File under: Fast & easy holiday breakfast

Here at King Arthur Flour, we’re mindful that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Thus we’re careful to refer to “the holidays” at this time of the year, covering all the bases for the three major December celebrations: Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. So as you’re reading this post, keep in mind we’re equal-opportunity holiday celebrants: this breakfast can be made ahead, frozen, then baked-and-served on whichever special morning you choose.

One of our readers, Lenore, emailed me recently to request a Christmas recipe that could be made the night before, then easily baked in the morning.

Sounds good to me; anyone who’s experienced the early, early, EARLY wakeup call from the kids on December 25, followed by the subsequent gift frenzy and inevitable energy crash, knows that something to eat is essential by, oh, 7 a.m. or so.

Peanut butter and toast is a good choice for the kids, who at this point could care less what they eat; protein + carbs = energy with staying power. Stay tuned; I’ll share my favorite fast and easy toasting bread recipe the Monday of Christmas week.

But for the adults, something a bit more festive is called for. I mean, a bowl of oatmeal amidst the flying gift wrap and screeches of excitement is about as apropos as a codfish on the coffee table.

On this special day, we need breakfast with a bit of aplomb. Something hot and comforting and—well, doughy, if you know what I mean. Something fresh out of the oven that you pick up and drop because it’s so hot but you can’t wait so you juggle it from hand to hand and finally pop it in your mouth and lick your fingers… see where I’m going here?

Right to cinnamon buns, made from a fast and easy baking powder biscuit dough. And shaped like monkey (pull-apart) bread, allowing everyone to pull off (and juggle) their own hot, cinnamon-y serving.

Here it is, Lenore, that easy, make-ahead holiday recipe you requested: cinnamon buns baked in a festive tree-shaped panMonkey in a Tree. Enjoy!


This is the easiest biscuit I make. Simply whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar, then pour in heavy or whipping cream.

Now, I notice a lot of you have asked if you can use milk instead of heavy cream, or soy milk, or evaporated milk, or half butter, half milk… Sure, go for it. You should use a bit less; start with 1 1/2 cups, and add enough to make a cohesive dough. Be advised, without the fat you’d find in heavy cream, the biscuits will be tougher. I just like using heavy cream because A) I don’t make biscuits that often, so I don’t sweat the calories, and B) It’s just so darned easy to make biscuits this way. But you could also just make your favorite baking powder biscuit dough, and take it from there, dipping in butter, rolling in cinnamon-sugar, etc.


Stir just till the dough comes together.


Break off pieces of dough about the size of a ping pong ball, roll into rough balls if you’re feeling fancy, and dip in melted butter or milk.


Place in a pan with cinnamon-sugar. I love our Cinnamon-Sugar Plus, which combines superfine sugar and Vietnamese cinnamon in the finest incarnation of this toast-friendly treat you’ve ever tasted.


Roll and shake the pan to coat the dough balls with sugar.


Place them in the tree pan; you’ll need to crowd them a bit to get them all in.


Yup, just like the subway at 5:30 p.m….


Or use a 9” x 13” pan, preferably lined with greased parchment, which makes the baked buns easier to get out.


Sprinkle any leftover cinnamon-sugar atop the buns…


…and cover with plastic.


A throwaway shower cap works very well here. Place the buns in the freezer overnight, or for up to about a week or so.


Next day, remove the buns from the freezer, and bake in a 350°F oven for just over an hour, till they’re golden and baked through.


What a lovely, nubbly-bubbly, cinnamon-y sight!


If you’re going to serve immediately, sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar right away. You might want to assign the task to your favorite helper—in this case Bella, who’s wielding her tea strainer filled with sugar very carefully. If you’re not planning on serving these buns till later (though they’re SO much better warm…), don’t sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar till right before serving.


“Snowy” cinnamon buns, totally apropos for the season.


Let folks break off their own servings.


Warm cinnamon, through and through. It doesn’t get any better.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Monkey in a Tree.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Crystal City Café and Bakery, Corning, NY: plain baking powder biscuits, 29¢/oz.

Bake at home: Baking powder biscuits rolled in Cinnamon-Sugar Plus, 17¢/oz.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Mike T.

    Mmmm, looks great! I usually take the yeast path which is definitely NOT the fast path. This looks like a great ANYTIME recipe! My b-day is next month and I’ve requested brunch, not dinner, so you can bet what I’ll be having that morning… 😉

  2. Beverly

    These buns look absolutely wonderful!! I can’t wait to try this but I have a question. Your recipe states if making the night before to place in the freezer overnight. Can the bread be placed in the refrigerator overnight and get the same results?

    Nope, not the same. To me, it tastes better, with better texture, if frozen. But try it refrigerated if you like, see how it goes for you… PJH

  3. Elin

    Mmmmm… might have to do a test run this week for (ahem) research! Do you take it right from the freezer to the oven? Is preheating necessary?

    Yes, right from freezer to oven – but do preheat the oven. You could put it in as oven preheats, but I wouldn’t know the final baking time. Again, you could bake partially thawed, but I don’t know baking time. You could also just wing it and let us know how it goes – in a cold oven, or partially thawed… 🙂 PJH

  4. Jackie

    Perfect for Christmas morning! I’m serving brunch that day to assorted family, so I will definitely be making this.

  5. Rosa

    This looks…almost perfect. 🙂 My husband prefers his baked goods with some wheat flour in it…could I add some without messing with the texture?? Thanks for the wonderful recipe!!

    Nope, not without messing up the texture. But that’s OK; if he’s used to that drier, denser texture, go for it. – PJH

  6. Kate

    Yea! King Arthur comes through again.

    I have been making ‘quick’ cinnamon biscuits for years, mostly because I’m lazy in the morning. I’ve never done it like this though, mine are usually rolled out dough, sprinkled (generously) with butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins. I then roll it like a jelly roll, sliced and put in the pan. Any extra sugar and cinnamon go right on the top, of course. 15 minutes later and a cup of tea later, breakfast is served.

    Thanks for the new idea!

  7. Sue

    Oh my! That looks wonderful! I haven’t had monkey bread in years, and when I did have it I think it was made from a frozen bread dough product. This looks like something my family would love.

  8. Aulani

    If you were anxious and wanted to mix and bake right away…. Would they turn out as well or do they need that overnight in the freezer?

    Yes, they’re fine. See step #9 in the recipe directions, it tells you how long to bake. PJH

  9. becky

    Thanks for the recipe! I can’t wait to try it, which leads to my question. Is there any way to make this dairy free? I know the recipe calls for heavy or whipping cream, but can you use soy milk or some other alternative?

    Becky, yes, you can use another kind of non-dairy liquid. I haven’t tried it, but full-fat soy milk should be OK. They’ll be tougher than with cream, but I think they’ll come out. You might want to try making just plain biscuits with the soy milk first, to see how it works. PJH

  10. Lee

    This looks like another great one for the kids to make – rolling and dipping those little balls – freeing me up for other things.
    btw you snubbed oatmeal in your beginning comments but I just have to say we served the baked oatmeal from the KA Whole Grain cookbook for our Christmas breakfast last year and it was a big hit! We just made up the big pan of oatmeal and then set out bowls of extras like toasted nuts, chocolate chips, whipped cream, maple syrup, etc. and let everyone make their own. It was terrific!

    Lee, you’re right. I was thinking of the everyday oatmeal – you know, PLOP it into the bowl and it sits there staring at you… PJH

  11. A. J.

    This will be a hit at our house. One question though…We don’t always have heavy cream available but we always have a can or two of
    evaporated milk in the cupboard. Can we substitute it (full strength)
    for the cream?

    Sure – the biscuits just won’t be as tender, that’s all. Go for it! PJH

  12. Ann

    These look and sound delicious. I think I’ll be drizzling a powdered sugar glaze over mine!

    OOOH, that sounds good too! PJH

  13. Laurie

    These look just right for Christmas morning! Could you roll the balls of dough in Baker’s Cinnamon Filling instead of the Cinnamon Sugar?

    I thought of that, too, Laurie – don’t know why not. It would give an ooey-gooey effect, which sounds delightful… PJH

  14. Amy M.

    PJ, we will most definitely be having this on Christmas morning – it sounds absolutely perfect! To top it off, I’ve been challenged to a Christmas brunch bake-off by my mother and sister, so thank you for being my ace-in-the-hole! They’ll never know what hit them.

  15. Alison

    These look delicious – thank you! Would it be possible to use whole milk instead of cream?

    Sure, Alison – use less (maybe start with 1 1/2 cups and go from there) – and the buns won’t be as tender/rich. PJH

  16. Yvonne

    This recipe looks good for any time of the year. Thank you for your comments on “the other celebrations” in December. So many times the others are forgotten. I would love to have a few Chanukah recipes if you have any in your treasure trove. (I already have a lot of Latke recipes). Thanks.

    Yvonne, we’ll be launching our Chanukah recipe section shortly – working on it now… PJH

  17. carmel


    You inspire me every time! I will be making these Christmas morning.

    Do you think I could substitute melted butter (or half butter-half milk) for the cream called for in the recipe?


    No, not melted butter. But you could try half butter/half milk, sure. I think it would be just fine. PJH

  18. Joanne

    Hmmmm…. my husband loves nuts in everything. What about chopped pecans mixed in with the sugar and maybe some of the mini Cinnamon Chips? Or do you think that would be too much sugar/cinnamon?

    Actually, I think that would be yummy. These aren’t all that sweet as is – I was thinking they’d be good dipped in syrup while hot, but the mini cinnamon chips (and nuts) would be fantastic. Thanks for the great idea, Joanne- PJH

  19. Sheryl

    I have made something similar to this for years using the biscuits that come in a tube. These, obviously, look much better. When I have made it in the past, I make a carmel sauce with butter and brown sugar and mix it with the dough before putting in the pan. Could I also do that with this recipe? If so, would I still freeze or would I need to bake it right away?

    Yes, make the caramel sauce. Yes, freeze, OR yes, bake right away. All of the above. Sounds great! PJH

  20. Lenore

    Hello from Lenore. Since there are not too many Lenore’s around, my sister in law saw your blog post and emailed me. She and I both love baking but did not know we shared your blog.

    I’m excited about this recipe. It fits everything I asked for and I appreicate your responsiveness. I’m going to ‘test’ it this weekend!

    Thank you, Lenore

    Ah, bringing people together in unexpected ways, Lenore — even sisters-in-law. Love it! PJH

  21. Claire

    I will be traveling for the holidays, but would love to make the dough before I leave, and do the rolling/freezing/baking portion of the recipe once I arrive. Do you think the dough will still work well if it’s refrigerated prior to the rolling and freezing? Thanks for your help, and all the wonderful baking ideas!

    No, Claire, I’d at least get so far as making the dough into balls, then freeze the balls. When you get there, you can coat in butter, roll in sugar, and bake. Would that work for you? – PJH

  22. cjsmama

    These look wonderful. You know the cinnamon rolls in the can — do you have a recipe for the white frosting that comes with them? I’d love to try it on your recipe.

    Hi – Try the icing from these cinnamon buns. I think it’s what you’re looking for. Enjoy! PJH

  23. Mandy

    For those of us that, ahem, have never made our own biscuits, could you share exactly how much flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar, and heavy or whipping cream you use?

    I have been trying to find something for a doctor I work for whom has 8 kids and a very ill wife at the timebeing. I think this would be perfect for him to pop in the oven on Christmas morning….off to get me some tree pans.

    PS. Think 2 will be enough for a family of 10?

    Hi Mandy – please click to the recipe at the end of the blog photos, that gives you the complete ingredients. Or access the Monkey in a Tree recipe from here. And yes, 2 pans would definitely be more than enough for 10 people – How nice of you to think of your boss’ family. I’m sure they’ll like this. PJH

  24. Dana Booth

    Hi PJ et al! Thx for the recipe; was thinking about Christmas breakfast this morning. Two things.

    First, I’d also like to remind everyone of KAF’s coffee cake recipe from a couple of years ago that you put together the night before and bake the next morning. I make mine with equal parts ap and white whole wheat flour. yummmm 🙂

    Second, you mentioned above that wheat flour would change the texture. What about equal parts white whole wheat and ap, still adding in the cornstarch?Would that perhaps bump up the nutrition level a bit without alternating texture too much so we’d feel less guilty of the many sweet Christmas indulgences? 🙂

    Either way, my whole family loves monkey bread, so you can be sure I will make this. My kids (2,4,6) can even easily help 🙂 Thx!!


    Dana, this is a great treat for kids to help make, indeed. All I can say is, try the white whole wheat with AP; I didn’t try it, so can’t tell you what’ll happen. I think it’ll just be denser, that’s all, but will taste just fine… PJH

  25. Sue

    I made these Christmas morning and they were wonderful. My family was very pleased and the kitchen smelled wonderful while they baked. rated the recipe. 🙂 Thanks for a super simple, tasty recipe. My family thinks we should have these after we open presents every year!

  26. Christina

    So I recently stumbled across this and made them for this Christmas and for New year. For some reason mine didn’t come out as fluffy, the bread was actually pretty dense, although admittedly still delicious. Is there something that I’m doing wrong? I followed the exact recipe.

    Christina, “wrong” isn’t a term I use very often – might be your expectations are simply a bit high. I wouldn’t term these fluffy, exactly. More cake-like. You might try checking the date on your baking powder, make sure it’s still good; and make sure you don’t add too much flour to the dough, as that will make biscuits denser. But beyond that, if you’re looking for lighter bread, you might try a yeast-raised rather than baking powder monkey bread. Enjoy – PJH


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