Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

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Sourdough cinnamon rolls: the new every-weekend tradition? I initially began work on this recipe with the intention that these would be a wonderful Christmas morning indulgence, the birth of a new holiday baking custom. But after making them several times for testing, I’m convinced they should perilously be a weekend indulgence. Why limit ourselves and declare these only for special events and holidays? Seriously, let’s make them every weekend.

Cinnamon rolls fit so perfectly with the cold weather. They’re like that warm blanket you left on the radiator, that puffy wool sweater you wear around the house, or that cup of hot chocolate that breaks through the cold. Layers of tender dough segregated by ribbons of gooey cinnamon-sugar and topped with a creamy, white sugar glaze—it’s enough to make you completely forget it’s cold outside, or perhaps stop caring about winter altogether.

Sourdough Cinnamon Buns with glaze
Sourdough cinnamon rolls with glaze.

Brioche dough is the base for these sourdough cinnamon rolls, which is dough enriched with butter, sugar, and eggs. These ingredients make for an incredibly tender and mouth-melting crumb when added to a dough that’s a deep yellow color. When pulled, these rolls shred apart almost like cotton candy, the only resistance provided by the melted brown sugar cinnamon near the bottom—they’re like a warm, gooey cloud of pure enjoyment. When presented with the opportunity, there’s nary a chance anyone will decline one of these on a plate.

These sourdough cinnamon rolls require a little extra effort, but once you get the hang of the process, it's pretty straightforward—and, of course, totally worth it. The dough is also very versatile: you can adjust the mixing and baking schedule, so they're finished in a single day or spread out over three. The dough can be retarded in the refrigerator after bulk fermentation, after shaping and cutting, or both. My preference is a two-day process where I place the dough in the fridge after bulk fermentation. The next day I wake and get to work on the rolls, and I bake them fresh for breakfast (or brunch if late to rise).

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Spread

Cinnamon brown sugar spread

This spread has just the right level of delicate sweetness and a comforting bite from the cinnamon. The mixture is more crunchy and thick than it is spreadable, which is my preference. When baked, swaths of the spread caramelize, and other smaller areas stay crunchy, providing a subtle contrast of textures.

  • 215g light brown sugar
  • 40g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix or whisk everything together in a bowl so there are few clumps remaining. Keep covered until used (brown sugar dries out very fast).

Cream Cheese Glaze

cream cheese glaze

The cream cheese added not only makes this glaze extremely velvety but it also pairs wonderfully with vanilla. I’ve also tested various iterations of this, swapping out the cream cheese for maple syrup, adding orange blossom water, a dash or two of Angostura bitters… The options are endless.

  • 114g cream cheese softened to room temp (4 oz, half a standard block)
  • 62g (1/2 cup) powdered sugar
  • 37g (3 tablespoons) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add everything to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk until creamy and soft. It’s best and easiest to use a mixer or handheld beater for this, but a handheld whisk will work if you want a workout. The mixer will ensure there are no stray clumps of cream cheese lingering about.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

It’s best to make this brioche-style dough in a stand mixer (like the one I have) due to the dough's soft nature and relatively long mix time required. Most of the strength in this dough will be developed upfront at mix time with just a few more stretch and folds during the bulk to finish it off.

sourdough cinnamon rolls rolling and pan

This recipe yields 12 sourdough cinnamon rolls but you can halve all the ingredients to make half a dozen (in this case, you’ll want to use a smaller pan). I’m using a USA Pan 9” x 13” rectangular pan to hold these 12 buns and because the pan is coated in silicone there’s no need for any parchment paper (it’s magic, really). If you don’t have this pan I’d recommend using parchment under the buns for easy removal.

You will need a rolling pin for this recipe (in a pinch, you could use an empty wine bottle). I am very partial to my rolling pin: it’s a non-tapered solid block of maple wood that’s functional, used in countless tasks around my kitchen, and just a beautiful tool (and made in the U.S.A.).

Sourdough Starter Notes

I know when some read this recipe title and see the word “sourdough,” thoughts of sharp sourdough cinnamon rolls might enter the mind, but this is definitely not the case. I maintain my sourdough starter with frequent refreshments to ensure acidity is kept low. Additionally, when I call for a mature starter in the ingredient list, “mature” means when my starter is just about to its peak height and has not yet fallen. If the starter is used at a state that is overly ripe (perhaps it’s fallen and has been that way for an hour or more) then the resulting rolls might be a touch sourer.

If you’re interested in how I maintain my sourdough starter head over to my Sourdough Starter Maintenance Routine post for in-depth details.

Dough Formula

The target final dough temperature (FDT) for this dough is 70-73°F (21-22°C).

Total Dough Weight1,250 grams
Pre-fermented Flour42.00%
YieldOne dozen rolls
WeightIngredientBaker's Percentage
477gAll-purpose or bread flour (King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)100.00%
133gWhole milk, cold from the fridge28.00%
191gUnsalted butter (Kerrygold)40.00%
191gWhole eggs (about 4 large)40.00%
48gFine white sugar (caster sugar)10.00%
11gSalt2.3%
200gRipe, 100% hydration liquid sourdough starter42.00%
Brioche dough
Sourdough cinnamon roll at the start of bulk fermentation. Silky smooth.

Method

1. Mix – 9:00 a.m.

First, take out the butter and cut it into 1/4” to 1/2” squares; let them sit in a bowl to warm to room temperature while gathering and mixing other ingredients.

Stages of dough mixing
Sourdough cinnamon roll dough in mixing.

Mixing will occur in three stages (clockwise starting in the upper-left in the image below, the last image is the final dough). The first stage will be the initial incorporation of all the ingredients, allowing rest for 10 minutes. The second stage will be strengthening the gluten in the dough before adding butter. The third and final stage will be adding the room temperature butter blocks to the strengthened dough.

Initial Incorporation

In a medium bowl add the cold eggs, cold whole milk, sugar, and mature sourdough starter. Whisk together until incorporated.

Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Set the mixer to low (level “1” on my machine, one notch above “STIR”), and slowly start to pour the liquid into the mixer bowl. Add a little at a time over the course of 3 minutes. Once finished the dough will look very wet and have clumps, let it rest for 10 minutes before further strengthening.

Strengthen Dough

After the 10 minute rest, turn the mixer to medium speed (number “4” on my machine) and mix for about 5-6 minutes until the dough starts to come together and all clumps have disappeared. The dough should start to pull from the bowl's sides, but it will not completely remove from the bottom. If the dough doesn’t want to come together and it’s overly wet, add a little flour, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together.

Incorporate Butter

Butter temperature is important. It should be slightly cold to the touch but easily pliable. If the butter is too cold, it won’t incorporate easily into the dough; if it’s too warm (almost melting), it will make for a greasy dough. Don’t fret if the temperature is off. Pop the bowl with butter in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm slowly, or place it into the freezer for a minute or two to firm up. Adjust as necessary.

Add the butter to the dough one square at a time, waiting until the previous block is absorbed before adding the next. It incorporates easiest if placed right where the hook meets the dough. Continue until all the butter is added and there are no butter patches visible; this could take 8-10 minutes at low/medium mix speed.

2. Bulk Fermentation – 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Transfer the mixed dough to a bulk container and let ferment for 2 hours at 75ºF (23°C). Just like when baking sourdough bread, do 3 to 4 sets of stretch and folds2 during bulk spaced out by 30 minutes. If the dough is firm after the third set, skip the last set but let the dough rest for a full 2 hours.

3. Chill Dough – 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Place the covered bulk container into the fridge for at least 2 hours (I like 3-4 hours).

Overnight option: The timing at this point is very flexible. Once the dough is covered and in the fridge, it can rest there overnight and the rest of the process can be done in the morning for fresh rolls early or for brunch.

Roll the dough out to a rectangle only when it's  completely chilled .

The dough does need to be completely cold and firm to the touch before rolling out, do not shortcut this step.

4. Shape Rolls – 2:00 p.m.

Before rolling out the dough make the Brown Sugar Cinnamon mixture (see recipe, above).

Flour your work surface. Then, remove the chilled dough from the fridge and turn it out to the floured surface. Flour the top of the dough and the rolling pin and begin rolling the dough. Roll it out to an 11” x 21” rectangle that is oriented so one of the long sides is near your body and the squat ends are to the sides. Use a bench knife and a dusting of flour anywhere the dough sticks to the surface.

Try to keep your warm hands off the dough as much as possible to avoid heating it. Sprinkle the dry Brown Sugar Cinnamon mixture evenly over the dough but leave a small margin at the very top bare. When the dough is rolled up, that small margin will help seal the roll.

Starting at the long end nearest you, fold up a small portion of the dough all the way across, then roll one revolution at a time starting at the left side of the dough moving to the right. During the first few rolls, it’s important to roll things up sufficiently tight to make cutting and transferring easier later.

Continue rolling from left to right, one revolution at a time, until the dough is completely rolled up into a “log.” Layout a ruler and using a sharp knife or bench scraper cut the dough every 1 3/4” inches. You can go smaller if you want squatter rolls or up to 2” for taller rolls (if you cut smaller you’ll have more rolls and taller you’ll have less).

Transfer the cut discs to a baking pan with some space around each one.

A few tips to help with this step:

  • Place the rolling pin in the freezer while the dough is chilling to help keep it cold
  • If the dough warms up excessively while rolling out, transfer to a baking sheet and place in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool
  • If the dough is very pliable and warm after it’s completely rolled up, place the entire rolled “log” into the fridge on a baking sheet before cutting

7. Proof – 2:30 p.m.

Fully proofed cinnamon rolls

Place the baking pan with cut dough somewhere warm, around 77°F (25°C), to let proof for 2 hours. During proof, the rolls will relax out and start to puff up, eventually, they may touch each other but it depends on how much space you have between rolls.

Don’t be alarmed if you see any sugary liquid leaking out of the rolls, it’s totally normal. Additionally, if any of the layers develop gaps between them it only means when they rise in the oven they'll be a little more interesting with pieces jutting up and out—beautiful.

8. Bake – Preheat oven at 4:00 p.m., Bake at 4:40 p.m.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) during the last 30 minutes of proof. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the rolls are well colored.

Baked sourdough cinnamon rolls

Spread the glaze over the rolls once cooled. These sourdough cinnamon rolls stay great for a few days in the fridge, and I always reheat them (without glaze) in the oven or microwave to warm back up before eating. They fill the kitchen with that intoxicating aroma once again and always seem to come out as if they were freshly baked.

Conclusion

Whatever the distraction, whatever the work being done—even if a bath is drawn—the kitchen's aroma when these are baked is sure to draw out all. It reminds me of those old cartoons where they put out a piece of cheese, and you see everyone floating toward it in a trance—just like that.

These sourdough cinnamon rolls are addicting. The brioche interior is extremely tender and silky, interrupted only by warm, gooey brown sugar cinnamon. As I alluded to earlier, the cream cheese glaze is tremendous, but the possibilities here are endless, each change bringing on a whole new dimension to these sourdough cinnamon rolls.

Sourdough cinnamon roll crumb
Finished sourdough cinnamon rolls.

Well, I know I'll be making these sourdough cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning! But now that the word is out and everyone knows what I’m baking every other weekend after that I might be expecting a few more surprise visits from friends and family. I'm completely fine with it, though, because I’m happy to share with any and all who stop by—it may just mean I sneak off with one or two before they do. Buon appetito!

Now that you have experience working with enriched dough, the next step is my naturally leavened bomboloni (doughnut) recipe! They're based on a similar dough with just a few changes—they're absolutely incredible. Or, if you're looking for more rolls, have a look at my ultra-tender sourdough cardamom rolls for a different take.

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cream cheese glaze

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 7 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 7 hours 55 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cinnamon rolls
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These sourdough cinnamon rolls are addicting. The brioche dough is extremely tender and silky, interrupted only by warm, gooey brown sugar cinnamon. If you're looking for the perfect weekend treat, these cinnamon rolls are the ticket.


Ingredients

Dough

  • 477g all-purpose or bread flour
  • 133g milk, whole
  • 191g butter, unsalted
  • 191g eggs
  • 48g sugar, caster
  • 11g salt
  • 200g sourdough starter

Filling

  • 215g light brown sugar
  • 40g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, unsalted and melted
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Glaze

  • 114g (4oz, half a block) cream cheese softened to room temperature
  • 62g powdered sugar
  • 37g milk, whole
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix (9:00 a.m.)
    Cut the butter into 1/4″ pats and let warm to room temperature while mixing the rest of the ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the eggs, milk, sugar, and sourdough starter. Whisk together until incorporated. Add the flour and salt and mix on speed 1 for 3 minutes until incorporated. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. After the 10-minute rest turn the mixer to speed 2 and mix for about 5-6 minutes until the dough starts to come together and all clumps have disappeared. The dough should start to pull from the sides of the bowl but it will not completely remove from the bottom. If the dough just doesn’t want to come together and it’s overly wet add a little flour, a tablespoon at a time until it comes together. With the mixer set to speed 1, add the butter one pat at a time, waiting to add each until the previous is absorbed. Continue until all the butter is added and the dough is shiny and smooth, this could take around 8-10 minutes.
  2. Bulk fermentation (9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.)
    Transfer the mixed dough to a bulk container and let ferment for 2 hours at 75ºF (23°C). Perform 3 to 4 sets of stretch and folds at 30-minute intervals.
  3.  Chill dough (11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
    Place the covered bulk fermentation container into the fridge for at least 2 hours to thoroughly chill.
  4. Shape rolls (2:00 p.m.)
    First, make the filling. In a bowl mix together the filling ingredients and set aside. Next, take out your dough from the fridge, lightly flour your work surface and the dough, and roll out to an 11×21″ rectangle with a long side closest to your body. Spread the filling evenly over the dough. roll the dough up away from you into a tight log. Cut the log into pieces every 1 3/4″. Transfer the cut pieces to a baking pan with space around each one.
  5. Proof (2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
    Cover the pan and proof somewhere warm, around 77°F (25°C), for 2 to 3 hours. The dough will relax and puff up during this time. They're ready to bake when the dough feels very soft and light—give the dough additional time to proof if necessary.
  6. Bake (4:30 p.m.)
    Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Slide the rolls into the oven once preheated and bake for 20-35 minutes. Spread the glaze over the rolls once cooled.

Notes

These sourdough cinnamon rolls are best the day they're made, but can be reheated the next day (without glaze) and then topped with freshly mixed glaze.

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look! Thanks so much to USA Pan for sponsoring this sourdough post! As always, all opinions and thoughts here are my own.


  1. Grab one side of the dough, stretch up and fold over to the other. Do one fold at each side, North, South, East, and West.

  2. Grab one side of the dough, stretch up and fold over to the other. Do one fold at each side, North, South, East, and West.

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