Overnight breakfast: fresh-baked sweet rolls without the wait

“I want to serve cinnamon rolls hot out of the oven for breakfast. So can I make them partway the night before, and then bake them in the morning?” Figuring out an overnight breakfast when it involves yeast can be quite a challenge.

A ton of readers call, email, chat, or blog-comment us with the question above. Aside from “My bread didn’t rise,” how to make cinnamon rolls (or sticky buns) ahead of time is one of the single biggest yeast-baking quests people have.

This isn’t surprising. Baking with yeast takes time, and when it comes to breakfast bread and rolls, nothing approaches fresh from the oven. So how do you manage to have something fresh and hot on the table without getting up at 2 a.m. to mix and knead the dough, shape the rolls or coffeecake, and let it all rise before baking?

Do you make everything start to finish the day before and reheat the next morning? You can, but reheated just isn’t the same as fresh from the oven. And that nice white icing atop the cinnamon rolls? Melted and gone. As for getting up in the middle of the night, it’s a distinct possibility for night owls and those with newborn babies, but for the rest of us? Not a chance.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

So what’s the best way to produce an overnight breakfast of fresh, hot sweet rolls?

Divide and conquer! Make and shape the rolls the day before; refrigerate overnight; and bake the next morning.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is, once you nail the timing issue: how much should you let your sweet rolls rise before popping them into the fridge?

Let’s make some rolls and find out.

Looking to make an overnight breakfast of cinnamon rolls or sticky buns? Chill. Click To Tweet

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Prepare the rolls

I make the dough for Cinnamon Rolls, let it rise, deflate it, and roll it out. Once sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and rolled into a log, I slice the dough.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Put the rolls in a pan

They’re in the pan. What next?

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

In retrospect, I should have let these rolls rise a bit more, until they pretty much filled the pan and rose upward a bit. Live and learn!

Let the rolls rise partway, then chill

I cover the pan and let the rolls rise until they’re about three-quarters of the way to fully risen: touching one another and starting to rise vertically, as well as covering the bottom of the pan.

I refrigerate the rolls overnight.

Now, if your dough doesn’t contain much butter — say, less than 1 tablespoon butter per cup of flour — let the rolls rise only halfway. Why? When chilled, butter becomes hard — which stiffens the rolls and prevents them from expanding as much as they might. So the less butter in dough, the more it rises in the fridge.

Likewise, if you’re using a glass or ceramic pan, let the rolls rise only about halfway; it’ll take longer for their temperature to drop once you put them in the fridge.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Next day, I take my rolls out of the fridge and let them rest at room temperature, still covered, while I preheat the oven.

I actually have some extra time, so I let them continue to warm to room temperature. I suspect I’ll get a bit more rise out of rolls that have lost their refrigerator chill.

Bake the rolls

I bake the rolls and turn them out of the pan.

They look pretty yummy upside down, don’t they?

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Still, what’s a cinnamon roll without its white frosting, right?

Caveat emptor: a hot day and active dough

Now there’s one catch to all of this, and I discovered it the hard way. I was baking Cinna-Buns on a very hot, humid day, and my dough rose crazy-fast in the bowl.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

I shaped the rolls and plopped them into the pan.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Half an hour later, they’d filled the pan and were rising straight up, headed toward fully risen.

I quickly covered them and put them into the refrigerator…

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

…but it was too late. Overnight they’d risen to peak volume, and then deflated.

The good news is, I baked them anyway and they had a decent amount of oven-spring; so they weren’t a total loss. But lesson learned: I need to keep an eagle eye on rising cinnamon rolls when it’s hot and humid in my kitchen.

Overnight Breakfast via @kingarthurflour

Overnight breakfast: key takeaways

Before starting the testing for this post, I’d assumed that shaped cinnamon rolls, placed in the refrigerator overnight (my fridge registers 39°F), would continue to rise (albeit slowly).

But time after time, I put my rolls into the fridge — unrisen, partially risen, nearly fully risen — and they didn’t rise at all overnight. As the tech folks would say, WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get.

The sole exception was the rolls I tested on a super-hot and humid day, the ones that rose so quickly that even the chill of the fridge couldn’t stop them, and they eventually collapsed. But I’m going to consider those an outlier.

So here’s the overnight breakfast process in a nutshell:

Make your rolls, put them in the pan, cover the pan, and let them rise about three-quarters of the way. Why just three-quarters? Because your dough may be really lively (or your fridge may be a bit warmer than most), and you don’t want to chance the dough rising and then collapsing.

Next day, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature while you preheat your oven.

Bake the rolls; they’ll show some oven-spring (additional rise) as they bake.

Remove from the oven, and enjoy freshly baked cinnamon rolls or sticky buns for breakfast — no 2 a.m. wakeup call required!

What’s your favorite overnight breakfast, something you can prep ahead, then bake in the morning? Please share in comments, below.

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. Patty White

    I use your Big Batch, Frosted Cinnamon Rolls recipe and everyone loves it! I make them for our quarterly fellowship breakfast at church. I mix and shape the rolls, put them in glass pans and into the fridge. I get up about 5 the next morning and let them rise and come to room temp then bake them about 7:15 so they’ll be done and ready to frost then packed to travel. My problem: even tho they are in insulated carriers, they aren’t warm when served. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There are a few different things you can try, Patty. If there’s an oven that can accommodate your rolls at the place where the breakfast is served, consider covering the buns with foil to protect the frosting and then reheating for about 5 to 10 minutes in a 350*F oven, until they’re warmed through. If that’s not an option, you might consider using hot water bottles (the kind that can lay mostly flat) and tuck them underneath the pans of rolls, filled with boiling water. If you heat up the inside of the insulated carrier, then the rolls will really stay nice and warm until you’re ready to enjoy them. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Cristina

    I use a recipe that I found online a while ago that’s called “45 minute cinnamon rolls”. It involves only a 5 min rest and then letting the rolls rise in a warm (but turned off) oven for 20 min. Then baking for another 20 min. I was skeptical about this method, but they are so good! Start to finish, it takes me about 1hr 15 min to make them (not 45 min), but my kids are always willing to wait for these!

    Reply
  3. Ellen

    I form the rolls and then wrap them individually and freeze them (don’t let them rise before you freeze them). The night before I want to serve them I put however many I need in a pan and put them in a cold oven overnight. They thaw and rise overnight and are ready to cook in the morning.

    Reply
  4. andrew fetterly

    Hi, PJ HAMEL, thanks for sharing the delicious bake cakes, i read your posts regularly to make the best recipes ‘

    Reply
  5. Monica Soule

    What? No link to the “Now or Later Cinnamon Buns” recipe?! I use that recipe all the time, and follow the directions for partially baking, freezing, overnight thawing in the fridge and bake in the morning. Et voila! Perfectly lovely, warm cinnamon buns anytime you want them.

    Reply
  6. Rosalee

    I entered 2 bread products in our recent county fair. I had blue and purple ribbons on the dinner rolls and a blue ribbon on the sweet rolls (dried peach and mango with pecans and brown sugar, kicked up a bit by rehydrating first in Peach Schnapps and OJ). I used the tangzhong method, and of course King Arthur Bread flour and King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour (60%). I implemented a “rest” time of 15-20 minutes. The big take away of the entries was that after 4 days at the fair, with mid 80’s temps, the breads were fresh, not stale, smelled good and tasted quite ok.

    Reply
  7. Trisha

    Thanks for the helpful tip about ceramic or glass pans. I think they take a little longer to get back to room temperature also. Do you think we need to wait until they do before putting the rolls in the oven? I think I might get better results that way but don’t always want to get up that much earlier.

    Besides cinnamon rolls I also like to make stratas in advance. In the fall I tend to make the pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe from your site.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re correct about the pans taking longer to reach room temperature, Trisha. Once it’s in the oven though, it doesn’t usually make a noticeable difference. So long as your buns don’t overrise, feel free to let your pan come to room temperature before baking if you prefer those results. Your pumpkin cinnamon rolls sound absolutely divine! Annabelle@KAF

  8. Jessica Nuttall

    Thank you for testing this! I always crave something warm, yummy, and sweet out of the oven on weekend mornings, but still want to sleep in! Now I can have the best of both worlds!

    Reply
  9. Gloria Norton

    I assume this recipe for cinnamon rolls will work using gluten free King Arthur flour. If not please let me know.
    Gloria Norton

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Gloria, if you’re looking to bake gluten-free cinnamon rolls, we recommend using this recipe here. Gluten is particularly important in supporting the structure of yeast dough, so you’re not able to just make a 1:1 swap of the flour. You’ll have much better results if you use our Gluten-Free Cinnamon Roll recipe, and feel free to follow the overnight preparation approach highlighted in this article. Happy GF baking! Kye@KAF

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *