolls, or they will be hard and dry instead of soft and squishy.
- Use dental floss or a thin string instead of a knife to cut the cinnamon rolls, to help them keep their shape. (Weird, but it works!)
- Mix the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon together to make the filling. A lot of recipes instruct you to spread the butter onto the dough, then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar on top, but I find that mixing these ingredients together ahead of time ensures that every cinnamon roll gets the same amount of everything.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I make the dough ahead of time and bake the cinnamon rolls later? Yes, you can prepare the dough ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, take the dough out, let it come to room temperature, and proceed with rolling, filling, and baking.
- Can I freeze cinnamon rolls? Sure thing! Once baked and cooled (but not iced), seal the cinnamon rolls in a freezer bag and freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw them at room temperature or reheat them in the oven before icing and serving.
- Can I make the cream cheese icing in advance? Yes, you can make the cream cheese icing ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to use, let it come to room temperature and give it a good stir before spreading it on the cinnamon rolls.
- Can I substitute the cream cheese icing with a different glaze? Yep! If you prefer a different type of glaze, like a vanilla, orange, or apricot glaze, you can easily swap it out for the cream cheese icing. Or, ditch the icing altogether if you prefer!
- Can I make smaller or bigger cinnamon rolls? Yes, you can adjust the size of the cinnamon rolls to suit your needs. For smaller rolls, roll the dough into a longer rectangle so you can easily cut it into more rolls (for 12 rolls, aim for an 18” log). You might need to shorten the baking time slightly. For larger rolls, cut the dough log into six pieces instead of eight pieces, and extend the baking time as needed.
Try one of these baking recipes next:
- Quick & Easy Dinner Rolls
- Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
- The Ultimate Fresh Fruit Cake
- Rosemary Olive Oil Biscuits
Easy-To-Make Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 bowl or stand mixer
- 1 baking tin or dish 9"x13" or slightly smaller
- 1 fine string or dental floss for slicing the rolls
- 1 Rolling Pin
- 1 spatula
- 1 digital scale optional
For the dough
- 150 ml milk nut, dairy, soy
- 2 tbsp sugar or honey
- 2 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
- 1 egg
- 50 g butter soft
- 1 tsp salt
- 325 g flour all-purpose
For the filling
- 80 g dark brown sugar
- 80 g butter soft
- 1.5 tbsp cinnamon
For the cream cheese icing
- 30 g butter soft
- 60 g cream cheese soft (room temperature)
- 125 g icing sugar AKA confectioner's sugar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- pinch salt
To make the dough
- Warm the milk in a small measuring jug in the microwave for 30-45 seconds, then add the yeast, sugar, and egg, and whisk to combine.
- Pour the milky yeast mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and salt, and mix using the dough hook attachment until it forms a dough. You can also do this by hand.
- Once the dough is formed, knead the dough until smooth. In a stand mixer, this usually takes 3-4 minutes. by hand, it might be more like 5-8.
- Place the kneaded dough on the counter and cover it with the upside-down bowl. Allow the dough to rise for 30-60 minutes. Or, for better flavor, place it in a bowl, cover it tightly, and proof it overnight in the fridge.
To make the cinnamon roll filling
- Combine the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl, and using a rubber spatula, mix/mash until smooth.
To shape the cinnamon rolls
- Turn the proofed dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Fold it over itself a few times to release any big air bubbles, then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a large rectangle about 11" by 14".
- With the long side facing you, spread the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, avoiding the inch of dough that is farthest away from you. This will make it easier to seal the roll to keep it nice and tight.
- Roll the dough away from you as tightly as you can. You will end up with a 14" log.
- Cut the dough evenly into 8 pieces. I like to use a piece of dental floss for this, to avoid squishing the dough. Just slide the dental floss under the log, and cross it over the top to cut the rolls. To make sure all the rolls are of equal size, start by cutting the entire log in half, then cut the halves in half, then the quarters in half.
- Place the rolls spiral-side up in a greased baking dish. I'm using a 9×13, but a slightly smaller dish would give you softer sides, as the cinnamon rolls would squish together more when they rise & bake.
- Cover with plastic, and allow the rolls to rise for 45-60 minutes or until nicely puffed.
- Preheat the oven to 350F, then bake the cinnamon rolls on the middle rack for 25 minutes. They should be lightly golden, but not too dark.
To make the cream cheese icing
- Combine the butter and cream cheese In a medium-sized bowl. Sift in the icing sugar, and beat together with a spatula until smooth.
- Add the salt and vanilla, and mix to combine.
- Allow the cinnamon rolls to cool completely before topping them with cream cheese icing.