You may be wondering why I am sharing a cinnamon roll recipe right before the week of Thanksgiving. I should be sharing my favorite pie or telling you about this roll recipe that is perfect for your turkey leftovers. But instead, I am waxing poetic about our family favorite cinnamon rolls. The best cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls that I have been making and perfecting for many, many years. These rolls are tender, fluffy and filled with an ooey gooey cinnamon mixture then topped with a delicious “light on the cream cheese” frosting that is absolutely amazing. These cinnamon rolls are our family favorite and I have been sharing them with family and extended family every year over our Thanksgiving holiday.
My extended family has been going to the coast of Oregon for Thanksgiving every year for the past 50 plus years. We enjoy pot-luck style feasting for many days, lots of family time, long walks on the beach and I especially love making new and favorite recipes fit for a crowd. These cinnamon rolls are a part of our family Thanksgiving week every year. I sometimes make these rolls twice during the week…we love them so much. The dough is substantial, yet soft. The middles are gooey but baked through. The icing takes these rolls to a whole new level of glorious cinnamon rolls. Basically, our whole family loves these cinnamon rolls.
Because of Covid this year, Thanksgiving looks a little different and my little family isn’t going to the Oregon Coast. It’s been a tough year for so many and I’ll be honest and say, writing out this cinnamon roll recipe has been hard but good if that makes sense. It’s hard to know we won’t be there to carry on this tradition this year but also good because I love looking back on the many memories I have of cinnamon rolls shared and consumed for so many years.
Enough of the walk down memory lane…Let’s get to the details. Here are some of my pro tips for my family’s favorite cinnamon rolls.
This dough is a dream to work with. I like to use a stand mixer (affiliate link…but check your local Costco for a good deal if you’re looking for one) or Bosch mixer but you could also make this dough kneading by hand. Just knead for about 10 minutes…until your arms are screaming at you to be done. All the butter and eggs in the dough enrich it, which can make it take longer for this dough to rise. To help combat this issue, I use instant yeast in the dough. This is my favorite yeast (affiliate link). It doesn’t need to be proofed and it helps an enriched dough rise a little more quickly.
Filling Cinnamon Rolls: Cinnamon-Sugar Paste
Throughout the many years of making this recipe, I’ve learned a few tips that have upped my cinnamon roll game. Many cinnamon roll recipes will have you spread butter over the dough and then add the cinnamon sugar mixture on top. Instead, I like to mix together softened or melted butter in a bowl and mix cinnamon, brown sugar and a little bit of flour into the butter. Then I spread the cinnamon-sugar paste over the roll dough. I think this gives a more even flavor and that little extra flour helps keeps the rolls from gaping open when baked. If you want to add nuts or raisins into your rolls, you can add them right on top of the cinnamon-sugar paste and roll them right up. I sometimes top some of the cinnamon rolls with toasted pecans. Yum!
Shaping Our Family Favorite Cinnamon Rolls
This recipe makes 12 large cinnamon rolls. I roll out my dough on the counter, spread on the filling and then roll up, pinching the seam together. To cut out the cinnamon rolls, you can use a sharp knife, bench cutter or even dental floss. If you have any wispy cinnamon roll ends, go ahead and tuck them under the roll so they don’t come loose during the bake. I also prefer baking these rolls six or eight to a pan because they rise a lot on the pan and in the oven while baking. I do know that’s not always possible or ideal (especially when I’m doubling this recipe to feed a crowd), so you can cram 12 to a pan if you want, though they may not rise quite as much.
Add A Little Heavy Cream
One other tip that ups the ooey, gooey factor in a cinnamon roll is the addition of warmed heavy cream. I like to take ¼ cup of lightly warmed heavy cream and pour it over the tops of the cinnamon rolls right before baking. You want the cream a little bit warm so it doesn’t impede the rise of the rolls. This little addition keeps the rolls extra tender and gooey, while still being baked through.
Baking the Cinnamon Rolls
A word of caution on baking the rolls. Ovens all bake differently. Some ovens bake hotter in the back and cooler in the front. If you want an even bake on your rolls, rotate your pan 180 degrees after the first ten minutes of baking. This will keep half of your rolls from getting too dark and the other half being too light. Check the center of one of the cinnamon rolls once the pan is baked to make sure that the middle isn’t raw. Sometimes you need to let them go a minute or two longer just so they are completely baked through.
The Best Cinnamon Roll Frosting
The frosting on these rolls is amazing. There’s no other way to describe it. I’m not a huge fan of overly “cream cheesey” tasting frosting, and the ratios on this icing are just perfection. More butter than cream cheese, all whipped together take these rolls to an ethereal level. I also highly recommend adding in the maple flavoring that really give a unique flavor to the entire cinnamon roll. It is just divine! Whip the frosting until it is thick and creamy. Let the cinnamon rolls cool about 5 minutes before spreading a large dollop on each roll.
How to Make Cinnamon Rolls Ahead of Time: A Few Options
- Mix up the dough, fillings and frosting the night before. Stick the dough in the fridge for the first rise and let it rise overnight. The next morning, shape the cinnamon rolls, let rise and bake. This would probably be my first choice if I wanted the freshest cinnamon rolls for a special morning breakfast.
- Make and shape the cinnamon rolls. Place them on a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge. Pull the rolls out the morning of and let them come to room temperature and puff up a bit before baking and frosting. You may have a little bit of leakage from the cinnamon sugar mixture, but they should bake up well and taste delicious.
- Make the cinnamon rolls completely without adding the icing on top. Freeze them in ziplock bags. Warm them up and add icing on top when serving.
- Make the dough and increase the amount of yeast to 1.5 Tablespoons of yeast. Shape the cinnamon rolls and freeze them immediately. When ready to use, pull them out of the freezer, let them warm up to room temperature and puff up a bit and bake. The freezer can kill off a small amount of yeast in un-baked dough, so you add more to counterbalance this.
Have I convinced you yet? You need these cinnamon rolls in your life. And your family does too. I usually double this recipe to feed a large crowd at our Thanksgiving celebrations. This year I wasn’t planning to make these cinnamon rolls but my kids looked at me with those sad eyes of “too much has been cancelled in the name of COVID” and this mama has a hard time saying no right now, so I made them. And guess what? I am grateful I did. For the memories. For the traditions. For the look on their faces. And for the amazing gooey deliciousness that is sitting in my kitchen right now. I hope you love them too! Enjoy!
Looking For More Delicious Breakfast Recipes?
Family Favorite Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Roll Dough
- 2 cups milk warmed (2% or whole milk works best)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon instant yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 5 1/2 – 6 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Cinnamon Roll Filling
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter very soft or melted
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
Cinnamon Roll Frosting
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
- 2 oz cream cheese softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half and half can also substitute milk in a pinch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
- a pinch of salt
Cinnamon Roll Dough
- Warm the milk in the microwave (about 1 1/2 minutes full power) or on the stove. To the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, add the warmed milk and melted butter. Feel the mixture with your finger (make sure you feel in the center of the milk/butter mixture) and make sure it is not too hot. You want the temperature to feel like a baby's bathwater. If it is too hot, let it cool a bit before proceeding.
- Add the sugar and instant yeast to the milk/butter mixture. Stir. Look for the yeasty smell that tells you the yeast is activating (should happen within 10-20 seconds) and then proceed with the recipe.
- Add the eggs, salt and a cup of flour. Turn on the dough hook on in your stand mixer and continue adding the flour a cup at a time until you have added 5 cups of flour. Knead for 1 minute until all the flour is fully incorporated. Check the dough by rolling it into a ball in your fingers to see if you need more flour. If the dough is too sticky to roll into a ball, continue adding flour 1/4 cup at a time, kneading for 1 minute after each addition. This process will make sure you don't over-flour the dough. Once you can pinch off a piece of dough and roll it into a ball with just a little sticky residue on your fingers, you can stop adding flour. Knead for a total of 5-7 minutes.
- Lightly oil (or spray with cooking spray) a large container and dump the dough in the container. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise. I like to turn my oven into a "proofing box" with the oven light turned on. This is a nice warm spot for my dough to rise and speeds ups the process a bit. Make sure the oven is NOT turned on during this process.
- While the dough rises, make the cinnamon filling.
- To a small bowl, add the softened or melted butter. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and flour. Mix together until fully combined and set aside.
Cinnamon Roll Frosting
- While the dough rises, whip together the butter and cream cheese until fully mixed and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract, maple extract and salt. Whip together using a mixer until light and fluffy. Set aside.
Assembling the Cinnamon Rolls
- Prepare two half sheet pans (18 by 13 inches) and cover with parchment paper.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, move it from the bowl to a clean space on the counter. The dough will be soft and not overly sticky. Pat the dough out into an approximate 18 by 12 rectangle.
- Spread the cinnamon filling all over the dough with your fingers, making sure to cover up to the edges of the cinnamon roll.
- Starting with the dough closest to you, roll up the cinnamon roll and pinch together the seam. Flip the cinnamon roll over, seam side down.
- Cut the long log of cinnamon roll dough into 12 equal pieces.
- Place the cinnamon rolls on the parchment paper, six or eight to a pan, leaving plenty of space to rise. Full disclosure, I often cram twelve to one pan, but I think they bake up better and have a better rise if they are placed six or eight to a pan.
- Cover the rolls again and let rise for thirty minutes to an hour (depending on how warm your kitchen is).
Bake and Enjoy
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Once the rolls have puffed up and almost doubled in size, they are ready for the oven. If you want an extra gooey cinnamon roll, warm up some heavy cream and drizzle it over the top of the cinnamon roll before sticking in the oven. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 10 minutes. Then rotate the pan and bake for another 8-10 minutes until just starting to brown.
- Check the middle of one of the cinnamon rolls by using a butter knife to pry up a bit of the roll and make sure it is baked to your liking (the center will tell you if it needs more time or is perfectly baked).
- Let the rolls cool for 5 minutes before covering with frosting.
- Freeze any extra frosted cinnamon rolls in a ziplock bag. To re-heat, place on a plate and warm in the microwave for 30 seconds (time will vary depending on microwave) and enjoy!