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This simple recipe can be made even by a complete beginner but is still my go-to recipe for the very best cinnamon rolls ever. Soft and gooey, with a sweet, maple-flavored frosting they are everyone’s favorite!
I’m about to tell you an embarrassing secret about myself: I kind of hate it when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Awful, right? I mean, it is Jesus’ birthday, after all. As a Christian I always feel like I’m supposed to say, “What better place to celebrate!” and ring a bell, or something.
But the reason is what’s so embarrassing: It’s brunch.
Christmas brunch is quite literally my favorite meal of the entire year. And we skip it when Christmas falls on Sundays, dagnabit.
It’s not a fancy meal, and the only real change that’s been made in the past 20 years has been these cinnamon rolls. My sister makes the yummiest biscuits and sausage gravy, my dad spends hours segmenting oranges and grapefruit for my grandmother’s citrus fruit cocktail and cooks a whole lot of bacon. My contribution was always a cream cheese coffee cake, and some years we would have other pastries as well.
I still make the coffee cake, it’s a must-have, but several years ago, I added these cinnamon rolls to the brunch table for my picky kids, who didn’t look forward to brunch as much as I did. Now we are all happy.
Best Cinnamon Rolls Ever
I have made these gooey sweet rolls for years for my family. The recipe is one of Pioneer Woman’s (Ree is the best!), and I’ve only made a couple of changes to make them our favorites.
She cuts her rolls quite thin and bakes them in several round pans, while I prefer to cut them thicker for larger rolls and bake them in 9×13 pans.
A second change is the icing. We also don’t love coffee in our icing. And while we do love the addition of maple extract, I often didn’t have it in my cabinet. So in a ‘winging-it’ kind of moment I grabbed some Log Cabin syrup and squeezed some in.
Yum. I haven’t worried since about having maple extract on hand.
The best cinnamon rolls are easy enough for a beginner
When my son was living in Atlanta and called me to get a recipe to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras, I suggested he make my easy King Cake which uses refrigerated crescent dough. No going, he wanted to make something from scratch.
Only thing, he’d never made a yeast dough before. Ever.
This was the recipe I sent him and he used it with great success. In fact, I think he’s made it a few times, now.
One of the things that makes this recipe so simple is that you make it all in one big pot, there is no kneading. No kneading! And yes, you still get an amazing texture.
You start by heating milk, oil, and sugar in a pot till it’s scalded…that means not quite boiling. Tiny bubbles starting to form around the edges is what you’re looking for.
The next step is patience.
You have to wait until the mixture cools enough to add the yeast without killing it. You want the temperature to be warm, not hot. If you gave yogurt-making a shot with me this summer, it’s similar to that process.
My signal that it’s the right temperature is that I can dip my (very clean) pinky finger all the way to the bottom and hold it there for several seconds….warm not hot. You get it.
Then you add the yeast and most of the flour and stir it up. Cover it and put in a warm place to rest for about an hour or until about doubled in size (I usually stash it inside my oven that I have turned on to warm for just a minute and then turned off…make sure it is off!)
Now stir in the last bit of flour and some baking powder, soda and salt…don’t forget the salt, even sweet dough needs salt! Then you can either use the dough right away or cover it and stash it in the fridge for a few days (punching it down if it rises too high).
The best cinnamon rolls are filled with ooey gooey goodness
Either way you’ll want to divide the dough in half, it’s a huge amount! I typically make two 9×13 pans of cinnamon rolls and freeze one (I like to use foil pans from the Dollar Tree for this.) To bake from frozen, just thaw the rolls and let them rise in the pan and then bake as directed. Easy peasy!
The dough is really easy to work with, especially when it’s been chilled.
So after you’ve divided the dough in half, roll it out into a big rectangle… about 30×10. Then drizzle on your melted butter…plenty of it. And sprinkle on the sugar and cinnamon.
Sometimes I use just white sugar and cinnamon, but usually I use a mix of white and brown sugars. Caramel-ly.
Then comes the rolling…don’t be alarmed if there’s also some oozing at this stage. Oozing is a sign of much ooey-gooiness.
When you melt the butter for your rolls, scoop a little out and drizzle it in the bottom of your pan. After you slice your rolls (using a serrated knife works best), place them to rest on the butter drizzle in the pan.
12 rolls is what I typically do in a 9×13 pan. It’s easy to cut the long roll into 12, even for a non-mathy lady such as myself.
- Cut the ends off first to even everything up.
- Then cut your roll in half. (2 pieces)
- Cut each half in half again (4 pieces)
- Then into thirds (12 pieces)
Okay, quick aside here.
When I was cutting my rolls, my mom called. What I should have done is to stop cutting and give my sweet mother my full attention. What I did was to give both the rolls and my mother half of my attention.
This is what happened:
They were a little wonky. Some were way thicker than others, and I ended sticking some of the dough I had cut off of the ends under some of the thinner ones to lift them a bit.
Guess what, though— wonky or not, they still tasted great and my fellas did not notice a difference in the number or layout of the cinnamon rolls. Aaaand, the next time I talked to my mother, she got my full attention!
The best cinnamon rolls have a sweet, maple-y icing
I grew up on my Grandma Lena’s caramel rolls, and while I do still love a good, sticky caramel roll…frosting is my favorite. And frosting with the added flavor of sweet maple syrup takes these over the top for me.
If you have maple extract, feel free to use that in place of the maple syrup. You would, perhaps, need to add a bit more milk to make up for the moisture.
Mix up your icing while the rolls are baking (after their short rise) and drizzle/pour about half of it on when they’re hot out of the oven so that some of the icing absorbs into the hot rolls. I always reserve some to drizzle on top as well for some contrast.
We had these as a Breakfast for Dinner night with bacon and fresh fruit, and then had the leftovers for breakfast the rest of the week.
They make a lovely gift for a friend or family member, or anyone you want to bless. And in that vein, you could definitely divide your cinnamon rolls into smaller pans and bake them that way to spread the joy.
I really love them with a cup of coffee. Well, let’s be honest. I really love them any way at all.
But I think we’ve definitely established that my favorite day to eat them is Christmas morning.
Here’s the recipe, remember, it makes two big pans!: