Brown Sugar Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Rolls that are ooey, gooey and topped with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. Let’s do this.
Do you know what the best part of a cinnamon roll is?
The center bite.
Every aspect of a cinnamon roll is simply scrumptious. Sure, the icing is a top contender, but the middle bite is the softest, gooiest, sweetest and has cream cheese icing. I firmly believe that anyone who disagrees, well, just isn’t a true cinnamon roll lover.
And if you still choose to disagree with my well-rounded culinary confectional logic on the matter, then do us all a favor…
And save me the middle piece.
In truth, I am not much of a sugary-sweet breakfast type of person.
Every nine weeks, when the children get their report cards, a local donut shop gives elementary school students one free donut for every ‘A’ or ‘B’ that they receive. Once the weekend rolls around, we take the children, along with their report cards, up to the donut shop and leave with about two dozen glazed donuts for free.
They are fresh off the conveyor belt and the room is filled with a warm, sugary aroma that makes you want to have a bite.
Or an entire donut.
The entire family will enjoy a couple of fresh donuts. The children’s smiles are slightly covered with donut reminisce. Their little fingers are sticky and messy. I will sit there content, not eating any. Instead, I sip on a cup of coffee, while trying to enjoy this moment in time as a family, and their genuine excitement and happiness of donut heaven.
They worked hard for those donuts, and they sure enjoyed them, too.
Now, cinnamon rolls are a whole ‘notha story.
When I make cinnamon rolls for my family, I convince myself, and later prove myself to be wrong, very wrong, that I am strong and my willpower to eat healthy supersedes my desire to indulge on a warmed, sugary-sweet, soft, ooey-gooey cinnamon roll topped with decadent cream cheese icing.
And every time, I fail.
I fail hard.
And it was worth it.
Soooo, worth it.
After making cinnamon rolls eight or nine times (feels like 100), I have found through trial and error, what works and what doesn’t work best for me for a successful turnout of this recipe.
To begin making the cinnamon rolls, I place the cream cheese and butter on the counter to soften to room temperature before I proof the yeast. Note, instant yeast does not need to be proofed, but because I purchase my yeast in bulk and keep it in the freezer, I proof my yeast each time it’s used in a recipe. It takes just a few minutes, but I would rather take a few extra minutes than having a recipe not turn out and have to throw it away.
In a bowl of a standing mixer, I add warm milk, yeast and sugar and mix gently with a spoon. Add softened butter, eggs and salt. Using a dough hook attachment, turn mixer on low speed, just enough to gently combine ingredients.
Using a dough hook attachment of the standing mixer, turn the mixer on to a slow to medium speed for one minute. Add three cups of flour on the slowest setting.
If you turn the mixer any higher at this point, the flour will spit out of the mixer and get all over the counter, mixer, you and your baking supplies.
But I am super patient and have never done this.
(Insert crickets chirping…….)
Once the flour is fully incorporated into the rest of the ingredients, it is safe to turn the mixer up to a medium speed. The dough will soon form a ball and pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. If it does not and the dough mixture still looks wet, add one half cup of flour. The dough should be tacky and pull off the hook easily but not be too sticky.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning the dough over once so the oil lightly rubs off and coats all of the dough. Cover the dough with a towel and let the dough sit until it doubles in size. This process usually takes one hour. However, this depends on the warmth of your home, humidity levels and so on.
If you have an oven with a bread-proof option, place the dough in an oven-safe bowl and cover with foil. Place in the oven until the dough doubles in size. If you don’t cover the dough with foil, the top of the dough will get slightly dry. When rolling the dough, you will noticeably see and feel the dry dough crumbles throughout the dough.
After the dough has risen and doubled in size, removed dough from bowl and place on your work surface. You can lightly flour the work surface if needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter, but I have found this unnecessary as the dough doesn’t usually stick to my work space.
Roll out the dough into a 12 x 18 rectangular shape. Now, this is where my OCD kicks in. It does not need to be perfect, but as close as you can get to a perfect rectangle, the better, because when you cut the dough after it has been rolled, the two outer cinnamon roll pieces will be smaller than the rest.
This step helps ensure evenly-sized cinnamon rolls. But don’t fret over this, as we are going to trim up the sides before we cut the cinnamon rolls. This will help the rolls be uniform in size.
Also, don’t try to be an over-achiever by rolling the dough out much more than a 12 x 18 or you will end up with really thin cinnamon rolls that are thin and dense. There are times to try to stretch a recipe out and yield as many servings as possible.
This is not one of those times.
And I wouldn’t know, because I have never tried this.
(Insert more crickets chirping….)
Now, here is what I found to be interesting through trial and error…
After you have rolled out the dough into a 12 x 18 rectangle, let it sit there for about 20 minutes.
Rolled out dough, just sitting there on the counter?
It makes me feel like I am on a Grey’s Anatomy episode working on a surgery, where all the surgeons have to immediately stop. Everyone puts their hands in the air and just sits and waits, looking around briefly at each other, and then the patient, to see if the heart transplant takes.
Except, we are making cinnamon rolls, so it’s not quite like that.
What I have found when taking this extra little step is the dough seems to rise better as opposed to letting them rise after they have been cut down to size, right before baking. This yields in a beautiful, light, flaky, jumbo cinnamon roll.
After the dough has sat and relaxed for 20-30 minutes, you will notice the dough is soft and fluffier than when you first started working with it. Spread out the softened butter from edge to edge.
Let your inner kid-self shine. Have fun with it. Maybe even smile while you do it.
Because how often can we play finger paint with butter as a grown up and still say we are adulting, right?
After the butter has evenly coated the dough, add the cinnamon mixture from edge to edge. Use your fingers to press the mixture slightly into the dough. If you don’t, the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture will fall out of the rolls as you cut them and pick them up to be placed in your baking dish.
I have done this a few times before, and no matter how much you try to add the fallen cinnamon and brown sugar mixture back into the roll, it never quite works out like you would have hoped that it would.
Some recipes call for the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture to stop one inch before the edge of the dough to help close the roll. But what happens when you do this is the first couple of bites of the cinnamon roll will be nothing but dough.
And if we are going to indulge in an ooey-gooey cinnamon roll topped with decadent cream cheese icing, every bite should also have cinnamon, butter and brown sugar in it.
It’s almost criminal not to.
It’s true. I think the cinnamon roll officers can take away your baking card if you don’t.
After the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture is set, starting from one side of the dough length-wise (the 18 inch side), gently start rolling the dough as tight as you can from one side to the other. This will result in one long cinnamon roll log. Using a sharp knife, trim off the edges so you have a perfectly uniformed cylinder.
Cut the dough evenly into 12 (one-inch or slightly thicker) rolls. To make this part easier, cut the dough roll in half. Then, cut each of those rolls in half. From there, you can easily and uniformly slice the remainder of the rolls to end up with 12 evenly cut rolls.
Place rolls into a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan. Give as much space as you can between each roll. This allows for the roll to expand and grow even further as it bakes.
Place the baking dish in the oven and bake at 325 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. (Ovens vary so your cooking time may be longer or shorter than mine.) As the rolls cook, prepare your icing mixture. Once the rolls come out of the oven and cool down for 5-10 minutes, spread the cream cheese mixture generously across each roll.
The rolls will last approximately two days fresh.
*The recipe below does not include proofing of the yeast. It is written for instant dry yeast. See above to learn how to proof yeast if using active dry yeast or dry yeast.
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 cup warm milk
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast (one packet)
- 4 tablespoons softened butter
- 2 large eggs
- 3 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons softened butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Cream Cheese Icing
- 4 ounces softened cream cheese
- 4 tablespoons softened butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/2 cups powdered confectioner’s sugar
- Place cream cheese and butter on counter to soften to almost room temperature.
- In a bowl of a standing mixer, add warm milk, yeast and sugar. Mix gently with a spoon.
- Add softened butter, eggs and salt. Using a dough hook attachment, turn mixer on low speed, just enough to gently combine ingredients.
- Turn mixer off and add 3 cups of flour. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed. Once the flour is fully incorporated into the rest of the ingredients, turn the mixer up to a medium speed. The dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. If it does not and the dough mixture still looks wet, add one half cup of flour. The dough should be tacky and pull off the hook easily but not be sticky.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let the dough sit until it doubles in size. This process usually takes one hour. (This step will depend on the warmth of your home, humidity levels, and so on
- After the dough has risen and doubled in size, removed dough from bowl and place on a work surface. You can lightly flour the work surface if needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter, but I have found this unnecessary as the dough doesn’t stick to my work counter. Roll out the dough into a 12 x 18 rectangular shape.
- After the dough has been rolled out into a 12 x 18 rectangle, let it sit as-is for about 20-30 minutes. Taking this extra step allows the dough to rise better and yields a lighter, flakier and bigger roll.
- Spread softened butter evenly across the dough from edge to edge.
- Add the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture agin from edge to edge. Use fingers to gently press the mixture slightly into the dough.
- Starting from one side of the dough, length-wise (the 18 inch side), gently start rolling the dough as tight as you can from one side to the other into an elongated long cinnamon roll log. Using a sharp knife, trim off the edges so you have a perfectly uniform cylinder.
- Cut the dough evenly into 12 (one-inch or slightly thicker) rolls. Place into a greased 9 x 13 pan. There should be room enough for the dough rolls not to touch. Give as much space as you can between each roll. This allows for the roll to expand and grow even further as it bakes.
- Place the baking dish in the oven and bake at 325 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. (Ovens vary so your cooking time may be longer or shorter than mine.) As the rolls cook, prepare your icing mixture.
- To prepare the cream cheese icing, use a hand-held mixer and blend cream cheese and softened butter together until well incorporated on a low speed.
- Add milk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix on medium until all ingredients are smoothly mixed together.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Once the rolls come out of the oven and cool down for 5-10 minutes, spread the cream cheese mixture generously across each roll.
- Store remaining cinnamon rolls in an air-tight container for up to two days.