Freshly baked cinnamon rolls are the ultimate breakfast treat that can be made from scratch in less time than you would expect. Using instant-yeast allows you to cut down the rising time dramatically. Soft and tender rolls swirled with a brown sugar and cinnamon filling then drizzled with vanilla glaze, yum!
This cinnamon rolls recipe creates soft pillowy bread filled with a spiced-sugary spread. Don’t waste your money on Cinnabon when you can make a homemade version that tastes better. Sometimes working with a yeast-leavened baked good may feel intimidating or time-consuming, but I’m going to show you the science behind the process in the easy step-by-step formula below.
The good news is now with technology on our side, manufacturers have created an instant-rise yeast to save us time in the kitchen. Unlike compressed fresh yeast or active dry yeast, which requires proofing or multiple fermentation steps, you only have to let it rise after shaping the rolls for 30 minutes, instead of hours. That means about 90 minutes from start to finish.
Instant Dry Yeast
For this recipe, I use instant dry yeast, also known as bread machine yeast. The most important thing to remember is that yeast is alive, just dormant in a dried state. That means it’s very sensitive to high heat and can lose it’s rising power if combined with a liquid that’s too hot.
For these cinnamon rolls, a package of instant dry yeast is combined with flour and salt. Then separately, sugar, butter, water, and milk are gradually heated to between 120 to 130°F (49 to 54°C) and no higher. Keep an instant-read thermometer handy to monitor the temperature as this step is critical for a successful rise. The warmed milk mixture is them combined with the dry ingredients.
Making the Dough
Once you’ve incorporated the warm liquid into the dry flour and yeast mixture, it will feel sticky at first until the starches are hydrated. As the dough mixes, gluten formation rapidly occurs with constant kneading, creating an elastic texture. This makes it easy to roll out and hold its shape.
I prefer to let my stand mixer do the kneading using the dough hook attachment. You can also use your hands to knead the dough on a floured surface. Make sure to cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes before the next step. This allows the proteins to relax a little so it’s easier to work with.
Roll Out the Dough
Shape the dough into a square, then on a well-floured surface use a rolling pin to create a long rectangle shape about 16 by 19 inch. The dough should be even in thickness, about ¼-inch.
Making the Filling
A combination of softened butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, and ground cinnamon creates a sweet paste to spread evenly over the dough. This can be made a few days ahead, but make sure to bring it to room temperature before using. Use a knife or spatula to evenly distribute the filling.
Keep a skinny border, about ¼-inch that is not coated with the filling to make it easier to roll. If you’re looking to add more mix-in’s, you can sprinkle some chopped pecans or walnuts, sauteed apples, caramel, or even chocolate chips on top of the paste. I’ve also made pumpkin butter to use as a filling instead of cinnamon during the fall.
Roll and Cut
Carefully roll the dough from the longest edge into a tight cigar shape. Trim off the edges as it’s mostly just dough and then cut 12 even sized pieces.
Let the Rolls Rise
This is the only fermentation step that is needed to allow the dough to puff up and increase in size. Evenly space the rolls in a greased baking pan, allowing for distance in between the sides of the pan, making sure the rolls don’t touch. This gives the rolls room to double in size.
If it’s a warm day in your kitchen, you can let the rolls rise, covered with plastic wrap or towel for about 30 minutes, or longer as needed. I like to create a makeshift proofing box in the oven, which creates an enclosed warm and humid environment for the rolls to efficiently rise.
Bake the Cinnamon Rolls
You might notice that the rolls will continue to increase in size as it bakes. The yeast keeps fermenting and producing carbon dioxide gases until it ultimately deactivates in the hot oven temperatures. So if your rolls don’t seem quite doubled in size before baking, they’ll get an extra boost once in the oven. The cinnamon rolls are baked until golden brown. The smell of caramelized sugar and hot bread is heavenly!
Drizzle on the Glaze
The vanilla glaze is very simple to make. Just whisk together powdered sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and warm water. I like to use vanilla bean paste because it gives a nice speckled appearance, or scrape some whole beans for an even stronger flavor.
Make sure to use warm water, otherwise, the sugar will because stiff and hard to drizzle. The glaze will harden as it cools so wait to mix it together until right before adding onto the hot rolls straight from the oven. If you’re a cream cheese frosting fan, it’s easy to substitute in for the glaze.
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If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #jessicagavin on Instagram. I’d love to see what you come up with. Cheers, friends!
The advantage of using Instant Rise Yeast
Instant yeast, also sold as rapid-rise yeast or bread yeast is a dry product with enzymes and additives that help it ferment faster. It can be mixed right into dry ingredients. Warm water activates the yeast to get it fermenting. The dough then only needs 10 minutes of resting time before rolling and shaping. Just one rise step which is about a 30 minute fermentation period in a warm area before baking.
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, (391 g) plus more for dusting
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast, (7g) or rapid-rise yeast
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, (6g)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, (30g)
- 1/2 cup water, (120ml)
- 1/4 cup whole milk, (60ml)
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar, (66g)
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, (66g)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, (16g)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, (7g)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, (90g) softened
- 1/2 pound powdered sugar, (227g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, (5ml)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice, (5ml)
- 1/4 cup warm water, (60ml)
- To make the dough, whisk together flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl.
- In a medium-size microwave-safe bowl, combine the sugar, butter, water, and milk. Microwave in 20-second intervals until the mixture reaches 120 to 130°F (49 to 54°C), and whisk to combine.
- Gradually stir the liquid mixture and egg into the flour mixture using a spatula, until a soft, sticky dough forms.
- Using the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer, set the mixer on the lowest setting above stir, and mix until dough becomes smooth and elastic, 4 minutes. If not using a mixer, knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C).
- To make the filling, stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add 6 tablespoons of softened butter and mix until smooth.
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 16 x 9-inch rectangle.
- Evenly spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1⁄4-inch border on all sides. Tightly roll the dough into a 16-inch long log. Trim the thinner edges off the roll. Cut into 12 even size pieces.
- Place the rolls in a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan, spaced out about 1⁄2 inch apart, 3 rolls per row. Leave about 1⁄2 inch of space along the edges of the pan.
- Loosely cover the rolls with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, 30 minutes.
- Bake the rolls until lightly golden brown in color, 15 to 17 minutes. Slightly cool the rolls for 5 to 10 minutes.
- To make the glaze, whisk powdered sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and warm water in a medium-sized bowl until glaze is smooth.
- Drizzle glaze over the warm rolls.
- Warm milk can be substituted for water in the glaze for a richer taste.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour. I recommend Bob's Red Mill 1:1 Gluten Free Baking Flour.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Substitute coconut oil for butter.
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