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The holy grail of baking is cinnamon rolls. If you, your family, your grandma, or anyone you know grew up in the Midwest, you know about cinnamon rolls. Everyone I talk to has their own version of what the ultimate cinnamon roll should be:
- sprinkled with raisins (I think this is so odd)
- dotted with chocolate chips (never done it but sounds delicious)
- baked individually
- made in large pans
- caramel frosted
- cream cheese frosted
This is high stakes, people! Super important stuff! This ultimate cinnamon roll recipe is my mom’s, given to her by her mother. Grandma adapted different recipes to form what she thought – and numerous others agreed – were the best rolls. All the credit goes to her.
These are not super gooey, but instead soft-textured and fluffy. Exactly what I crave! You’ll love them too!
What makes a roll a cinnamon roll? Some people call them sweet rolls; others call them sticky rolls. But it’s the buttery, and sweet cinnamon goodness rolled up tightly into layers that make a roll a cinnamon roll.
In most cinnamon roll recipes, the process is relatively the same:
- Mix up a dough and let it rise.
- Punch the dough down, roll it out, and add a cinnamon filling.
- Roll up the dough into a spiral and slice it into individual rolls.
- Let the rolls rise a second.
- Bake the rolls.
- Cover rolls with favorite frosting.
Cinnamon roll dough can have a lot of variations. And if you do a simple Google search for cinnamon rolls, you’ll find that’s a gross understatement.
Here are a few things that I’ve found make for the perfect cinnamon roll:
So why is there so much emphasis on the dough? Well, because it’s the key to the perfect cinnamon roll!
There are two main things I don’t do with my dough:
- Add in potato. I’ve talked to many people who think it’s sacrilegious not to use cooked potato in cinnamon roll dough. Now, if you’re taken aback by the idea of using potato in a cinnamon roll, here’s the logic: the potato is thought to add moisture and create a soft texture. No one in my family ever did this, so I’m just not a believer. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how you grew up. If you throw in potato and love your rolls, keep on trucking!
- Add in sugar. I prefer a dough that doesn’t contain much sugar. The center filling has plenty of sugar, so you just don’t need much in the dough. Otherwise, it will overpower the rest of the flavors in the roll.
Make sure not to give in to the temptation to use too much flour or overwork the dough. As the mixer is working (or you’re kneading – totally old school!), you may become impatient and think the dough seems sticky. Your thought may be to add in more dough and mix it for longer. But if you keep adding in flour and work the dough past a smooth, elastic consistency, you could end up with a coarse, dry dough.
Grandma would always say her mother told her to listen to the dough. I know, it seems far fetched. But her theory was that as you
The frosting is really just a way to gild the lily. Cinnamon rolls are good but the frosting takes them over the top. If it were always up to me to choose the perfect frosting, I’d go with brown butter or caramel frosting. My cinnamon roll muffin recipe uses a brown butter icing that I could eat by the spoonful, all by itself.
Personal preference aside, the most iconic way to frost these rolls up is with a cream cheese frosting. I don’t usually stray from what I grew up with, but here I am livin’ on the wild side. ? Who doesn’t love a cream cheese frosting? A slightly tangy, sweet, thick, and creamy frosting is always a smart choice.
What makes this the ultimate cinnamon roll?! Well, it’s a versatile dough that can be used to make either the traditional style roll or… (drumroll please)… a sticky caramel variety.
Sticky caramel roll variation
Growing up, we knew it was a special occasion when mom took Grandma’s recipe and made them into sticky caramel rolls. Looking at them, you’d think these are difficult to make but honestly, they’re surprisingly easy.
While the dough is making its first rise, make a quick caramel. No, this isn’t a caramel where you have to watch the temperature and worry about it burning. If you’re interested, I do have a homemade caramel recipe that does require you to be a bit more alert.
Throw all the ingredients together and after a few minutes, pour it into greased baking dishes. To finish, sprinkle toasted pecans over the top.
Once the pans are filled, place the unbaked, one-time risen cinnamon rolls on top. Let them do their final rise and then bake them up.
They look inconspicuous but when they’re cool, invert them onto a plate and you’ll be looking at gooey, caramel-topped cinnamon rolls.
Watch how to make these ultimate cinnamon rolls:
Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls
For the rolls
- 2 cups warm water 110°-115°F
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup neutral oil I prefer grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
- 3 cups cake flour
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter room temperature
For the filling
- 6 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
Frosting (for 4 pans)
- 2 8-oz packages cream cheese
- 12 tbsp butter room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3-4 tbsp whole milk
Caramel variation (for 4 pans)
- 4 cups pecans toasted and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the warm water, sugar, oil, salt, and eggs. Whisk to combine and break up eggs.
- Add the all-purpose flour and yeast. Mix with the dough hook attachment until combined, 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the cake flour and continue mixing. As the dough mixes, add the remaining 1 cup of cake flour as needed, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough cleans the side of the mixing bowl and is smooth and elastic, 5-8 minutes.
- With the mixer running on medium-low speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place in a greased clean bowl. Cover tightly and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.
- For the filling: Melt butter and set aside. In a small bowl combine the sugars and cinnamon. Whisk to break up brown sugar and ensure there are no lumps. Set aside.
- For the caramel roll variation: Prepare caramel sauce while the rolls are rising. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, water, dark brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Heat until the mixture begins to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from heat and cool. Pour directly into four greased 8-inch cake pans. Sprinkle with toasted chopped pecans and set aside.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide into two equal pieces. On a well-floured surface, working with one piece at a time, roll out into a 16 x 18-inch rectangle.
- Brush 3 tablespoons melted butter over the dough. Sprinkle with half of the prepared filling mixture.
- Tightly roll up the dough starting with a long side. Squeeze the seams together to seal. Cut the roll into 16 individual rolls. Place in a) pans with prepared caramel, b) greased pans with no caramel, or c) on parchment-lined baking sheets 3 inches apart for individual rolls. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes. Repeat with second portion of dough.
- While the dough is rising, preheat oven to 350°F.
- Once risen, bake the rolls in a preheated oven until golden brown, 14-18 minutes. Remove from oven. If making frosted rolls, cool 10 minutes, remove from pans and frost (instructions follow). If making caramel variation, cool in the pan. After 1 hour, run a knife around the sides and invert onto a plate.
- For the frosting: In the large bowl of a stand mixer (or hand mixer), combine the cream cheese and butter. Mix on medium speed until incorporated. Turn to medium-high until smooth, airy, and no lumps remain, approximately 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix on low until the sugar has incorporated. Add remaining milk or more sugar to create a spreadable frosting.
- Calories for the sticky caramel roll variation: 380 calories