My mom has been known to bust open the occasional can of pre-made cinnamon rolls on the mornings of special occasions. Birthdays, Christmas, you name it. As kids, my siblings and I woke up to the smell of hot and buttery cinnamon sugar. I love the sentiment. But when I moved into my own place, I knew I could make ’em bigger, better, and more ooey gooey from scratch. So as an adult, I set out to make my own version of cinnamon rolls for all the special mornings to come.
Every Roll is the Middle Roll
Growing up, my siblings and I would argue over who got the middle roll from the round pans my mom used. They were the warmest, softest roll of the bunch. But surely there’s a way to capture the middle roll magic in the whole batch, right?
If you feel the same way about the center as I do, you’re in luck. There are a few techniques you can use to get that special center quality in every bite. Here’s how!
Taking a Stand
While I certainly don’t mind kneading dough by hand, the stand mixer with dough hook attachment does come in handy here. This really minimized the addition of extra flour, which makes the cinnamon roll dough tougher and drier. The rolls I made with the stand mixer were much softer.
Like a Good Neighbor
I’m a fan of the floss method for cutting the individual cinnamon rolls. It feels a bit bougie to say, but knives will most certainly squish the rolls as you go to cut them. Floss, on the other hand, keeps the rolls perfectly shaped. And since the shape affects how they bake, I like to keep the rolls as even as possible.
One of the keys to soft center rolls is how they nestle against the other rolls in the pan. Getting the rolls to be nice and neighborly in the pan is the name of the game. Aside from careful sizing and shaping, a second opportunity to rise in the pan will make sure the rolls are truly side-to-side before baking.
I found it also helped to use a light-colored (or glass) pan with high sides, as opposed to a darker colored or shallow pan. Even though I love the classic pinwheel shape and these end up more square, because they were nestled closely together man oh man were they all soft and gooey! Just like a center cinnamon roll should be. Dark pans also put your cinnamon sugar mix at risk of becoming chewy like candy. So stick with the safe bet!
Making the filling a well-combined paste was also really clutch. When I layered butter and cinnamon sugar separately, it fell out of the rolls as I cut them. It actually wasted quite a lot of my high-quality cinnamon- and no one wants that! The paste makes this filling adhere better to the dough. This means more cinnamon sugar in each bite. Perfect for those special cinnamon sugary mornings!
This recipe is yet another in my much loved yeast-leavened series. I adore the sweet and tangy smell of yeast dough, and I’ve already written up some of my most favorite recipes with other tips and tricks. So if you’re looking to improve your dough game, check out my Authentic French Croissants, or No Knead Dinner Rolls for starters!
Nothing But Center Cinnamon Rolls
If you like the center cinnamon roll the best, then this is the recipe for you.
For the dough
- 1 cup whole milk slightly warm
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 packet yeast
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter melted and slightly cooled
- 2 whole eggs slightly beaten
- 1 egg yolk slightly beaten
- 4 3/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the filling
- 1/2 cup salted butter room temperature
- 2 cups dark brown sugar firmly packed
- 2 Tablespoons cinnamon I like Penzey's Korintje Indonesian Cinnamon
For the frosting
- 3/4 cup full-fat cream cheese room temperature
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the dough
Add the warm milk, sugar, and yeast into a stand mixer bowl, stir, and allow yeast to bloom or become frothy and foamy, about five minutes.
Add the melted butter, salt, eggs, and flour. With the paddle attachment, mix until just combined.
Switch the paddle attachment for the dough hook attachment, and knead the dough for 6 to 7 minutes on medium-high speed. The dough should be a little sticky and bounce back when pressed.
Transfer the dough to a large bowl that has been lightly greased, and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Filling and shaping
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by mixing room temperature butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with a stand or hand mixer until combined to make a thick and fluffy cinnamon sugar paste.
Once the dough has risen, gently punch down the dough and let rest for 20 minutes still covered.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough out to approximately 1/4-inch thickness and forming a 12-inch by 20-inch rectangle, trimming away any excess dough as needed.
With a spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the cinnamon sugar paste over the entirety of the dough rectangle, smoothing out any big bumps as you go.
Gently lift one of the long sides of the dough, and rolling tightly and evenly, form a log from the dough.
Take a string of unflavored dental floss (preferred) or a sharp knife, and begin cutting individual rolls, about 1 1/2 inch each. The ends of the log may lopsided, but you can still bake these as a chef snack. If you started with a 12-inch by 20-inch rectangle, you should have at least 12 perfectly formed cinnamon rolls.
Place the uncooked cinnamon rolls in a lightly greased, light colored 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan or a glass pan, slightly separate from one another.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and allow the formed cinnamon rolls to rise again in the pan until they are touching each other, at least another 30 to 60 minutes.
Bake in the oven for about 17-20 minutes or until the cinnamon rolls are golden brown and baked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before icing them.
For the frosting
Using a stand or hand mixer with a clean bowl, mix all the icing ingredients together on high speed or until light and fluffy, adjusting ingredients to taste.
Once the cinnamon rolls have cooled completely, top them with the cream cheese frosting and serve.
If you want to make smaller or larger rolls, simply add up the total number of inches you'll need for your dough log, and add a little wiggle room for the imperfect end pieces. This will tell you how large of a dough rectangle you'll need beforehand.
To make these ahead of time, roll and shape the dough and place in the lightly greased pan. These can go in the refrigerator overnight, covered with plastic wrap. The cinnamon rolls will need a bit longer for their second rise before going in the oven.