On first glance these homemade cinnamon rolls may not look like anything out of the ordinary. Buttery, golden brown yeasted dough, check; delicious cinnamon–brown sugar filling, check; decadent cream cheese icing, check. But we’re putting it all on the line to wager that this recipe, thanks to a few choice tactical twists, produces the best, most ooey-gooey, perfectly fluffy from-scratch buns you’ll ever make.
The secret to the super-soft dough—which also happens to be incredibly easy to work with—is in the tangzhong starter. Tangzhong is the Chinese method of precooking a small portion of a recipe’s starch and liquid (usually flour and milk) to create a thick paste that then gets integrated with the rest of the dough ingredients. This results in a high-hydration cinnamon roll dough that steams more as it cooks, yielding a puffier, pillowy-soft bread with a supple, tender texture. As an added bonus, because of the higher moisture content, these rolls won’t go dry by the next morning (assuming there are any left).
Browning the melted butter ups the ante on the typical cinnamon-brown sugar filling, accentuating its warming spiced toffee flavors, all while adding a nutty, toasty dimension of its own. A tangy cream cheese frosting offsets these deep, rich notes. And while we like it just as it is, feel free to add a few drops of vanilla extract for even more warmth or a touch of lemon zest for extra brightness.
If all that hasn’t convinced you that this just might be the best cinnamon roll recipe, how about this? The recipe uses 1 envelope of instant yeast (different from active dry yeast!), but if you’ve got a big jar at home and are in a hurry, don’t hesitate to increase the amount to 1 Tbsp. for an even quicker rise—about 20 minutes less for the first dough rise and 10 minutes less for the second. (It won’t affect the flavor.)
Or for overnight cinnamon rolls primed for morning baking, spread preparation across multiple days by refrigerating the dough, either after the first rise or after the unbaked rolls have been shaped and nestled in their baking pans, ahead of the second rise. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent the dough from forming a skin, and leave the chilled dough out at room temp for about an hour before proceeding.