Cinnamon Rolls: tested tips for softer rolls

Cinnamon rolls are a source of endless experimentation for me.

I don’t mean just consuming them: slice vs. pull apart, bite vs. unravel, etc. I’m actually talking about how cinnamon rolls are made.

A fresh-baked cinnamon roll is delicious – but oh, how fleeting its taste and texture! Like the ingénue who wins the leading role at age 16 and is washed up by age 20, most cinnamon rolls hit their peak of perfection 5 minutes out of the oven. Once cooled, they become plebeian – just a semi-tough white roll covered in too much bland white icing.

My goal: make a cinnamon roll that’s soft, moist, and delicious not only hot from the oven, but for several days thereafter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cinnamon rolls over the past few weeks – what traits the perfect roll possesses, which need to be avoided.

I’ve even dreamed about cinnamon rolls – including a nightmarish scenario where the rolled-up dough kept unrolling itself faster than I could re-roll it. Totally Sisyphean, if you’re into Greek mythology.

And after thinking, reading, and consulting with my fellow EAT members (that would be King Arthur Flour’s Education Advisory Team), I’ve come up with a recipe that fills the bill: Soft Cinnamon Rolls.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

These high-rising rolls are soft as a baby’s smile. One taste-tester described their interior as “pillowy.” Two others simply rolled their eyes and gave me the thumbs-up.

Let me show you how to make cinnamon rolls that are wonderful right out of the oven, and only slightly less good later in the day – or even a couple of days afterwards. Try our Soft Cinnamon Rolls recipe, which incorporates all of these strategies. Or use these tips to tweak your own favorite recipe, giving your rolls added softness and shelf life.

Cinnamon Buns via @kingarthurflourPre-cook flour for moister buns.

Tangzhong is an Asian method for producing soft, light-textured white bread and rolls. It involves taking between 5% and 10% of the flour in your recipe, combining it with some of the recipe’s liquid, and cooking it into a thick, pudding-like substance—think thick roux.

What’s the deal? Cooking flour with liquid gelatinizes the flour’s starch. That starch is then able to hold onto water better, both during baking (less evaporation) and afterwards (longer shelf life). Use it in your yeast dough, and bread and rolls will stay soft and fresh longer. See the recipe for complete tangzhong instructions.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Use bread flour for its increased absorption capability.

Bread flour can absorb more liquid than all-purpose flour—i.e., it has a higher hydration capacity. More liquid in the dough = added moistness/softness in the finished roll.

The tangzhong method uses bread flour—probably because most typical Asian flour is fairly low in protein, and bread flour provides the necessary higher protein for a good rise. So if you’re using a traditional tangzhong process, make sure you have bread flour on hand.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Make a higher-fat dough.

Cinnamon rolls including eggs, whole milk, and butter will be softer and stay fresher longer than those made from a “lean” dough: one made with just flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Fat provides a rich mouth-feel that we perceive as moistness; it also creates a barrier that helps prevent moisture from escaping. In addition, fat coats gluten and keeps it from bonding too strongly, producing a delicate crumb.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Start with sticky dough.

Adding more liquid to your dough right up front means there’s more remaining in the finished roll—which translates to moist texture.

Dough kneaded in a mixer bowl should stick to the bottom and sides of the bowl slightly, as well as to the dough hook.

And here’s a handy tip: For easiest kneading of wet, sticky dough, mix it up, then let it rest for 20 minutes before kneading. This gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it less sticky and easier to work with.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Choose the right pan.

Cinnamon rolls from the center of the pan are always softer than those around the edge, right? So choose a pan that can hold a higher percentage of interior rolls. Rather than two 9″ round pans, use a 9″ x 13″ pan.

How about a 12″ round pan – wouldn’t that offer the same capacity with even more interior?

Well, if you do the math (circumference vs. volume), yes. But practically speaking, it’s difficult to get the rolls in the very center fully baked before those at the edge become over-baked. A 9″ x 13″ pan is a good compromise.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Shape tall rolls, and crowd them in the pan.

Cut your log of cinnamon-filled dough into 1 1/2″ rather than 1″ slices. This will create cinnamon rolls with more interior/less surface area.

And place them close together in the pan so that they’re really crowding one another once they’re fully risen. Again, this will create more soft sides, fewer browned edges.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Underbake cinnamon rolls just slightly.

Don’t worry if they’re not golden brown across the entire surface. So long as they’re fully set, they can be pretty darned pale.

I like to bake my rolls to just under the 190°F mark that’s typical of fully baked soft yeast bread. Didn’t know about that 190°F thing? Hello, digital thermometer!

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Use thick, rich icing.

Confectioners’ sugar, whole milk or cream, and butter make a rich icing that will contribute to cinnamon rolls’ interior texture.

How?

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Frost rolls while warm.

The thick icing will partially melt, seeping down into the crevices between the rolls, as well as into the cinnamon swirl.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

This “icing bath” will help keep cinnamon rolls moist as they age.

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Though really, how long are these going to “age?”

Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour

Pull apart. Unravel (or not). Enjoy!

And if there are any left after the initial onslaught, re-create the ultimate FRESH-baked experience by reheating briefly in a microwave (and consuming quickly); or tenting with foil and reheating in a 350°F oven until toasty warm.

Do you have your own personal tip for bringing cinnamon rolls to the next level? Please share in comments, below.

And if you like the tangzhong method, try it in our wonderfully light, moist Japanese Milk Bread Rolls

PJ Hamel
About

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!

comments

  1. Jackie

    Thank you for your tips. I will certainly take those into account when I make my next cinnamon rolls. However, I did find a recipe that calls for mashed potatoes and I don’t think I have ever made a better cinnamon roll. My husband said that it was like eating a cloud and I have to agree.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mashed potatoes (or potato flour) can be a miracle ingredient in yeast dough. Potato starch holds moisture differently than wheat flour alone does, so the result is a wonderfully tender and soft bun or roll. It’s the best! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sure is, Nancy! It’s made by USA Pans, one of our favorites. Find it on our website here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Linda

    Hi- I would like to use this dough for pecan sticky buns, but I really need to have the buns finished the day before (or at least everything but the baking). Any tips/suggestions to help me out?
    Thanks,

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Linda, you can either prepare the buns up through shaping and then refrigerate overnight and bake the buns the next day. Or if you prefer, you can also make the buns a day in advance and then reheat before serving. If you’d like to take the latter option, cover the buns with foil and place in 350°F oven for about 10-15 minutes until they’re warmed through. They’ll taste almost like they just came out of the oven. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It isn’t something we’ve tried, but our cake flour is fairly high in protein as far as cake flour goes. Use as much of the all-purpose and then cake flour for the rest. Add your liquid slowly as it won’t absorb as much so you probably won’t need all of it. Annabelle@KAF

  3. Samuel Gaxiola

    Can I use the tangzhong method with a no knead recipe? Will it work with a denser rye flour recipe?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad to hear you’re eager to start experimenting with this technique, Samuel! While we haven’t tested using the tangzhong method with no-knead or rye recipes, we encourage you to give it a try using some of the tips from our recent blog article all about tangzhong. You’ll find that adapting your favorite recipes to include a tangzhong starter is quick and relatively simple. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  4. LizzieLou

    I am planning on experimenting by adding apples to this (finely diced tarts) in one batch and espresso or Earl Grey frosting on another. Any suggestions to help me in my experiment? Merci!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What we wouldn’t give to be some of your taste-testers that day, Lizzie. For the apples, 1 cup of peeled apples should do it, which is about 1-2 large apples. Depending on the texture you want them to add, you could either grate them or finely dice them. We’d recommend adding about 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with the apples to absorb excess moisture and thicken the filling so the buns aren’t soggy. The zest of a lemon would also make the apple flavor pop if you had any on hand.
      For your frostings, we love both ideas! With either one, you would simply replace the milk in the recipe with brewed cold espresso or with brewed cold early grey tea. If you’re looking to use espresso powder rather than liquid espresso, combine 2 teaspoons of espresso powder with your powdered sugar before adding the liquids in the frosting recipe. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Jenn

    You didn’t mention proofing tho. the last couple of times that I made cinnamon buns they came out yeasty and a bit sour tasting. I looked into it and perhaps it was that I let rise in too warm of a place? or? so I am wondering about rising times, how long, what temp? how to compensate for a cold house,?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jenn. The recipe used in this particular blog post, Soft Cinnamon Rolls, calls for a 45-60 minute rise, or until the buns are quite puffy. Typically a strong yeasty flavor develops when a dough is risen in a cold environment, such as the fridge, or if it has a long, overnight rise. Try the Soft Cinnamon Roll recipe and let us know if that’s more of the flavor you’re looking for. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Paula, we have a helpful video on our website that demonstrates how to tell when dough is fully kneaded. When dough is fully kneaded, it will spring back and won’t tear when you pull on it gently. We encourage you to look for these visual cues rather than following the time on the clock, as it may take you longer or shorted based on your speed of mixing. We hope that helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

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