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.

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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. Patricia Throlson

    My favorite overnight breakfast is Overnight Oatmeal in a Crockpot. This is an adaptation of recipes from Christopher Kimball and an “Irish Oats” version.
    1 Tablespoon butter
    1 cup steel cut oats
    3 cups of water
    1 cup of milk
    1/4 teaspoon of salt
    2/3 – 1 cup of cranberries (optional)
    Preparation, anytime during day or evening:
    Melt butter in 10 Inch skillet.
    Stir in oats and continue stirring about 3 minutes til slighted brown and toasty.
    Put toasted oats in 3 quart crockpot/slow cooker with the salt. Leave cover slightly ajar until ready to cook.
    At 9 to 10 PM or so:
    Add 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk to cooker. Add cranberries if using.
    Turn to warm setting (or low if no warm on your crockpot).
    Cover and cook overnight for 8 to 10 hours.
    Makes 4 servings.

    Notes:
    1. I don’t grease my crock pot but as soon as I take oatmeal out for breakfast, I add hot water to the crockpot insert, recover and set the insert in the sink and it washes up easily with a non-abrasive scrubber after we have eaten.
    2. We like our oatmeal with added milk (or cream) and sweetener when we eat it.
    3. We don’t add the cranberries until morning because my husband likes them added and I prefer my oatmeal “plain”!
    4. My husband eats oatmeal every morning and this keeps well in the refrigerator and can microwave on subsequent mornings. I always make 4 servings so we can do this.

    My other favorite overnight recipe which I submitted (April, 1998) to Taste of Home Magazine and has been published many times since in their cookbooks is “Sunday Breakfast Casserole” which can be made day of serving or prepped the night before along with my “Overnight Coffee Cake” in the same issue.

    Reply
  2. Nathalie andreotta

    I am going to TRY this recipe for overnight cinnamon rolls. I have always wondered if one could do it this way. I will certainly try this one.
    N.A.

    Reply
  3. Dena Logan

    I am so happy to see this post. I went to one of your free baking sessions in Ohio years ago and specifically asked this question. I was told then to pop them in the fridge after cutting, take them out in the morning and bring to room temperature until risen. I was never happy with this method. I’ll be anxious to try rising 3/4s of the way first!!

    Reply
  4. Sarah Crockett

    I have a daydream of making homemade cinnamon roll dough, freezing it, then figuring out if I can place the frozen rolls in the oven the night before, letting them thaw, rise, then bake with my auto oven timer and wake up to cinnamon rolls ready to take out of the oven. I realize this may be an overly wishful dream, but has anyone worked out the timing on something like this?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wow, what a wonderful, fanciful dream, Sarah! We certainly have figured out the best way to bake cinnamon rolls, which we’ve outlined in this post on our blog. However, thawing overnight in the fridge is key. Otherwise what tends to happen is the dough around the outer edges and top of the rolls thaws first and starts to rise. Often times the tops will look fully proofed while the center of the rolls are still frozen solid. Because of this, a cool, slow thaw in the fridge tends to produce the best results. That doesn’t mean you can’t try experimenting though, Sarah! You might be able to thaw the frozen rolls in the fridge overnight and then put them in the oven to be baked the next day if you use a very small amount of yeast — that way they could rise over the course of the night and be ready by the morning. We hope you’ll keep us updated on this adventure if you give it a whirl! Kye@KAF

  5. Tiena

    My mother had a recipe for overnight raisin buns that she made for Christmas morning and a few other special times. We’d make the dough after dinner, let it rise till bedtime then shape into buns and cover and let rise at room temperature overnight. Bake up in the morning and fresh warm raisin buns for breakfast Christmas morning. Oddly enough my mother didn’t enjoy them warm from the oven, she waited until later in the day to enjoy.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Kathy, it’s pretty foolproof; the one area that takes some experience is understanding how fast your dough is going to rise. Slow-rising doughs may need much longer at room temperature before being refrigerated; super fast-rising doughs might need to be refrigerated without any initial rising time at all, and also might need their yeast cut back for an overnight rise. I’d suggest you settle on a cinnamon roll recipe you really like; figure out the exact timing for that particular recipe using an overnight rise, and then write it down. It can be your go-to from then on. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  6. Charlotte

    Thanks for the advice on how to make the night before and bake in the morning. I’ve never done that before, was a little afraid of what they would do overnight in the fridge. So, I would get up super early and do it. And you’re right, reheating them in the morning is not that good. So, I’m giving it a whirl remembering all the tips. Here’s too my success.

    Reply
  7. Sylvan Kaufman

    Great tips for keeping cinnamon roles overnight, thanks. I’ve found that bagels work well for me – I refrigerate the shaped bagels covered in plastic wrap, take them out in the morning and while the water for boiling them is heating and the oven is preheating the bagels come to room temperature, or close to it. If a guest is up early they can help me sprinkle seeds on the bagels before they go in the oven.

    Reply
  8. Cheryl jones

    I have a great recipe that uses only 1 teaspoon of yeast for 9 cups of flour. Called 5 hour rolls. You make them up and set them on the kitchen counter overnight and bake them in the morning.

    Reply

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