I might not be the most fantastic chef, but I can make a darn good cinnamon roll! One of the first Christmas traditions I started after Russell and I were married was making homemade cinnamon rolls to eat on Christmas morning. Since then, I’ve made them in three different kitchens and have added two small sous chefs along the way.
I found a simple recipe online, and it’s been the one I’ve used all these years. The ingredients have remained the same, but I’ve perfected the technique! Keep reading to learn my tips and tricks for making the perfect homemade cinnamon roll without spending all day in the kitchen.
The proof is in the pudding
First things first, I highly recommend this recipe. It caught my eye with one ingredient, vanilla pudding! It makes the dough moist, sweet, and delicious. Plus, it’s so easy.
Make sure to use the cold mix packets. Yes, there are two kinds of instant vanilla pudding mixes, and I learned this the hard way this year. The cold mix instant packets are simple, add cold milk, and beat vigorously. The heated variety requires you to heat the milk and then stir vigorously. Essentially, the cold mix is foolproof, and the heated method leaves room for error. Of course, you can make your pudding from scratch. But, I love the simplicity of the instant mix!
Assemble your ingredients
For the dough, you will need warm water, yeast, sugar, vanilla pudding mix, margarine, eggs, salt, and flour. See below for the quantities of each item. If you aren’t feeding a small army, I suggest cutting the recipe in half. The half recipe will still give you 12 large cinnamon rolls but makes the construction much more manageable, especially if you don’t have a large countertop or work surface.
Unless you don’t bake with yeast often, I suggest purchasing new yeast packets every time. Old yeast may not work as well, and nobody wants to be halfway through the process only to notice your dough isn’t rising as expected. As I mentioned, I use vanilla pudding mix, but feel free to make yours from scratch. I use white flour for this recipe and can’t speak to how the recipe would fare with other flour alternatives. But, feel free to experiment and let me know how it goes!
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pkg. (3 1/2 oz.) vanilla pudding mix
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups flour
Let’s dough it
In a small bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. I just use warm tap water. It needs to be pretty warm, but not hot. Stir until dissolved. Set aside. You will see it start to grow pretty quickly. If you don’t have a growing, bubbly liquid, something is wrong. Did you get fresh yeast? Was the water warm enough?
In a large bowl, take pudding mix and prepare according to package directions. Add margarine, eggs, and salt. Mix well. Then add yeast mixture and whip together until smooth. If you are using the half recipe as I do, make sure to take out half (about 1 cup) of the prepared pudding. Feed it to your kids, dip nilla wafers in it or toss it. You do you.
When I first started making these rolls, I used an electric hand mixer and then kneaded in the flour by hand. The next year, my mom got me a kitchen aid mixer. Game changer! A standing mixer is much faster, and the dough hook attachment is a lifesaver. Not to mention all the accessories you can add down the road. We love the grater, pasta cutter, and ice cream maker! If you don’t have one, make sure to add it to your list and start hinting to your family that you need it in your life (especially if they want to eat your delicious homemade cinnamon rolls).
Next, gradually add flour; knead until smooth. Again, the kitchen aid mixer and its dough hook attachment make this so easy. But, you can certainly need the flour in by hand.
Now begins the easy, but time-consuming part. You need to let the dough rise not once, but twice (and then again once you form the rolls). Place your finished ball of dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled. Once it does that, punch down the dough and let rise again.
In the meantime, make yourself a drink! I like to enjoy a tasty coffee. Click here for a few of my recipes. Spoiler alert, they often include Baileys, especially on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Once you do that, you can prep your other items like the cinnamon roll filling and frosting.
Everybody get your roll on
Once your dough has doubled twice, punch it down and place the ball on a clean work surface covered in flour. Flour your roller and roll out the dough to a consistent thickness in a rectangular shape.
How thick you roll out your dough is entirely up to you. If you roll it out thinner, the rolls will be less “doughy” and use more filling. Use your judgment; you can’t mess this up! If you are making the large batch but have a small work surface, you may need to split your dough in half and do the process twice.
Spread the love
Now its time to get your hands dirty, well “buttery.” Spread the soft butter over your rolled our dough. Make sure it’s well distributed. Then sprinkle your filling on top. I like to take my time here to make sure the filling is evenly coating all the dough. The filling will give you that tasty caramelization, and you want it to be good! I give it a good rub and make sure everything is even before moving on to the next step.
Once you are satisfied with your filling, it’s time to roll up the dough. Do this slowly in case any of your dough has stuck to the work surface. Then use a knife to create a notch every 2 inches. You can skip this step and go right into cutting, but I like to make sure the grooves are even before I cut them all the way through. You can then cut them with thread or a knife.
1 cup butter, soft
2 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
Next place each roll about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. I’ve found the standard cookie sheet holds 12, which is perfect for a half batch. Sometimes I change it up and use my pizza stone! With your hand, gently press down each roll.
Next, cover and allow them to rise again. Yes, I know, a third rise. But, you’ll thank me when you taste that light and fluffy roll! Grab another coffee, or better yet, take a shower and get ready so you look presentable in your family holiday pictures.
Once your rolls have doubled in size, bake them at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven when they start to turn golden on the edges. Do not overbake! Frost the warm rolls with cream cheese frosting.
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
That’s it! I promise, with a little practice, you will be the cinnamon roll king or queen of your family. Do you love cinnamon rolls? Do you make them from scratch or buy them at the store? Make sure to reach out if you have any questions about the recipe.