This recipe yields a pan of buttery soft, gooey cinnamon sweet, and extra fluffy homemade cinnamon rolls topped with tangy cream cheese icing. It’s been a reader favorite recipe for years and I love it so much that I turned this rich dough into apple cinnamon rolls, pecan sticky buns, and maple cinnamon rolls. You can make the cinnamon rolls within a few hours or get started the night before using the overnight preparation option.
This cinnamon rolls recipe has lived on the site since 2014. After making countless more batches in the past 7 years plus answering readers’ comments and questions, I thought it would be beneficial to update the post with more helpful information and success tips. Cinnamon rolls are a popular breakfast choice, so I want to make sure you have all the resources you need for this classic recipe.
Tell Me About These Cinnamon Rolls
- Texture: This is one of my richest homemade doughs, so you’re already promised a soft, springy, and fluffy texture. I usually use all-purpose flour in this dough, but if you use the optional bread flour, your rolls will be a little chewier.
- Flavor: The smell alone of warm cinnamon rolls is irresistible and inviting. Once you take that first bite, you’ll enjoy a fresh homemade dough that’s swirled with endless pockets of sweet and gooey cinnamon.
- Ease: Homemade dough and shaped breads require precision and effort. The dough is pretty straightforward and simple to shape, as long as you have enough flour nearby for your hands, work surface, and rolling pin.
- Time: This dough requires 1 long rise, then a slightly shorter 2nd rise. Once you understand the assembly process, the recipe moves pretty quickly. Set aside at least 4-5 hours from start to finish or divide between 2 days with the overnight option. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind most of that time is hands off as the dough rises.
Are You a Yeast Beginner? Use My Guide.
A lot of beginner bakers are nervous to bake with yeast. But think of it this way: yeast is simply another ingredient that goes into the dough.
7 Crucial Ingredients in the Cinnamon Rolls Dough
Feel free to skip right down to the recipe. But if you’re new to making homemade bread, the following notes and explanations are points that I’ve learned over the years and will be massively helpful.
- Use whole milk: Whole milk is ideal for the richest tasting cinnamon rolls. Buttermilk works just as well without any changes to the recipe. Many readers have successfully substituted nondairy milks. In a pinch, you can use 2% or 1% milk, but do not use nonfat milk.
- Sugar: You need 2/3 cup of white granulated sugar in the dough. Use 2 Tablespoons in step 1 below (the proofing step), then add the rest– about ½ cup– in step 2.
- Yeast: You can use active dry or instant yeast. Follow the directions exactly as written regardless of which you choose. You’ll still proof the yeast in warm milk with some sugar even if you use instant yeast. This step ensures that the yeast is active and not expired. Most yeast these days is already active, but it’s a quick 5-10 minute step that prevents you from wasting your time just in case the yeast has expired. If using active dry yeast, the rise times will be a little longer. For the past 10+ years, my go-to brand has been Red Star Yeast. I always recommend Platinum Yeast from Red Star.
- Butter: This is a rich dough, meaning it has fat to help guarantee softness. Use ½ cup of softened butter and to help it blend easier, cut it into 4 pieces before adding.
- Eggs: Like butter, eggs promise a softer, richer dough.
- Salt: Dough is bland without salt.
- Flour: Flour is the structure of the dough. You can use either all-purpose flour or bread flour. You’ll notice the rolls are a little chewier if you use bread flour. It’s not a huge difference, so don’t worry if you only have all-purpose flour. (That’s what I usually use!)
Note: You’ll notice that I use more yeast in this recipe compared to my easy cinnamon rolls. Why? These are much fluffier and larger– about twice the size.
Here’s what you’re looking for after you let the warm milk, some of the sugar, and yeast sit for about 5-10 minutes. The top will be a little foamy:
After the dough comes together, it will be a little soft and sticky– that’s normal. As explained in step 3 below, knead the dough on a floured counter or keep it in the mixer for kneading.
What If I Don’t Have a Stand Mixer? If you do not own a mixer, you can mix the dough together with a large wooden spoon/rubber spatula. It will take a bit of arm muscle. A hand mixer works, but the sticky dough repeatedly gets stuck in the beaters. Mixing by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula is a better choice.
Let the dough rise until doubled in size:
Punch the risen dough down and roll it out.
Baker’s Tip: If the dough keeps shrinking as you roll it out, stop what you’re doing, cover it lightly, and let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. When you return to the dough, it should stretch out much easier.
Spread softened butter on top, then sprinkle on a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (brown sugar or white granulated sugar).
Roll it up:
Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into 12 rolls, each about 1.5 inches. Arrange in your greased baking pan, cover, then let the rolls rise until doubled in size and puffy, usually about 1 hour. See the difference in the photo below? The left photo is before rising and the right photo is after rising:
Bake the rolls, then make the tangy cream cheese icing to smother on top. If cream cheese isn’t your favorite, you could top the rolls with vanilla icing, the brown sugar icing from these pumpkin donuts, maple icing from maple cinnamon rolls, or even the caramel icing from apple cinnamon rolls. Lots of options!
5 Success Tips
- Use brown sugar or granulated sugar in the filling: I used to use granulated sugar in the cinnamon sugar filling, but recently switched to brown sugar for extra flavor. Brown sugar doesn’t necessarily make the filling more moist– there’s so much butter, so it’s moist and gooey either way. Use whichever sugar you prefer.
- Best pan to use: I recommend a 9×13 inch glass or metal pan. Avoid ceramic pans if you can. If you must use ceramic, keep in mind that the rolls will likely take longer to bake through.
- Evenly baked cinnamon rolls: These are extra big and fluffy cinnamon rolls, so to help guarantee the centers AND tops cook evenly, tent a piece of aluminum foil over the rolls after about 15 minutes in the oven. This will protect the tops from browning too quickly before the centers can cook.
- Don’t have all morning to spend on this dough? Feel free to prep the dough the night before. This is a wonderful way to save time in the morning so you can wake up and eat sooner. See my make-ahead/overnight instructions in the written recipe below.
How to Freeze Cinnamon Rolls So They Still Taste Fresh
Let me share a tip I’ve learned after working with this dough for several years. You can prep the rolls and freeze them ahead of time so they still taste fresh.
- Here’s how: Bake the rolls in step 9 (below) for only about 10 minutes. Cool completely, then cover tightly and freeze. To serve, take the rolls out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Once thawed, finish baking them for about 15-20 minutes.
I often use this method when I gift cinnamon rolls to others– just copy/paste or write these freezing instructions down. This method is also helpful if you have company over, want to cut down on time, or are entertaining around the holidays.
This recipe yields a pan of buttery soft, gooey cinnamon sweet, and extra fluffy homemade cinnamon rolls topped with tangy cream cheese icing. You can make the cinnamon rolls within a few hours or get started the night before using the overnight preparation option.
- 1 cup (240ml) whole milk, warmed to about 100°F (38°C)
- 2/3 cup (135g) granulated sugar, divided
- 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons (14g) active dry or instant yeast (2 standard size packets)*
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into 4 pieces
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 and 1/2 cups (558g) all-purpose flour or bread flour (spoon & leveled), plus more as needed for hands/work surface
- 2 teaspoons canola, vegetable, or olive oil for bowl (or use nonstick spray)
- 6 Tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar OR granulated sugar (I use brown)
- 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
Cream Cheese Icing
- 2 ounces (about 1/4 cup or 56g) full-fat block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 and 1/4 cups (150g) confectioners’ sugar
- 3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream or milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Prepare the dough: Whisk the warm milk, 2 Tablespoons sugar, and the yeast together in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or paddle attachment. Cover and allow mixture to sit for about 5 minutes or until foamy on top. *If you do not own a mixer, you can do this in a large mixing bowl and in the next step, mix the dough together with a large wooden spoon/rubber spatula. It will take a bit of arm muscle. A hand mixer works, but the sticky dough repeatedly gets stuck in the beaters. Mixing by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula is a better choice.*
- On medium speed, beat in the remaining sugar (which should be about 1/2 cup) and the softened butter until it is slightly broken up. Add the eggs and salt and beat on medium speed until combined. The butter won’t really be mixing into the mixture, so don’t be alarmed if it stays in pieces. Switch the mixer down to low speed and with it running, add 1 cup of flour at a time, making sure it’s fully incorporated before adding the next. After 4 cups have been added, add the last 1/2 cup and beat until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 3 minutes.
- Knead the dough: Keep the dough in the mixer and beat on low speed for an additional 3 minutes or knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 3 minutes.
- 1st Rise: Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or use nonstick spray. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides in the oil. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise in a relatively warm environment for 2 hours or until double in size. (I always let it rise on the counter and it takes about 2 hours. For a tiny reduction in rise time, see my answer to Where Should Dough Rise? in my Baking with Yeast Guide.)
- Grease the bottom and sides of a metal or glass 9×13 inch baking dish or line with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough: Punch down the dough to release the air. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 12×18 inch rectangle. Make sure the dough is smooth and evenly thick. If the dough keeps shrinking as you roll it out, stop what you’re doing, cover it lightly, and let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. When you return to the dough, it should stretch out much easier.
- For the filling: Spread the softened butter all over the dough. The softer the butter is, the easier it is to spread in this step. (Microwave it for a few seconds to soften if needed.) In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Sprinkle evenly over the butter. Tightly roll up the dough to form an 18-inch-long log. If some filling spills out, sprinkle it on top of the roll. With an extra sharp knife, cut into 12 even rolls, about 1.5 inches each. Arrange in the prepared baking pan.
- 2nd Rise: Cover the rolls tightly and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Or use the overnight option below.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Bake for about 25-28 minutes or until they are lightly browned on top. After about 15 minutes, tent a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pan to prevent the tops from browning too quickly and baking unevenly. Remove pan from the oven and place pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes as you make the icing.
- Make the icing: In a medium bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 1 minute. Spread the icing over the warm rolls and serve immediately.
- Cover leftover frosted or unfrosted rolls tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead Instructions – Overnight: To prepare the night before serving, prepare the rolls through step 7. Cover the rolls tightly and refrigerate for 8-12 hours. (16 hours max. 8-12 hours is best, but 16 hours is OK if absolutely needed. Do not exceed 16 hours.) The next morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise on the counter for 1-2 hours before continuing with step 9.
- Make Ahead Instructions – Freezing: Baked rolls can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm up before enjoying. You can also freeze the unbaked rolls and here’s how: bake the rolls in step 9 for only about 10 minutes. Cool completely, then cover tightly and freeze. To serve, take the rolls out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Once thawed, finish baking them for about 15-20 minutes.
- Milk: We recommend using whole milk for the best, richest tasting dough. You could also use buttermilk. 2%, 1%, or nondairy milk works in a pinch. Do not use nonfat milk.
- Yeast: You can use active dry or instant yeast in this recipe. Follow all of the same instructions. If using active dry yeast, the rise times are usually slightly longer. Reference my Baking with Yeast Guide for answers to common yeast FAQs.
- Other Icing Options: Instead of cream cheese icing, you can top the warm rolls with vanilla icing, the brown sugar icing from these pumpkin donuts, maple icing from maple cinnamon rolls, or even the caramel icing from apple cinnamon rolls.
- Gluten Free: We have not tested this recipe with gluten free flour, so we are unsure of the results.