An easy recipe and tutorial on how to make my family’s favorite cinnamon rolls. You can serve these with a cream cheese frosting or simple vanilla icing and even prep them ahead of time!
The holidays are upon us and one of my favorite things to make this time of year are homemade cinnamon rolls. Not just any cinnamon roll recipe though, this one comes straight from my grandmother who has spent years perfecting this recipe!
Originally published in 2018, I decided it was time to update this post to make it even better. I’ve broken everything down from how to proof yeast, how to scald your milk, the easiest way to slice them, how to tell if your dough is properly kneaded, and how to prepare them ahead of time.
If homemade cinnamon rolls intimidate you, I think this recipe will change your mind. Once you take a bite of these soft, gooey, delicious cinnamon rolls, you will want to make them over and over again!
How To Make Cinnamon Rolls
While there are several steps to making this cinnamon roll recipe, they are still fairly easy to throw together! Here’s a simple breakdown for how to make them:
- Proof the yeast & set aside: The best way to activate yeast is to mix together 1/4 cup of warm water with 1 teaspoon of sugar, stir in 1 package (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast, and let it sit for 5 minutes. You want your water to be between 105°F and 115°F, if the water is too hot it can kill your yeast. The water should be warm to the touch, not hot. Once it’s prepared, set it aside.
- Scald your milk: Scalded milk is important in this recipe because it unravels the proteins that inhibit rising which in turn creates lighter, softer cinnamon rolls. To scald the milk, place it in a saucepan over medium heat stirring often. Once the milk starts to bubble, right before it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.
- Pour the warm milk over some sugar, shortening, and salt: I like to add the sugar, shortening, and salt to a mixing bowl then add the warm milk. The scalded milk will also help to dissolve the sugar and salt better. If you still see a few pieces of shortening in the mixture, don’t worry! Make sure to let the mixture cool to about 110°F so it doesn’t kill the yeast when you add it.
- Add some flour, an egg, and the yeast mixture: Add 2 cups of flour, one egg, and the yeast mixture to your mixing bowl and mix together until well combined. Your mixture should look like the picture above on the left.
- Add more flour: I typically use between 4 and 1/4 cups to 4 and 1/2 cups of flour total whenever I make these. I suggest adding 2 more cups of flour (4 cups total), then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour at a time as needed. The dough shouldn’t be too sticky, it should be easy to handle.
- Knead the dough: It’s important to knead this dough for about 5 to 10 minutes to help develop the gluten in the dough. Without well-developed gluten, they will turn out tough, kneading them helps to make them soft and light. I like to knead the dough with the dough hook on my stand mixer on low speed, but you can do this by hand too.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let it rise: Make sure to cover it, and let it rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size. I like to place the bowl of dough on a heating pad set on low to let it rise. It sounds weird, but it works!
- Punch the dough and roll it out: Once the dough has risen, punch it down, then roll it out into a large rectangle about 1/4-inch thick.
- Add the filling: Spread some softened butter on the dough and sprinkle some brown sugar and cinnamon on top.
- Roll the dough and cut it: I always cut mine into 12 pieces. Once the dough is cut, grease a 9×13 baking pan, and place them in it.
- Let them rise one more time: This will take about 45 more minutes. Or you can go ahead and cover them and refrigerate the dough overnight, then let them rise in the morning in a warm spot and bake them. Both ways work fine!
- Bake & cool: As they are baking, I suggest keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t brown too much on top. I usually place a piece of foil over them after they’ve been in the oven for about 10 minutes. Be sure to let the cinnamon rolls cool some before adding the icing.
You can also top these with any kind of frosting or icing that you prefer. I’ve included a recipe for cream cheese icing, but I also included a simple recipe for an easy vanilla glaze that you can use in the recipe notes. However you make them, these will be the best cinnamon rolls you ever try!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you tell if your dough is properly kneaded?
If you’re new to working with yeast, it can be a little difficult to know if your dough is ready. You will know your dough is ready if it’s smooth, no longer sticky, and hold it’s shape. If you lightly press the dough with your finger it will bounce back.
How long do I bake them?
I typically bake these cinnamon rolls for about 25 minutes, but the baking time may vary slightly depending on your oven.
How do you store them?
If you are adding the cream cheese icing on top, I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you use the simple vanilla icing, then you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature. They should stay fresh for 3 to 4 days.
- Make sure to let the scalded milk mixture cool to about 110°F before mixing in the flour, yeast, and egg.
- Use unwaxed unflavored dental floss to easily slice them! I place the dental floss under the roll of dough, cross it over, then pull tightly for clean slices.
- Keep an eye on them and cover loosely with a piece of foil if needed so they don’t brown too much on top.
- To prepare ahead of time: Once you’ve cut the cinnamon rolls, cover them tightly, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place, then bake as directed in the recipe.
More Easy Breakfast Recipes To Try!
- Buttermilk Pancakes
- Banana Muffins
- Homemade French Toast
- Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal
- Buttermilk Biscuits
Grandma's Cinnamon Rolls
For the dough:
- 1/4 cup warm water (110°F-115°F) plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 package (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 5 tablespoons (62 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons (32 grams) shortening
- 1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, scalded*
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 4-5 cups (500-625 grams) all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled
For the filling:
- 4 tablespoons (60 grams) butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar packed
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 3 ounces (85 grams) brick-style cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) milk, use more as needed
To make the cinnamon rolls:
- Whisk the warm water with the teaspoon of sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle the yeast on top and gently stir it into the water. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
- Add the 5 tablespoons of sugar, shortening, and salt to a heat-proof mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour the scalded milk on top and whisk until well combined. Set aside and allow to cool until it's warm and no longer hot (about 110°F or 43°C).
- Once the scalded milk mixture has cooled, mix in 2 cups (250 grams) of flour by hand or using the dough hook attachment on a stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture and mix until well combined, then mix in the egg.
- Mix in 2 more cups (250 grams) of flour until fully combined, then mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour at a time until the dough is easy to handle. Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface or using the dough hook on a stand mixer on low speed for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding a little extra flour if needed.
- Once the dough is kneaded, form it into a ball and place it into a lightly greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until double in size.
- Once double in size, punch down the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 12x18 inch rectangle (about 1/4-inch thick).
- Spread the softened butter all over the dough. Mix the brown sugar and ground cinnamon in a mixing bowl until well combined, then sprinkle on top of the butter and gently press it down.
- Starting at the 18-inch side, roll the dough up tightly. Cut the roll of dough into 12 equal pieces and place each piece in a greased 9x13 baking pan. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
- After about 30 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is preheated, place the cinnamon rolls in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the cinnamon rolls are cooked through in the center. Cover loosely with foil after about 10 to 15 minutes of baking to prevent excess browning. Once the cinnamon rolls are done, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.
To make the cream cheese frosting:
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract until fully combined. Then mix in the milk, adding more as needed until it has reached your desired consistency.
- Once the cinnamon rolls have cooled slightly, frost them, serve and enjoy!