How to make the best homemade cinnamon rolls: A step-by-step tutorial (with pictures!) showing you everything you need to know for perfect made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls.
I know what I’m about to say might sound a little old-fashioned, but growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mom, and more specifically a stay-at-home mom. It had nothing to do with a lack of ambition — I just wanted to be able to be home with my babies. When they got older, I wanted to be able to pick them up from school and bring them home. I wanted a home cooked meal on the table for my husband and family — I wanted to be a (dun, dun, dunnnnn) housewife.
Once my husband and I had our first child, we decided that although it would be extremely tight financially, I would stay home with her. And, I decided that if I was going to get to be the stay-at-home mom I had always wanted to be, I was going to do it right. Extremely right.
In the beginning, I thought to be a good mom and housewife meant perfection: To keep an eternally tidy home, for my children to always be perfectly presented at all times, and of course each dinner should be three to four courses, completely made from scratch…nightly.
The only problem with that? People aren’t perfect. Most of us (me, me, me!) are actually pretty far from it. And, trying to live out life as if I were the ideal representation of a new mother was a little crazy…and pretty exhausting as well.
Yes, I took it to the next level, and you veteran mothers out there would surely look back at that time in my life, and have yourselves a serious case of the giggles. I know I do.
However, in the midst of my endeavor to become the world’s greatest stay-at-home mom, I did pick up a thing or two, and baking from scratch was one of them.
Quite possibly my favorite souvenir from that period, one I will forever and always hold dear, was learning to bake perfect cinnamon rolls. You see, during my fleeting transformation into June Cleaver, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. And I knew, without a doubt, that the perfect housewife could slam out a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls that would put good ol’ Cinnabon to downright shame.
But, I’ll tell you this: I went through my fair share of trial-and-error (and frustrations) when it came to making cinnamon rolls from scratch, and it is for this reason that I wanted to provide a fail-proof, step-by-step guide to help real moms, real people — people who maybe haven’t spent a lifetime in the kitchen just yet — make the perfect batch of cinnamon rolls on their very first try. The softest, fluffiest, most perfect cinnamon rolls you have ever tasted. Please, enjoy!
HOW TO MAKE CINNAMON ROLLS FROM SCRATCH
GROW THE YEAST
The first thing you’ll need to do is grow the yeast. Yeast needs a warm environment to grow, so make the milk is very warm to the touch, but not scalding hot.
Sprinkle with the yeast over the warm milk, and stir to moisten. Allow to stand until foamy, about 5-7 minutes. The yeast is ready when it looks like the photo below.
MAKE THE DOUGH
Next, you’ll need to make the dough. Before you prepare your dough, look over the method section of the recipe, and be sure you understand exactly what is going into the bowl, and when. All of your ingredients should be at room temperature.
You’ll add the ingredients (the flour, eggs, butter, and salt) to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix just until combined, and then move on to kneading. Double check to make sure you have added all the ingredients before moving on to the kneading stage. Once you knead, there is no going back. Only starting over.
KNEAD THE DOUGH
To knead the dough via the stand mixer, you’ll replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Begin kneading the dough on low speed (e.g. speed 2 if using a KitchenAid stand mixer), and continue for 5-7 minutes. As dough begins to stick to the sides, you’ll begin adding the reserved flour a tablespoon at a time to prevent it from sticking to the sides of the bowl.
If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can knead the dough by hand.
THE WINDOWPANE TEST
The Windowpane Test will help you to determine if the dough is properly kneaded, and ready to move on to the next step. To perform the test, pinch off a portion of the dough. Hold it up against a light source, and gently pull on it to see if it forms a translucent window. If the dough remains intact as you pull and you can see a small amount of light pass through it, the dough is ready.
If the dough tears and is shaggy in appearance, continue kneading. Continue to knead for 2-3 minutes longer adding flour as needed. Keep with this process until dough is no longer shaggy, and does not easily tear when gently stretched.
After your dough is properly kneaded, it is formed into a ball and transferred to an oiled bowl to undergo its first rise.
For the first rise, the bowl is covered and kept in a warm, draft-free spot in the kitchen. I usually turn my oven on a low temperature and place the bowl on the counter somewhere near the oven.
After 1 1/2 – 2 hours, the dough should have doubled in size.
To determine if the dough is ready for the next step, poke with your finger and if the indentation remains, proceed. If the finger mark fills back in, cover and check again in 15-20 minutes.
MAKE THE ROLLS
After the first rise, it’s time to turn that dough into cinnamon rolls. Almost.
The dough is punched down, and divided into two dough balls.
Then, working with one dough ball at a time, each is rolled out, coated with butter, and the cinnamon filling is lathered on.
Roll into a log, pinch together to form a seam, and place seam-side down on your work surface.
Each log is cut into 6 rolls and staggered across a greased baking dish. For this recipe, you’ll have 12 cinnamon rolls total.
Now for the second rise! Once the rolls have been assembled, we need to let them double in size just one more time!
To do this, cover loosely with a kitchen towel, and place them in a warm, draft-free spot. After about 40 minutes, poke the dough with your finger, and if the indention remains, springing back just ever so slightly, you are ready to bake.
If the dough is not ready, cover and proof for 15-20 minutes more.
SIDE NOTE: MAKE-AHEAD CINNAMON ROLLS
Did you know you can prepare the cinnamon rolls ahead of time? Yes! To do this, cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap, and rather than letting them undergo the second rise on the counter at room temperature, you can let them rise in the refrigerator overnight.
However, if the dough was refrigerated overnight, be sure to set out the rolls about one hour before baking.
BAKE THE CINNAMON ROLLS
For a beautifully golden batch of cinnamon rolls, brush the top with egg wash before baking.
Then, bake the cinnamon rolls for 25-30 minutes, until golden and cooked through, and set aside to cool while you make perfect cinnamon roll icing.
MAKE THE ICING FOR THE CINNAMON ROLLS
Cinnamon roll icing is extremely easy to make. It’s a simple mixture of powdered (confectioners) sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt. It all get’s whisked together in a bowl, and then poured across the top of the cinnamon rolls.
You can use a pastry brush or offset spatula to spread evenly across each roll.
All that’s left is to do a happy dance, jump for joy (cause, like, you just made the best cinnamon rolls in the entire world…from scratch — GO YOU!), serve and enjoy!
The ultimate guide to perfect, homemade cinnamon rolls.
- 1 cup whole milk warmed (105-140°)
- 2 packages (or 5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour separated (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature, cut into chunks
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 egg, room temperature, slightly beaten
- 3/4 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, separated
- 3/4 cup confectioners powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of fine sea salt
Add the warmed milk to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. The milk should feel very warm to the touch, but not scalding hot. Use a thermometer to gauge exact temperature if desired. Sprinkle over the yeast, and stir to moisten. Allow to stand until foamy, about 5-7 minutes.
Add sugar, 4 1/2 cups of flour, eggs, butter and salt to the yeast. Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour in a small bowl, just off to the side. Mix on low just until the contents of the stand mixer come together. Do not over mix. Double check to makes sure you have added all of the aforementioned ingredients before moving on to the kneading stage.
Remove the paddle attachment and attach the dough hook. Begin kneading the dough on low speed (e.g. speed 2 if using a KitchenAid® stand mixer), and continue to so for 5-7 minutes, adding in the reserved flour 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed, to prevent the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. Alternatively, knead the dough by hand.
After allotted time, perform the Window Pane Test (see notes below) to determine if the dough is properly kneaded. If not, continue to knead for 2-3 minutes longer adding flour as needed. Continue until dough is no longer shaggy, and does not easily tear when gently stretched.
Have ready a large oiled bowl.
Once the dough is properly kneaded, appearing smooth and elastic in texture, transfer to the oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in size, 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
To determine if the dough is ready for the next step, poke with your finger, and if the indentation remains, proceed. If the finger mark fills back in, cover and check again in 15-20 minutes.
Have ready a greased 9x13” baking dish, and prepare the egg wash by beating together the egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Set aside until ready to use.
To make the filling, in a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Set aside until ready to use.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut in half with a sharp knife. Set one half aside, and begin working with the other. Lightly dust the dough with flour. Pat out the dough into the shape of a rectangle. Using a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll out the dough into a rectangle, measuring close to 12 x 14”.
Rotate the dough (if necessary) so that one of the short sides is in front of you. Spread half of the butter across the surface of the dough, stopping about 1” from the short side opposite of you. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture, and rub across with the butter, patting to adhere and taking care to leave cleared space at end for egg wash.
Brush the clear area lightly with the egg wash. Set aside egg wash and reserve. Starting on the short side closest to you, begin rolling into a log. Once rolled, pinch together the seam and place seam-side down on your work surface.
Using a sharp serrated knife, cut off the tapered ends and discard. Cut the log in half, and set one log aside. Cut into six equal pieces. Stagger the rolls evenly across half of the greased baking dish. Repeat with the remaining log, and proceed to fill the dish. You should have 12 cinnamon rolls total.
Cover the rolls loosely with a kitchen towel, and allow them to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until they have doubled in size.
After about 40 minutes has passed, poke the dough with your finger, and if the indention remains, springing back just ever so slightly, it is ready. If the dough is not ready, cover and allow to proof for 15-20 minutes more.
Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350°.
Brush the reserved egg mixture across the top of the cinnamon rolls. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 25-30 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
While the rolls are cooling, make the icing. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, cream, vanilla and salt until thoroughly mixed.
Pour the glaze across the tops of the cinnamon rolls and using a pastry brush, spread across the surface of each roll. Serve and enjoy.
FOR MAKE-AHEAD CINNAMON ROLLS:
The second rise will take place in the refrigerator overnight.
To do this, assemble the rolls and place in the casserole dish as directed. Then, loosely cover the dish with plastic wrap and transfer them to the refrigerator to rise overnight. If dough was refrigerated overnight,
The next day, set out at room temperature about one hour before baking.