Yes, that’s a period in the title- as in The Best Cinnamon Rolls, period. I could’ve also said: Ever. In The World. In The Universe. Or You’ve Ever Eaten.
And I wouldn’t be exaggerating, tooting my own horn, or overstating it at.all. Oh, I know there are hundreds of recipes out there – some even with “best” in the title, too. But I’m going to lay it on the line – they might be good, but these are better than any others I’ve tried (and the recipe by a huge blogger that gets written up all over the internet as the best? All I’ve got to say is baking powder and soda have no place in a yeast dough – ever. Unless you want cinnamon biscuits, that is…).
How can I be so sure? Fifteen years of testimonials from family and friends. These are a special labor of love that I make only 3-4 times a year, but they are requested for every major gathering. And they are loved. My sister and brother-in-law told me once that they went out of their way on a hiking trip near Canada to stop in a little cafe that they read had the most awesome cinnamon rolls. She shook her head sadly as she told me they were not nearly as good as mine. She sorta felt sorry for the people who thought they were getting the best cinnamon rolls (yes, she’s a sweety).
So I’m not putting the title on these lightly or flippantly or just to get Google traffic. And the reason I haven’t put them on the blog before? Well, they are a special recipe – I might even go so far as to say my best recipe – and I wasn’t sure I wanted it published. Well, that and the fact that I knew it would take a long time to photograph, edit, and write up…a-hem. But I love all you guys, too, and since I can’t make them for you…posting the recipe is the next best thing!
So here is my gift to you: The Best Cinnamon Rolls (and of course a tutorial to walk you through the steps – which aren’t hard, by the way).
1st step: Yeast Mixture
Mix yeast, warm tap water, and a bit of honey in a measuring cup and set aside. You’ll want to move quickly to the next step, because it will grow to fill a 1-cup measure in only a few minutes.
2nd Step: Mix the Dough
- Using a large mixing bowl, combine warmed milk, sugar, butter, salt and eggs. You can see in the photo that it won’t actually combine. Just mix them together as best you can and then add the bubbling yeast mixture and stir it in.
- Add half the flour (3 c.) and beat on medium speed until smooth – about a minute.
- Stir in another 3 1/2 cups flour to make a stiff, yet sticky dough and change to a dough hook.
- Knead with the mixer for 5-6 minutes, until the dough is clearing the sides, but still sticking to the bottom. Add only enough extra flour – a tablespoon at a time – to have it just clear the sides, as pictured (to make by hand, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes).
- Turn the dough out into a large, lightly greased bowl for rising. The dough should still be soft, sticking to the bottom of the bowl like pictured, but not sticking to your finger when you lightly touch it (similar to another awesome bread recipe, my 100% Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls).
- Cover and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The picture is the doubled dough – it’s not typically smooth like some doughs.
3rd Step: Fill and Shape
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I always use a tea towel) and let rest for 5 minutes. While dough is resting, prepare pans and filling.
- Divide a 1/2 cup of butter – 1/3 c. into a pan or glass cup to melt and the remaining butter divided between the baking pans. I use 2 glass pans, a 13×9 and a 11×7 inch, fitting 8 rolls in the larger pan and 6 in the smaller pan. It’s easiest for me to divide the butter up first, like pictured, and then melt it in the pans and cups using a microwave. If you want to melt in a pan, you can pour the entire amount of melted butter into a measuring cup and pour a little in each pan until you’re left with the 1/3 cup you’ll need for the filling.
- Use a pastry brush to spread the melted butter all over the pans. Sprinkle a sugar-cinnamon mixture on the butter-coated pans. Yes, this is special – go ahead and do it.
- Mix brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon -lots – in a small bowl.
- Roll out the rested dough into a 15 x 20 inch rectangle, pour the remaining 1/3 cup melted butter on top and spread evenly – but make sure not to lose it over the edges. I use a pastry brush and go close to the edges only. The butter will be pooling in spots. That’s good.
- Evenly distribute the filling mixture over the buttered dough. I usually make a line of the sugar mixture all around the edge first before filling in the center, just to make sure I don’t push any butter off the dough with the sugar – that would be bad.
- Roll up the dough and pinch the edges to seal. I often take the butter-coated pastry brush and run it along the edge first to help the dough stick better when pinched.
- Cut into 14 rolls. I cut the roll in half first and then cut each half into a larger and smaller piece. Cut the larger piece of each half into fourths and the smaller into thirds. I use a serrated bread knife which cuts easily, but you can use whatever works for you.
4th Step: Let Rise
- Place the cut slices close together in the prepared pans. You may need to re-pinch the ends as you place them. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 45 minutes – 1 hour.
- Start preheating the oven to 350 degrees about 15 minutes before ready to bake. See my fingers on the risen rolls? That’s to show you that I often push down any centers that are popping up before putting them into the oven. The standard response to the problem of high centers is that the dough was rolled too tightly. I have found, however that some centers will rise no matter what – so I gently push any down before baking and sometimes after, too, which makes it easier to frost. It doesn’t seem to hurt them and it’s usually only a few.
5th Step: Bake and Frost
- Bake the rolls 18-22 minutes, until lightly browned, rotating halfway through if needed. The smaller pan is usually done first in the lesser time and will need to be removed, letting the larger pan continue to bake.
- Cool the rolls on a wire rack for a few minutes while you mix up the cream cheese frosting.
- Divide the frosting evenly among the warm rolls using a large spoon and then spread to fully cover. Yes, this is a frosting – no whimpy glaze allowed!
As the rolls continue to cool, the frosting seeps into all the crevices, mixing with the filling and creating…well, cinnamon roll heaven.
6th Step: Share and Enjoy
And see if my family and I are right about these rolls – but don’t blame me if you find you’re spoiled for any other cinnamon rolls. We are, too!
- 2 Tb. yeast (active dry or instant- both work)
- 1 c. warm water (hot tap is fine, 105-115 degrees)
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 c. granulated sugar, divided
- 1 c. warmed milk
- 1 c. butter (2 sticks), divided
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 3½ c. unbleached flour, plus a bit extra for kneading and rolling
- 3 c. whole wheat flour (white whole wheat, or spelt work as well)
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 3 Tb. cinnamon
- ¼ c. sugar + 1 tsp. cinnamon,
- optional to coat the pans, but highly recommended...
- 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
- ⅓ c. melted butter
- 3 c. powdered sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 Tb. hot water
- Make Dough:
- Mix yeast, warm tap water, and honey in a measuring cup and set aside.
- Using a large mixing bowl, combine warmed milk, ½ c. sugar, ½ c. softened butter, salt and eggs. Mix them as best you can, then add the bubbling yeast mixture and stir it all together.
- Add the whole wheat flour (3 c.) and beat on medium speed until smooth - about a minute. Stir in the remaining 3½ cups unbleached flour, making a stiff, yet sticky dough.
- Change to a dough hook (or turn out if kneading by hand). Knead with the mixer for 5-6 minutes, until the dough is clearing the sides, but still sticking to the bottom. If the dough is still sticking to the sides, add only enough extra flour - a tablespoon at a time - to have it just clear the sides (by hand knead for 8-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface).
- Turn the dough out into a large, lightly greased bowl for rising. The dough should still be soft, sticking to the bottom of the bowl as you transfer it to the greased bowl, but not sticking to your finger when you lightly touch it. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1½ hours.
- Shape and Fill:
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I always use a tea towel) and let rest for 5 minutes. While dough is resting, prepare pans and filling.
- Take the remaining ½ cup of butter and divide it: ⅓ c. for the filling and what remains from the stick of butter between 2 baking pans, a 13x9 and a 11x7 inch (roughly 2 Tb. for the larger pan and 1 Tb. for the smaller). Melt the divided butter in the pans and glass measuring cup using a microwave, using a pastry brush to coat the pans with the melted butter (to melt on the stove, melt the ½ cup in a pot and then pour the entire amount of melted butter into a measuring cup, pouring a little into each pan until you're left with the ⅓ cup you'll need for the filling). Sprinkle the optional (though not really...) ¼ cup sugar-cinnamon mixture on the butter-coated pans.
- Mix the brown sugar, remaining white sugar and 3 Tb. cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.
- Roll out the rested dough into a 15 x 20 inch rectangle, pour the ⅓ cup melted butter on top and spread evenly using a pastry brush. Brush close to the edges, but don't allow the butter to go over them. Evenly distribute the filling mixture over the buttered dough. Start around the edges first before filling in the center to make sure the sugar doesn't push the butter off the dough.
- Roll up the dough as evenly as possible - too loose and you'll get spaces in the rolls, too tight and the centers will pop out - and pinch the edges to seal. Cut into 14 rolls (cut the roll in half first and then cut each half into a larger and smaller piece; cut the larger piece of each half into fourths and the smaller into thirds). Place the cut slices close together in the prepared pans. You may need to re-pinch the ends as you place them.
- Rise and Bake:
- Cover pans with a towel or plastic and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 45 minutes - 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 15 minutes before the rolls are ready to bake.
- Bake the rolls 18-22 minutes, until lightly browned, rotating halfway through if needed. The smaller pan is usually done first in the lesser time and will need to be removed, letting the larger pan continue to bake. Cool the rolls on a wire rack for a few minutes while you mix up the cream cheese frosting.
- Combine all the frosting ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer and use the whisk attachment to beat until smooth. Divide the frosting evenly among the warm rolls using a large spoon and then spread to fully cover all the rolls. Let cool a bit more before serving.*