These soft and fluffy homemade cinnamon rolls are truly a special treat for the holidays or a cozy weekend morning!
I have fond memories of picking up warm, gooey cinnamon rolls with my mom at the mall. At the conclusion of each shopping trip, I'd be allowed a single cinnamon roll from Cinnabon. I'd unroll it, bit by bit and savor each bite, my hands sticky from the sweet cream cheese glaze. It was perfection.
This recipe is my love letter to the cinnamon roll from my childhood. These rolls are made from scratch, with a fluffy homemade brioche dough, a brown-sugar cinnamon filling, and a tangy cream cheese glaze.
Why You'll Love These
Let me summarize what makes this recipe so special.
- The brioche dough that forms the base of the roll is made completely from scratch, and it is truly the softest, smoothest dough you will ever make!
- A water roux, made from flour and water, uses the Tangzhong method to keep these rolls fresh for several days.
- The use of vanilla bean paste in both the dough and the cream cheese glaze offers a sweet, subtly floral flavor that elevates the buns. And in case you're wondering: yes, you can simply use vanilla extract! I prefer the paste, but regular vanilla is fine too.
- The dough sits in the fridge overnight, so you can prepare it ahead of time and bake the rolls the next morning.
Interested in learning more about the development process? Read on below.
How I Developed These Rolls
I started by analyzing my pull-apart rolls and jalapeno cheese buns recipes which feature the technique of the Tangzhong method for longer shelf-life and a moister dough and then tweaked these in order to create these delicious cinnamon rolls.
💡What is the Tangzhong method?💡
These rolls use the Japanese technique of Tangzhong, a thickened mixture of cooked flour and water popularized by Yvonne Chen. When you add this mixture into the dough, it helps yield bread with a longer shelf-life.
The base dough for those recipes builds a soft and fluffy roll, but I wanted something richer to really elevate these brioche cinnamon rolls.
Cinnamon rolls can be made with a wide variety of doughs, but when I turned to one of my favorite bread baking books, Tartine, I noticed they made use of a brioche dough for both savory and sweet dishes. Tartine is a famed bakery in San Francisco, so I wanted to delve deeper into understanding their techniques.
From my research, I learned a few key things:
- Brioche is known as an "enriched" bread, meaning it includes ingredients like sugars, fats, and dairy to produce a soft, buttery result with a fine crumb.
- Brioche doughs are typically made with at least 50% butterfat (butter to flour ratio).
- High-fat doughs require special kneading techniques. For example, incorporating butter into a flour-based dough by hand is quite messy, so a stand mixer is required.
- The butter makes the dough too sticky to form the cinnamon rolls at room temperature, so the dough needs to chill overnight before it can be rolled out.
Next, I compared my base pull-apart dough to a few cookbooks’ brioche doughs, including Tartine’s.
In summary, I made a few changes to my base dough and technique:
- I increased the amount of butter to meet the 50% fat minimum.
- I tweaked the kneading method slightly to account for the additional fat. Here, the butter is added one piece at a time to incorporate easily into the dough.
- I converted the recipe to an overnight version, so that the dough will be cold and easy to work with when forming the cinnamon rolls.
However, I kept the Tangzhong approach in my recipe so that the rolls would retain a longer shelf-life. I then tested my updated version against Tartine's, using the same cinnamon roll filling and baking time. I spread a simple glaze over each version, and I had my husband taste both. He loved both cinnamon rolls, but he actually ended up choosing my version! So that's the recipe I'm sharing with you today.
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- Bread Flour: Bread flour is a common ingredient used in most bread doughs because of its high protein content, which helps create a strong gluten network and a well-structured loaf. If you can't find bread flour, you can also use King Arthur's All Purpose Flour which has a higher protein content than most AP flours.
- Milk and eggs: Milk and eggs are classic ingredients in brioche dough that supply both hydration and richness to the bread.
- Instant Yeast: I typically opt for instant yeast in my bread baking, because it doesn't need to be activated in liquid. My favorite brand is SAF Instant Yeast -- you can buy a block of it and keep it in the freezer for at least a year.
- Unsalted Butter: As I mentioned, brioche doughs contain at least 50% butter, and this recipe is no different. Make sure to use unsalted butter, so you can control the amount of salt.
- Vanilla Paste: Vanilla paste is a thick paste made from vanilla beans. The little specks of vanilla bean add pops of flavor to the dough and the cream cheese glaze. If you don't have vanilla paste, you can substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract.
- Cinnamon: Obviously a good cinnamon roll has to have cinnamon in it! Cinnamon is key in the cinnamon-brown sugar filling.
- Cream Cheese: Softened cream cheese and butter form the base of the cream cheese glaze. I recommend Philadelphia Cream Cheese because it'll give you the best 'tang'.
- Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar is mixed into the cream cheese base for a smooth consistency.
How to Make Overnight Brioche Cinnamon Rolls
Ready to make these cinnamon rolls? Let's walk through each step together!
Step 1 - Make the Tangzhong: Whisk together the bread flour and milk, then set over medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture begins to thicken. If you have a thermometer, you're looking for a temperature of 149°F/65°C. It will look thick and gloopy, kind of like loose mashed potatoes.
Step 2 - Make the Dough: Mix the wet ingredients in a stand mixer, then add the dry ingredients followed by the butter. Over time your dough will transform from a wet sticky dough into a super smooth one.
When the dough is done, it should be strong enough to pass the windowpane test. This is a common test in bread baking used to determine the strength of the gluten network.
To test the windowpane, pinch off a small piece of dough and flatten it. Place your pointer fingers on the top two corners and your thumbs (or pinkies, whatever is comfortable) on the bottom two corners. Gently stretch the dough with your fingers; you should be able to stretch until the dough is just barely translucent without tearing.
Step 3 - Proof the dough: Transfer the dough to a large greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Proof the dough until there are visible bubbles on the surface and it passes the "poke" test. This could take anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 hours, but visual signals are the most important!
The Poke Test: Coat your index finger in flour, then press your fingertip into the dough gently to make an indent; the indent should slowly fill back up halfway.
- The indent springs back quickly, it needs more time.
- The indent doesn't spring back at all, it's likely overproofed.
- If you do end up overproofing the dough, don’t worry too much and proceed with the rest of the recipe, though keep in mind the second rise might be shorter as a result. Overproofed dough during the first rise will usually end up fine as long as you don’t overproof them during the final rise (this can yield a denser cinnamon roll).
Step 4 - Chill the Dough Overnight: Press down on the dough to deflate and flatten it. Then chill the dough in the fridge, covered, in the mixing bowl overnight (at least 8 hours up to 16 hours). This step offers several benefits, including added flavor and improved texture. It's also critical because brioche dough is very difficult to handle at room temperature.
Step 5 - Roll Out the Dough: Flour and roll out the dough to a 14-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a tight log. Trim the edges, and cut them into 9 equal portions. Allow the cinnamon rolls to proof, once more, for about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Step 6 - Bake: Brush heavy cream over the proofed cinnamon rolls (this helps keep them moist) and bake them for 22 to 28 minutes until golden-brown.
Step 7 - Serve: Brush the rolls with a bit of glaze to lock in the moisture, then allow them to cool for 15 to 20 minutes until serving. Frost with the rest of the glaze and serve warm.
Tips & Tricks
Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks for making the best cinnamon rolls!
- Follow the guidelines for proper proofing and gluten formation: So many variables can impact how this dough proofs, from temperature to ingredients to equipment. Always use the visual signals and tests I've provided, including the window pane test and the poke test, to assess your dough.
- Chilling is essential: Do not skip the overnight chill in this recipe! And make sure to take out the chilled, proofed overnight dough just before rolling out. A chilled dough is much more manageable to work with. Trust me, I've tried making brioche the same day, but there's just too much fat in the dough to skip the chill. The overnight rest also helps relax the gluten so it's easy to roll out.
- For the prettiest cinnamon rolls: Roll the dough up as tightly as possible, use a sawing motion to move your knife back and forth to slice the dough, and keep the dough chilled as needed. If you find the dough begins to warm up too much as you're working with it, you can always stick it in the fridge for an extra few minutes.
- Glaze the cinnamon rolls twice: This is an amazing tip I learned from Sarah Kieffer's cinnamon rolls recipe. Glazing the cinnamon rolls, once, hot out of the oven keeps them from drying out. A second glaze after they've cooled gives you that classic gooey, tangy bite!
Storage and Reheating Instructions
Leftover frosted cinnamon rolls can be stored at room temperature for up to 8 hours; after that, you will need to store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Unfrosted cinnamon rolls can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 days. The cream cheese glaze can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for several days; just make sure to thaw to room temperature before frosting.
Reheating: The fastest way to reheat a frosted cinnamon roll is to cover it with a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second intervals until warmed through. You can also reheat them in the oven with a sprinkle of water and covered in foil at 350°F/177°C for 10-15 minutes.
Yes. You will need to make a couple of adjustments, though. First, increase the yeast amount by 25%. Second, before making the dough, mix the yeast into the milk and allow it to sit for 5 minutes to ensure it's activated. Otherwise, you can proceed with the recipe as is, but you may have a slower rise time.
Yes, though vanilla paste adds a bit more flavor. Substitute it in a 1:1 ratio.
I love the little bit of brightness and citrusy zing that orange zest adds (great tip I learned from Heritage Baking)! It's completely optional though.
Yes, I highly recommend a stand mixer. It is very difficult to knead brioche by hand, especially incorporating so much butter into the dough!
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Overnight Brioche Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese
- Stand Mixer
- 8-inch by 8-inch metal baking pan, or a large cast-iron skillet or metal cake pan
- Instant Read Thermometer, optional
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Rolling Pin
For the Tangzhong:
- 85 grams water
- 17 grams bread flour
For the Dough:
- 64 grams whole milk, chilled
- 5 grams instant yeast, about 1 ½ teaspoons
- 6 grams vanilla paste, or vanilla extract | about 1 ½ teaspoons
- 150 grams large eggs, from about 3 large eggs | chilled
- 6 grams Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 1 teaspoon | if using another salt, use half the amount
- 48 grams granulated white sugar
- 333 grams bread flour
- 182 grams unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and softened to room temperature
- 30 grams heavy cream, for brushing the dough
For the Cinnamon-Sugar Filling:
- 14 grams unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons | softened to room temperature
- 6 grams bread flour
- ¼ teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, if using another salt, use ½ the amount
- 100 grams brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- Zest from 1 orange, optional
For the Cream Cheese Glaze:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 56 grams unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 81 grams powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla paste, or extract
- A pinch of salt
- 1-2 teaspoons milk, as needed to thin out the glaze
Make the Tangzhong:
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the water and flour until no lumps remain.85 grams water, 17 grams bread flour
- Set the saucepan over medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture starts to thicken into a paste, the consistency of loose mashed potatoes, about 2 minutes. If you have a thermometer, you're looking for a temperature of 149°F.
- Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
Make the Dough:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with the dough hook, add the milk, instant yeast, vanilla paste, eggs, and cooled tangzhong. Mix on low speed just to break up the ingredients slightly, about 1 minute.64 grams whole milk, 5 grams instant yeast, 6 grams vanilla paste, 150 grams large eggs
- Turn the mixer off, then add the salt, sugar, and bread flour. Set the mixer on low speed, and mix until a sticky dough forms, about 2 minutes.Note: The dough will transform from a shaggy mixture with lots of dry bits on the side to a sticky dough.6 grams Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 48 grams granulated white sugar, 333 grams bread flour
- Increase the speed to medium, and mix for 8 minutes until the dough appears stretchy. It will still be sticky at this point.
- With the mixer still on, begin adding the butter, one piece at a time (without waiting). Turn the mixer off, and use a flexible spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl once half of the butter has been added.182 grams unsalted butter
- Then continue adding the rest of the butter until all of it has been incorporated. Turn the mixer off again, and scrape down the bowl once more. Note: This whole process should take about 4 minutes.
- Continue mixing the dough for about 8 minutes, or until the dough begins vigorously slapping the sides of the bowl. The sides of the bowl should be almost completely clean.The dough should be completely homogeneous with no streaks of butter. It should be extremely soft and smooth and tacky, but not sticky (it's okay if it feels like it doesn't have a ton of structure at this point; if the dough is just barely sticky, that's okay too). If the dough still feels quite sticky, or it's not completely smooth, continue kneading.
- Once the dough has met the above criteria, check that it's built up enough strength via the windowpane method. To test the windowpane, pinch off a small piece of dough and flatten it. Place your pointer fingers on the top two corners and your thumbs on the bottom two corners. Gently stretch the dough with your fingers; you should be able to stretch until the dough is just barely translucent without tearing.
- Form the dough into a ball, then transfer to a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm environment (72°F/22°C to 80°F/27°C) for 1 ½ - 2 hours until proofed.Note: When properly proofed, the dough should pass the poke test. Coat your index finger in flour, then press your fingertip into the dough gently to make an indent; the indent should slowly fill back up halfway. If the indent springs back quickly, it needs more time. If the indent doesn't spring back at all, it's likely overproofed.
- Press down on the dough to deflate and flatten it. Then chill the dough in the fridge, covered, in the mixing bowl overnight (at least 8 hours up to 16 hours).
Make the Cinnamon-Sugar Filling:
- In the morning, prepare the cinnamon-sugar filling. Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until a paste forms.6 grams bread flour, ¼ teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 100 grams brown sugar, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, Zest from 1 orange, 14 grams unsalted butter
Roll Out and Bake the Rolls:
- Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. Lightly flour a large wooden cutting board or work surface.
- With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 14-inch (35.5cm) by 12-inch (30.5cm) rectangle, lightly flouring the dough as necessary to prevent sticking. Note: It's okay if you can't get a perfect rectangle, just try your best!
- With a butter knife, spread the filling in an even layer all over the dough, leaving a ¼-inch gap around the edges.
- Starting from the 12-inch side of the rectangle, roll the dough up into a log. I find the easiest way to ensure a tight log is to take your time and tug at the dough at each roll to keep it compact. Press and pinch the seam of the log into the dough to seal it. Gently roll the log back and forth to even out any thicker areas.
- Trim off the edges of the log that have no filling (about ¼-inch to ½-inch of dough on each end).
- With a sharp knife, use a sawing motion (move the knife back and forth as you slice the dough; this prevents the dough from losing shape) to cut the dough into 9 equal pieces.Note: If the dough feels a bit sticky or warm, you can always stick it back in the fridge for a few minutes to chill it before slicing.
- Evenly arrange the rolls in an 8-inch by 8-inch parchment-lined metal baking pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours until proofed.Note: When properly proofed, the dough should appear puffy and pass the "poke" test; the rolls should be touching each other.
- Meanwhile, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F/177°C. Once proofed, use a pastry brush to brush the tops and sides of the rolls with the heavy cream.30 grams heavy cream
- Bake in the oven for 22 - 28 minutes until the rolls are golden-brown on top and a thermometer inserted into the middle of a roll registers 190°F/88°C (for softer cinnamon rolls, remove them from the oven at 185°F/85°C).
Finish the Rolls:
- With a butter knife, immediately spread about a third of the cream cheese glaze (recipe below) over the cinnamon rolls. Allow them to cool for 15 to 20 minutes, until warm but not hot, then spread the remaining glaze on top. Serve immediately.If not serving immediately, store the unfrosted cinnamon rolls at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. The glaze can be kept in the fridge, then reheated when you want to frost and serve the rolls.
Make the Cream Cheese Glaze:
- While the rolls bake, prepare the cream cheese glaze. You can make the glaze in a stand mixer or by hand:
- Stand mixer: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until whipped and creamy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer off, then add in the powdered sugar, vanilla paste, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then increase to medium for 30 seconds until light and fluffy. Stir in a teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. If desired, add more powdered sugar for a sweeter glaze.4 ounces cream cheese, 81 grams powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla paste, A pinch of salt, 1-2 teaspoons milk, 56 grams unsalted butter
- By hand: Use a fork to mash the cream cheese and butter until combined. Add in a little bit of powdered sugar at a time, mixing in between each addition, until light and creamy. Add in vanilla paste and salt. Stir in a teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. If desired, add more powdered sugar for a sweeter glaze.
- If you can’t find bread flour, you can also use King Arthur’s All Purpose Flour which has a higher protein content than most AP flours.
- Leftover frosted cinnamon rolls can be stored at room temperature for up to 8 hours; after that, you will need to store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Unfrosted cinnamon rolls can be stored at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
- The cream cheese glaze can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for several days; just make sure to thaw to room temperature before frosting. I actually prefer warming it in the microwave for about 15 seconds so that it spreads nicely over the cinnamon rolls.
- Reheating: The fastest way to reheat a frosted cinnamon roll is to cover it with a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second intervals until warmed through. You can also reheat them in the oven with a sprinkle of water and covered in foil at 350°F/177°C for 10 to 15 minutes.