Small Batch O’ Cinnamon Rolls – Perfectly Soft & Chewy!
If you’re American, when you think cinnamon rolls, you’re probably thinking of the rolls from Cinnabon. Soft & fluffy, yet perfectly CHEWY – this is what my mom and I crave out of these buns. My mom loves their cinnamon rolls, and even though they go against her Asian boomer taste for MILD sweet desserts, she says their texture is what makes them worth it overall and keeps her going back for more.
Now, we’ve tried making homemade cinnamon rolls before, and if y’all have been through this, you know that there are A TONNNN of recipes claiming they’re the best cinnamon roll recipe. Then you’re lost on which recipe you wanna risk your time making – I feel you.
I’m not gonna lie, most of these recipes don’t hit it for us. They’re good, sure, but they don’t hit the CHEWY note that we want, that Cinnabon successfully has. Often, they’re just soft and airy, which may be what you want out of your cinnamon rolls, but this is not the recipe for that kind of bun.
Now that I’m arguably more experienced in baking than years prior, I’ve done my research, and I found that Cooking Classy’s recipe hits the closest to what we wanted. With additional research, I’ve added adjustments to her recipe to guarantee that soft & chewy texture balance, and I took down the sweetness quite a lot, according to our tastes (if you find American desserts often a tad too sweet, this is the recipe for you!)
Here’s what I gathered makes a soft yet CHEWY roll:
Bread Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour: There’s no contest seriously. Use bread flour if you can, and I almost say you must. Bread flour has a higher protein content which means MORE GLUTEN FORMATION greatly contributing to the chewy texture we need.
Margarine vs. Butter: Ok, now this is controversial. Margarine is…basically the fake sister to butter. In any other case, I wouldn’t use margarine over butter, but in this case…I think it works better and here’s why. I don’t know the science to this (ok sue me, I’m not a trained pastry chef), but just from the feel and confirmed research online, I found that margarine holds its shape and texture better than butter. At room temperature, I could hold a stick of margarine and it’ll be soft BUT still a little firm. If I held a stick of butter at room-temp, it’ll be dangerously close to melting from the heat of my hands (and I have cold-ass hands y’all).
This works for cinnamon rolls because when you’re spreading it on the dough, margarine will hold up, but butter will melt easily into the dough and make it soft instead of contributing to the chewiness we want.
That’s why I added butter to the dough itself for the flavor, but margarine as the spread for the texture.
From what I’ve gathered online from people who’ve worked at Cinnabon, there’s no secret to their rolls besides a TONNNN of you guessed it – margarine. Is it more a choice for cost-effectiveness? Maybe, but I’m sure a part of it has to do with texture as well.
Baking Time: This factor is very important as well; many people think they should bake the rolls until they’re beautifully golden brown all around. I mean, I don’t blame them, that is literally the ideal for almost every other dessert out there. However, from what I’ve gathered, the secret to a soft, but MOIST roll is just baking them ENOUGH to be fully cooked. Cinnabon does this as well – they bake their buns until just cooked so that their rolls are never dry. And that’s what we’ll do here as well.
Thick vs. Thin: My mom’s a tough-love critic – she won’t hesitate to point out mistakes in my cooking or baking. When I’ve made cinnamon rolls before, she said that I haven’t rolled them out thinly enough. I’d say, “but mom, I’m literally just following this recipe to roll it out to this size.”
Her problem was that the final rolls didn’t have many rings to it – the sections were thick, but Cinnabon’s were thin and had many rings to it. So that’s why I’ve detailed below to roll it out pretty darn thin, which leads to more surface area for filling, and more surface area for chewy edges!
Last note: I’ve read other recipes that say the secret is heavy cream poured over on top of the rolls, or even using the tangzhong method (which is normally used for soft milk bread).
The thing is, I’ve used the heavy cream method, and the result wasn’t what I wanted because the rolls were too soft and had zero chewiness to it. From prior experience of making milk bread, I imagine the tangzhong method leads to soft and airy rolls – but that’s also not what I wanted. It’s also worth it to mention that Cinnabon uses neither methods, and often when it comes to “secret recipes,” the secret is often very simple.
And so, that’s all of the information I gathered online and from experience! If you’re looking for a soft, chewy, decadent, but not too sweet, small batch cinnamon roll recipe, then THIS is the perfect recipe for you!
Check out my Instagram @pokethedough so you can watch me make this recipe too~
Makes 6-8 rolls in a 9 inch round pan
For the dough:
2 tbsp (30mL) warm water, about 110 – 120 degrees
1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
6 Tbsp (90mL) buttermilk, room temp
1 large egg, room temp
1/4 cup (50g) + 1/4 tsp granulated sugar, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp (42.5g) unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pieces and melted
2 to 2-1/4 cup (270-300g) bread flour (I used the spoon and level method – don’t pack down your flour!)
Optional: 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temp, for brushing on top of the rolls
For the cinnamon filling:
4 Tbsp (42.5g) margarine (recommended** see above paragraph for why) or unsalted butter, well softened
1/3 cup (105g) packed dark brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp (12g) cinnamon
For the cream cheese icing:
6 Tbsp (85g) unsalted butter, softened
5 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup (150g) powdered sugar
Making the dough:
Pour warm water into the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or large bowl if doing this by hand), along with yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar and whisk well.
Let rest 5 – 10 minutes to proof (if it doesn’t bubble or foam after that, your water was either too hot or your yeast is expired and no longer alive which will cause the rolls not to rise).
Add in buttermilk, egg, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, salt, vanilla, and 3 Tbsp melted butter. Whisk the mixture until combined.
Pour in 1 cup of the flour and mix until well combined. Switch to a hook attachment (or not if using hands) and add another 1 cup flour. Knead the dough until combined.
Sidenote: Make sure when you’re measuring flour to spoon the flour into your measuring cup and level with a butter knife. This is the best way to measure flour as you don’t pack down the flour and add more flour than you need.
Continue to knead on medium-low speed (I used a 3 on a KitchenAid) or by hand for about 6-10 minutes.
How to tell when it’s done: This dough comes together quickly, but if you’re doubling this recipe it will take longer. During this kneading process, when the dough forms a consistent mass, try to stop the mixer once in a while to check the dough texture. You know you haven’t over-kneaded when the dough is smooth and moist feeling, doesn’t break immediately after stretching, and springs back a little when you poke it.
If the dough is looking smooth, yet sticks to the sides of the bowl and isn’t coming together like a ball, add 1 tbsp of flour at a time as needed to reach a smooth and moist dough that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl, but DOES stick to the bottom a little. Still, don’t be too generous with the flour, we don’t want a dry dough. I ended up with 2 cups total, but yours might vary depending on the humidity in your house.
Proofing the dough:
Form the dough into a ball by tucking. Transfer dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (I used my oven’s Proof setting, but leaving the door open a little).
Proof until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
Forming the rolls:
Butter a 9 inch round pan or any pan close to that size. Line the buttered bottom with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper and set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
Punch the proofed dough down, trying to get as much air out as possible. Dust a working surface lightly with flour and turn dough out onto surface. Sprinkle top of dough with a little flour then roll dough out into at least a 20×9 inch rectangle. Try to get it as thin as you can without ripping – I made mine 22×10 inches.
Spread 4 Tbsp margarine evenly over the entire surface using your hands.
Sprinkle and spread cinnamon mixture evenly over the margarine (try to leave about 1/2-inch border uncovered along the edges, but it’s not too much of a big deal).
Beginning on one of the shorter sides, slowly and tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seams to seal and roll on the seal to ensure it won’t spring out.
Cut into 6-8 equal portions using a large sharp knife or pastry scraper (floss is neater, but I didn’t have unflavored floss). Arrange rolls in the pan by giving them even spacing apart to rise.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (again, I used my oven on the Proof setting with the door slightly ajar) until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees near the last 20 minutes proofing (it goes without saying, but take out the dough out of your oven if you’re using it for proofing).
Optionally, brush the top of the proofed rolls with warm heavy cream to keep them from being dry on top.
Bake rolls in the preheated oven until the rolls are just SLIGHTLY browned on top and edges, the buns are mostly pale but the edges are firm – about 15-18 minutes.
Check on the rolls 12 minutes in. If the centers have toppled over because they rose too high (might happen if your pan was too small), it’s no big deal, feel free to push them down. If it’s browning too fast, tent with foil.
Icing & serving:
While rolls are baking, whip together butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy using a hand-mixer. Add in vanilla and powdered sugar and whip until light and fluffy.
Spread icing over rolls right when they come out of the oven. Rolls are best served warm.
If you have leftover rolls, store them in an airtight container once they’ve cooled. Rewarm individually on a plate in the microwave for about 15 seconds or until soft and warm.