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What Is a Cinnamon Roll?
A cinnamon roll is a sweet rolled pastry made with a yeasted dough, gooey cinnamon-sugar filling, and topped with cream-cheese icing. In Denmark, cinnamon buns are known as Kanelsnegl, or "cinnamon snails," that have the same spiral shape but typically lack the cream-cheese icing.
5 Tips for Making the Best Cinnamon Rolls
- Prep the dough the night before: Since most of us don’t want to wake up before sunrise to make cinnamon rolls, it’s best to make the dough the day before and let the cinnamon rolls proof in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake.
- Proof the dough: Proofing is a step in bread and viennoiserie baking that activates the yeast in the dough. What’s most important in the proofing step is to make sure the dough is neither overproofed (where it’s proofed up so much that it eventually collapses, causing the layers to separate and the butter to leak) or underproofed (which will result in a tight crumb and you won’t get those fluffy, flaky layers).
- Think about thickness. If you like more filling to dough ratio, roll dough closer to 1/4-inch thick and roll the pastry up tightly. If you’re a fan of doughy texture, roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thick and form looser rolls when shaping.
- Roll your spiral tight. Whether you want lots of rolls or just a few, keep your spiral tight while you work so the cinnamon rolls keep their shape while they bake. Form C-shapes with both of your hands, with your thumbs pressing at the base edge of the dough, keeping the roll tight as you work. Continue pushing the dough up with your thumbs to roll it into a spiral.
- Use a serrated knife: A serrated knife is best to cut through the delicate layers of the roll. Dental floss or thin twine can also be used for clean cuts.
Can You Freeze Unbaked Cinnamon Rolls?
Just as you can refrigerate unbaked cinnamon rolls ahead of time, you can freeze them as well. Simply assemble them in the greased pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze. When you’re ready to bake, remove them from the freezer, and allow them to thaw to room temperature (this can take a couple hours), then bake as the recipe instructs.
8 Cinnamon Roll Variations
- Swedish Kanelbullen: Swedish kanelbulle dough typically contains cardamom spice, giving it a distinctive flavor.
- Salted Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls: Fold chopped green apples and rich caramel sauce into the filling. Sprinkle flaky sea salt over the top to balance out the sweetness.
- Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls: Pack melted chocolate, salty pistachios, and fragrant orange zest into cinnamon roll dough for an elevated flavor combination.
- Cake Batter Cinnamon Rolls: Swap out the cinnamon for a white sugar and vanilla filling, then top with funfetti frosting.
- Raspberry Swirl Sweet Rolls: Bright pink and colorful, filled with juicy fresh raspberries that bake into a jam-like finish.
- Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls: Get in the holiday spirit with gingerbread-inspired rolls filled with chopped candied ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and extra cinnamon.
- Banana Cinnamon Rolls: Incorporate roasted, caramelized, or flambéed bananas and nuts such as pecans or walnuts into the filling.
- S’mores Rolls: A classic twist on the campfire favorite with mini marshmallows, chopped chocolate, and graham cracker crumbs folded into the roll instead of the cinnamon-sugar filling. Add more marshmallows on top and broiled before serving.
8 Cinnamon Roll Icing Ideas
Cinnamon rolls are finished with a smooth and soft cream cheese frosting, but you can also try these variations on that classic.
- Orange Icing: For a zingy finish to your rolls, add 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice and 1 tablespoons orange zest to the frosting.
- Eggnog Icing: Spread some holiday cheer onto your rolls, add 6 tablespoons eggnog, and additional confectioners sugar to the frosting until thickened.
- Chai-Spiced Icing: Add chai spices to your frosting with ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom to the glaze. For those that want an extra kick, add a big pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
- Maple Icing: For a nutty maple glaze, add 2 teaspoon maple syrup and 1/4 teaspoon maple extract.
- Chocolate Icing: For a decadent chocolate frosting, add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder.
- Lemon Icing: For a bright, tart finish to your rolls, add the zest and juice from 1 lemon to the frosting.
- Coffee Icing: For a morning eye opener, add a pinch or two of espresso powder to the frosting.
- Matcha Icing: Add 1 tablespoon of matcha powder to the frosting.
Classic Cinnamon Rolls Recipe
Prep Time2 hr 30 min
Total Time2 hr 55 min
To make overnight cinnamon rolls: Assemble rolls as directed, place in a greased baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap. Store overnight in the refrigerator and bring the rolls to room temperature before baking, leaving them on the counter for 30 minutes before placing in the oven.
For the Dough:
- 1 package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm milk (110°F to 115 °F)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup unsalted butter melted, divided
- For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm whole milk. Let sit until it becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.
- In the large bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine sugar, butter, eggs, salt, yeast mixture, and flour; start on low speed and raise to medium speed, kneading until smooth, 15 minutes. Transfer kneaded dough to a large greased bowl. Cover and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
- In a small bowl mix together brown sugar and cinnamon. Punch down dough and divide into two pieces. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll one piece into an 11 by 8-inch rectangle. Brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle all over with half the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll the long side of the dough inward as tightly as you'd like, starting with a long side and pinch the seam to seal. Cut into 8 slices; place in a greased 13 by 9-inch baking dish, cut side down. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let rise in a warm place, proofing dough until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF and bake rolls until golden brown and cooked through, 30 minutes. Let cool and serve warm.
- For the cream cheese frosting: beat together the butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Spread over the tops of rolls while they are still warm.
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