How to Make Cinnamon Rolls

Follow these step-by-step instructions to perfect this breakfast favorite.

Start your day on a sweet note with freshly baked cinnamon rolls. You can chill the dough overnight, then pop them in the oven first thing in the morning.

Step 1: Make the dough

Cinnamon rolls start with sweet dough made from milk, sugar, butter, and eggs, as well as flour, yeast, and salt.

Don't make any substitutions until you read these tips:

  • Flour: You can replace part of the flour with whole wheat flour or spelt flour if you like, but add slowly and in small proportion since these flours have a different flavor and create a different baking texture (often firmer) than all-purpose flour. Start by replacing 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, or spelt flour.
  • Milk: Save calories and fat by using skim or low-fat milk. Use whole milk to make the dough richer.
  • Yeast: Check the expiration date on the package -- if the yeast has expired, there's a good chance your dough won't rise.
  • Eggs: This superfood adds richness, structure, tenderness, and color to the rolls.
  • Potato: Add cooked mashed potato to the dough to create a light, tender texture.
  • Butter: Don't substitute margarine or spreads. Butter adds richness and flavor to the dough. Use salted butter unless otherwise stated in the recipe.

Use an electric mixer to beat a portion of the flour and the remaining ingredients together, making sure all of the flour and yeast are moistened.

Use a wooden spoon to stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can (using an electric mixer at this stage can strain the motor). Stir until the dough looks ropey and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Tip: Start by adding in the minimum amount of flour in the range. If you add too much flour during mixing and kneading, the bread can become heavy and dry.

Step 2: Knead the dough

Cinnamon rolls call for moderately soft dough, which is still slightly sticky and requires 3-5 minutes of kneading.

To knead, fold dough over and push down with the heel of your hand. Turn, fold dough over, and push down again. Repeat this process over and over. You know the dough is ready when it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball.

Tip: Kneading helps the gluten to form in the dough and creates the sturdy structure needed for rolls.

Step 3: Let the dough rise

Place the ball of dough into a greased bowl that is at least twice as big as the dough ball, and turn it once to grease the surface. This keeps the dough from drying out.

Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size. Punch down the dough by pushing your fist into the center. Cover the dough and let it rest on a floured surface before shaping. This calms the dough and makes it easier to work with.

Step 4: Roll out the dough

Roll the dough from the center to the edges into a rectangle measuring 18x12 inches. Dab softened butter over the top and spread, leaving a 1/2-inch border at the edges.

Step 5: Sprinkle on the filling

Basic cinnamon roll filling is a combination of brown sugar and ground cinnamon, but you can embellish it by stirring in 1/2 cup of any of these:

  • Regular or golden raisins (or both)
  • Finely snipped dried apricots
  • Assorted fruit bits
  • Dried cherries
  • Miniature semisweet chocolate pieces
  • Chopped toasted pecans
  • Chopped toasted walnuts

Next, sprinkle the filling on top of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border unfilled on the long sides. Starting from a long side, firmly roll up dough, but not too tightly. Pinch the edge of the dough to the rolled dough to seal.

Step 6: Slice the dough

Score the dough roll with a knife to mark 12 rolls. Slide unflavored dental floss under the roll at the scores. Cross the floss ends on top and pull until it cuts through.

Step 7: Chill for later or bake now

Arrange the rolls in a greased 13x9x2-inch pan.

If you'd like to bake the rolls later (for breakfast in the morning, perhaps), cover the dough and let it rise, or cover the dough loosely with oiled waxed paper, and pop the pan into the refrigerator for 2-24 hours. Before baking, let the rolls stand for 30 minutes at room temperature, then uncover and bake.

For immediate baking, don't chill rolls. Instead, cover loosely; let rolls rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 45 minutes). Bake according to recipe directions.

Step 8: Frost the rolls

Let rolls cool in pan for a few minutes. Place a wire cooling rack on top of a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Turn the slightly cooled rolls out onto the rack. Use a wire whisk or spoon to drizzle the rolls with icing or a knife to spread the rolls with the thicker cream cheese icing, if desired. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Roll Recipes to Try:

Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls

People-Pleasing Cinnamon Rolls

Zesty Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Peanut Butter Cinnamon Rolls


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