Do you smell that? The smell of warm, fragrant cinnamon rolls floods my house every time I make these, and it brings me home–back to the present moment–every single time.
Cinnamon rolls were my very first enriched dough bake when I was 12. And you could probably guess how it ends. They were awful…as in the dough never proofed kind of awful. Dense, stodgy, sad rolls kept me away for many, many years. It wasn’t until I started making bread a few years ago did I begin to understand how yeast works, especially in enriched doughs.
Yeast loves warm, wet environments with a little bit of sugar, but when butter and eggs come to play like they do in this enriched dough, the yeast has to work a little harder to do its thing. I was rushing the yeast back then…no wonder my rolls came out dense. So, in the last few months, I’ve been searching for sweet sweet redemption, and gosh does it taste good when you find it.
Anyone who gives you a cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven is a friend for life.Lemony Snicket
Testing, testing and more testing
This recipe is the result of months of testing and years of trepidation. You’ll notice that I share a lot of troubleshooting notes throughout recipe & FAQs on what could go wrong, not to scare you, but to arm you with all the knowledge to make the best cinnamon rolls possible. When you know what to watch out for, a bad batch of cinna rolls will be near impossible.
Follow this recipe and its techniques closely, and your home will be flooded with not just warm cinnamony smells but also the incredible sense of pride knowing you made something truly remarkable.
How to Make Homemade Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
There are three parts to these cinnamon rolls.
- Enriched Dough
- Cinnamon Sugar Filling
- Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing
This recipe requires that the dough rest in the fridge overnight or up to three days, so plan accordingly! This is the schedule I normally use when I make these rolls:
The night before: mix dough at 6pm, finishing all folds by 8:30pm and refrigerate overnight.
The day of: shape rolls at 9am, proof til 10:30am, baked rolls by 11am.
If you’d like the rolls for breakfast, you’ll just need to start a little earlier the day of. Now that we have our schedule laid out, here’s how it looks like to make my favorite cinnamon rolls!
Step 1: Warm milk and proof the yeast.
- Add milk and honey to a microwave-safe bowl. Warm to 100º F -110º F, not any hotter or it will kill the yeast. I use a thermometer to test this!
- Add the yeast and mix it in. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes until foamy. If it doesn’t foam, your yeast is likely dead, so start over with fresh yeast or else your rolls won’t rise.
- When foamy, add the eggs (room temp) and whisk to combine.
Step 2: Combine wet and dry ingredients. First proof.
- Mix flour and salt in a stand mixer. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour on low speed. Add the room temp butter one piece at a time.
- When the butter is all in, increase the speed to medium, and beat for about 1 minute until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is stringy and very sticky.
- Use a spatula to spoon the sticky dough into a large greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
Step 3: Apply folds. Rest Overnight.
- After 30 minutes, apply the first fold by placing your fingers under one edge of the proofed dough, pulling the dough up, and folding it back over itself. Repeat this around the entire perimeter, about 6 times. ‘
- Cover the bowl again and rise for another 30 minutes. Repeat this folding step 3 more times, waiting 30 minutes in between each fold for a total of 2 hours and 4 folds.
- Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 72 hours to develop flavor!
Step 4: Brown butter & cool overnight.
- Melt unsalted butter over medium heat. It will make crackling sounds as the water evaporates from the butter. Simmer until the crackling sounds reduce and the butter gets a faint tint of brown, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat before it burns, pour into a heat-safe bowl, and cover at room temp to solidify overnight. You can also do this the next day – I just find it more convenient to do it beforehand!
Step 5: Roll out the dough, shape & proof
- On the day of, punch the cold dough down to knock out the air, and knead the dough about 10 times to wake up the yeast.
- Roll out the dough into a 14-inch by 16-inch wide rectangle and brush the melted butter on top. Sprinkle cinnamon, brown sugar and salt evenly over the butter and press in to adhere.
- Roll the dough into a tight log lengthwise, then keep the roll seam side down. Use a knife to create light indentations on the roll to create 12 equal pieces. Cut the rolls and place cut side up into a greased or lined baking pan 9″x13″. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise one last time in a warm spot until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Step 6: Make Icing & Bake Rolls
- Cream the room temp brown butter and cream cheese in a mixer. Add powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix just until combined, you’re not looking to whip it too much. Add more powdered sugar or milk as needed for desired consistency. This icing is more like frosting, so the consistency will be more voluminous like a buttercream.
- When rolls are done proofing, bake for 27-32 minutes at 350º F, rotating the pan halfway through, until golden brown.
- When rolls are done baking and still warm, spread a thin layer of icing on them to prevent the crust from developing. Spread on the rest when the rolls are cooled!
Tried and tested recipe for delicious, soft and gooey overnight cinnamon rolls.
Example Schedule: Mix dough at 6pm the night before, roll out and cut at 9am, bake at 10:30am, finished rolls by 11am.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (568g)
- 2 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
- 3/4 cup warm whole milk (100-110º F)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- 4 large eggs (room temp)
- 10 tbsp unsalted butter (room temp, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 1/4 sticks or 142g)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (110 g)
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 tbsp salted butter (melted)
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter ((3/4 stick))
- 4 oz cream cheese (room temp)
- 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar (156 g)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tsp whole milk
The Day Before: Make Dough & Brown Butter
- In a glass measuring cup or bowl, add the warm whole milk (between 100ª F – 110ªF), honey, and instant yeast and whisk to combine. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes until foamy. If it doesn’t foam, your yeast may have died, so start over with fresh yeast! When the mixture is foamy, add the eggs (room temp) and whisk to combine.
- Make the Dough In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, pour the wet ingredients into the flour to combine. Then add the room temp butter one piece at a time. When the butter is all in, increase the speed to medium, and beat for about 1 minute until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is stringy and very sticky. Use a spatula to spoon the sticky dough into a large greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, apply the first fold by placing your fingers under one edge of the proofed dough, pulling the dough up, and folding it back over itself. Repeat this motion around the entire perimeter of the dough, turning the bowl as you go, until it’s completely folded over itself, about 6 times. Cover the bowl and rise for another 30 minutes. Repeat this folding step 3 more times, waiting 30 minutes in between each fold, for a total of 2 hours and 4 folds. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 72 hours.
- Use the downtime in between folds to brown some butter for the icing since it will need to solidify again. Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter gets a tint of brown, not too dark, about 10 minutes. It will smell nutty and delicious. Pour into a heatsafe bowl and cover at room temp to solidify overnight.
The Day Of: Roll Dough & Bake
- Assemble Rolls In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, melt the butter. Grease a 9 x 13 sheet pan and line with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Set aside.
- On a floured work surface, knead the cold dough about 10 times to wake up the yeast. Roll out the dough into a 14-inch by 16-inch wide rectangle, and brush the melted butter on the surface. Sprinkle cinnamon mixture evenly over the top, and press it in lightly with your hands to adhere to the butter. Starting with the long side closest to you, roll the dough into a tight log. Keep the roll seam side down. Use a knife to create light indentations on the roll to create 12 equal pieces. Cut the rolls and place into the greased pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise one last time in a warm spot until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. While the rolls are proofing, make the icing.
- Make Icing In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add the solidified browned butter you made the night before and room temp cream cheese. Beat until combined. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Mix until just combined; we don’t need it whipped. Add more powdered sugar or milk as needed for desired consistency. This icing is more like frosting, so the consistency will resemble a buttercream. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).
- Bake Remove plastic wrap, and bake rolls for 27-32 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through until golden brown on top. When the rolls are done and still warm, spread a thin layer of icing (about 1/3 of your mixture) on the rolls. This keeps them soft and prevents the crust from developing any more. Cool the rolls for at least another 15 minutes or until cooled completely, and spread on the rest of the icing. Enjoy!
Keywords: cinnamon, desserts, dough, holidays, thanksgiving
FAQs – Process + Equipment
- What if I don’t have a stand mixer? All good – lots of people have made this recipe successfully by hand! Just note, it will take you longer to mix the initial dough, especially when adding the butter. But with a little elbow grease, you should be able to achieve the dough consistency by hand. Do not use a hand mixer – it won’t be able to handle the dough and will break!
- Why do we knead cold dough? With enriched doughs, the butter and milk can sometimes inhibit the yeast’s growth. So, giving the dough a quick knead after it’s been in the fridge overnight helps waken the yeast and gives it a jump start.
- Is the dough supposed to be sticky? Absolutely! The stickiness gives the rolls their soft, fluffy and moist texture. I suggest rolling out the dough when it is chilled because it is much, much easier to handle.
- What does folding do? This builds gluten that helps build the dough’s structure, making it easier to handle and gives the rolls their pull-apart, stringy texture.
- Are the rolls freeze-able? Yep – I’ve done this many times! After the rolls are cooled after baking, wrap them individually in plastic wrap un-frosted and freeze a zip-top bag. You can also freeze the icing. Freeze up to 4 weeks. To reheat, wrap them individually in foil and warm in a 400º F oven for approximately 15 minutes. Yours might take longer or less, depending on your oven. Defrost the icing at room temp. Then smother the warm cinna roll in the defrosted icing!
FAQs – Ingredients
- Can I add nuts or dried fruit to the rolls? Sure! But pay extra attention to the rolling process since the cinnamon filling is on the dry side. You’ll want to make sure your rolls are still tight and compact when you put them into the pan.
- What if I have active dry yeast, not instant? This is totally fine! You just need to let the active dry yeast rest in the warm milk and honey for 10-15 minutes until foamy, before the eggs are added. If the yeast mixture does not get foamy after 15 minutes, your milk might have been too hot and could have killed the yeast (been there!). Try the mixture again, making sure the milk is lukewarm (110 degrees F max).
A while ago, I bought a 1 lb bag of yeast and thought it was excessive, but I just hated buying the yeast packets one roll at a time. So I’ve just kept that bag of yeast in my freezer. When COVID struck in 2020 and yeast started selling out, I counted my baking blessings. Haha. If you bake at all, I would recommend purchasing in bulk and keeping it in your freezer. It’s perfectly fine in there and the $9 price tag will pay off in 5 bakes or so. Totally worth it. You can purchase the yeast brand I use, Red Star, on Amazon!
For High Altitude Bakers
I developed this recipe in my home in Louisiana. If you live in an area that has a high altitude, the proofing times may fluctuate because the air pressure is lower. I would recommend checking out King Arthur’s High Altitude Baking post before you make this recipe to plan for any minor adjustments. A friend of mine, Tara, who lives in Colorado, put this to the test and made this recipe with a few of KA’s modifications, and they turned out fantastic!