If you’ve been searching for fluffy sourdough cinnamon rolls, your search ends here. These are so soft they just melt in your mouth. They are packed full of rich cinnamon and topped with a light vanilla glaze. This recipe is so easy and the overnight fermentation gives a depth of flavor commercial yeast just cannot achieve.
This magic ingredient is made right before starting the dough and is added while still warm. Made simply from flour and milk, it’s what adds the elasticity to the dough and improves the moisture and texture.
Adding milk to the dough reduces the “sour” flavor of the starter a bit and provides a richer flavor. It also lends itself to a smaller and more tender crumb structure. In this recipe the milk is the main source of liquid, not water. I use raw milk whenever possible!
Instead of sugar, honey is the sweetener in the dough itself. This slightly reduces the amount of processed sugar going into this recipe since there is some in both the filling and the glaze. It also keeps the end product moist.
Instead of commercial yeast, this recipe is only leavened by harnessing natural wild yeasts. The sourdough starter adds a complex flavor and, in my opintion, makes them much better than recipes using only store bought yeast.
Eggs are another ingredient that can be added to soften the final product. The protein content supplements the gluten in the flour and acts as a binding agent. They also extend the shelf life by preventing the bread from staling as quickly.
Every recipe needs a healthy measure of salt. It intensifies and enhances the other flavors and is a good balance to the sugar and the savory sourdough.
Without flour, these would just be a wet mess. It adds the structure and provides gluten that is built up through kneading. I personally used all purpose and they turned out very well.
There is nothing that beats the flavor that bread has after butter is added. It also keeps the dough tender and soft while giving it a higher rise.
The warmth and coziness of the spice make this a comforting and welcoming treat. And let’s be honest, the dark swirl contrasting the light dough is just gorgeous.
The caramelly molasses in brown sugar gives the filling a warmer, deeper flavor than what can be achieved from white sugar.
Used in both the filling and the glaze, vanilla adds more flavor and sweetness without adding extra sugar.
The staple ingredient for the glaze. Since it is a neutral flavor it pairs well with the vanilla, milk, and butter to make a thick dreamy blanket to cover the cinnamon swirls.
The Secret Ingredient
The secret to pillowy texture of these rolls is the use of a tangzhong. If you don’t know what that is, it’s ok, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know what it was until about two months ago. It’s a mandarin term for a gelatinous mix made from cooking down flour and liquid. This happens when the flour is cooked and the starch in it starts to swell and absorb the liquid.
This magical concoction allows the dough to not only take on an extremely soft texture, but it keeps it fresh and soft for days after baking. Something not often achieved by homemade bread and pastries. Due to the tangzhong, a dough can have lower hydration and be free from eggs, and butter, yet still have a tender texture. It also provides structure to a dough with a high hydration percentage and makes it easier to work with.
This recipe uses eggs, butter, milk, and tangzhong so it is beyond soft, yet it has enough structure to withstand the cinnamon sugar without getting soggy. The end result is a perfect, bakery quality cinnamon roll that will have you making them again and again.
Creating the sourdough cinnamon rolls
The process begins by making the tangzhong. A measure of milk and flour are whisked together on the stove over medium heat. The mixture will soon (2-3 minutes) thicken and become slightly opaque. Mix continually and take it off the heat as soon as it has all thickened. If it is overcooked, too much of the liquid will evaporate and interfere with the texture of the dough.
Add the tangzhong to the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the milk, honey, active sourdough starter, eggs, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook, knead for 15 minutes. If you do not have a stand mixer then mix the dough together by hand in the bowl. Once it has come together, transfer it to a baking sheet and knead it there by hand. The tray keeps the mess contained but a clean countertop also works.
Cut the butter into thin slices and add them to the dough after the 15 minutes have passed. Knead for another 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and all the butter is incorporated. The dough will be sticky, but if it seems unworkable add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. It will stiffen a little bit after it rises.
Allow the dough to rise for six hours, or until doubled in size. If it is cold this may take longer.
The filling and assembly
Prepare the cinnamon filling by combining very soft (but not melted) butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. Mix until smooth and creamy. If it seems stiff, you can either warm it slightly and mix it again or use a stand mixer to whip it until it is light and fluffy.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle.
Generously spread on the cinnamon filling so the whole surface is covered. The dough will be soft, which is why having spreadable filling is so important. Make sure the work surface and the tools are well floured to prevent sticking.
Roll the dough into a long log and pinch the seam to seal it.
Slice the log in half, then each piece in half again. Each quarter will be sliced into three equal slices resulting in a total of twelve cinnamon rolls.
Transfer the rolls to a greased 9×13 inch pan. Cover with a towel and allow to rest in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight. They will rise more slowly in the fridge so they can be baked any time after 6 hours but will not double in size. This won’t affect the final product. If in a hurry they can be left to rise at room temperature until doubled in size or for about six hours.
Baking and icing
When ready to bake, pull the cinnamon rolls from the fridge and allow them to warm a bit on the counter while the oven preheats.
Bake for 40 minutes and until lightly golden on top. The way I check to see if they are baked all the way through is to lift the center of the swirl of one of the rolls in the middle of the pan. If the dough isn’t stretching and sticking, I will remove them from the oven. If the dough is still under done, I bake them for a few more minute before checking them again.
While the cinnamon rolls cool, mix together the glaze. If this is done ahead of time be sure to cover the glaze to prevent the top from drying out or forming a skin.
For the glaze, melt the butter and whisk it together with the milk, vanilla, and milk. Add in the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain.
After the rolls have cooled for about 15 minutes, top them with the glaze.
A kitchen scale since the recipe is in grams.
It is possible to make the recipe by hand (yes, I have kneaded it for 20 minutes to prove this theory). However, because the dough is so sticky a stand mixer will save you from sticky hands a lot of mess and aggravation. Here is my favorite one.
A possible timeline
This is the timeline I used to make these so we could wake up Sunday morning to fresh sourdough cinnamon rolls. You do not have to follow this timeline at all, but when I was starting to learn more complex sourdough recipes (such as ones like this with an overnight ferment), having a timeline really helped me do the “sourdough math”.
8:00pm – 10:00pm – Fed the starter (I do this right before going to bed)
When I feed my starter, I look for a thick pancake batter, almost a muffin mix texture. I just measure with my heart, so I don’t have an exact hydration percentage.
9:00 am – Mix together the dough.
9:30 am – Cover and let the dough rise for 6 hours or until doubled in size.
3:30 pm – Make the cinnamon filling, assemble the rolls, and transfer them into the pan. Cover with a towel and let them proof in the fridge overnight.
This will be more than six hours, more like 17+ hours, but since they are in the fridge, they won’t overproof.
8:00 am – Bake the cinnamon rolls.
8:45 am- Make the icing and glaze them.
9:00 am – Enjoy!
- 40 g Flour
- 180 g Milk
- 225 g Milk
- 40 g Honey
- 150 g Sourdough starter (bubbly and active)
- 2 Eggs
- 12 g Salt
- 525 g Flour
- 70 g Butter
- 3/4 cup Butter
- 3/4 cup Brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. Cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
- 1/8 tsp. Salt
- 1/2 Tbsp. Butter (melted)
- 1 tsp. Vanilla
- 3-4 Tbsp. Milk
- 3 cups Powdered sugar
1. Make the tangzhong by combining the flour and milk in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until it thickens into a gelatinous texture. Pull it off the heat once it is all thick as to not overcook it.
2. Transfer the tangzhong into a mixing bowl. Add in the milk, honey, starter, eggs, salt, and flour.
3. Mix at medium speed for fifteen minutes in a stand mixer. *See notes for how to kneed by hand.
4. Cut the butter into chunks and mix again until combines, about five minutes.
5. Cover with a towel and allow to proof on the counter to double in size or about six hours.
6. Make the filling when the dough is almost at the end of its rise time. Combine softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt together. Mix until smooth and well combined.
7. Turn out the dough onto a flour covered counter and gently roll it into a rectangle that is 3/4 of an inch thick.
8. Gently spread out the cinnamon filling to cover all of the dough.
9. Roll the dough into a long log and pinch the end to seal it to the rest of the log.
10. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log in half, then each half in half. Each quarter then gets cut into three equal pieces.
11. Transfer the slices into a greased 9x13 pan.
12. Cover with a towel and allow them to proof in the fridge for eight hours, or overnight.
13. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. While the oven is preheating put the cinnamon rolls on the counter to warm slightly.
14. Bake for 40 minutes. Check the notes for how to check if they are done.**
15. While they are baking, prepare the glaze. Combine melted butter, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Whisk together until no clumps remain. If the sugar wont fully combine, add a few drops of milk until it pulls together. It will be thick.
16. Allow the rolls to cool for 15-20 minutes then spread on the glaze.
* If you don't have a stand mixer then this recipe can still be made by hand. Mix the ingredients in a bowl until it pulls together then transfer it onto a baking sheet. Knead the dough for 15 minutes, it will be stick but don't add extra flour. When adding the butter, cut it into very thin slices so it is easier to mix in by hand. Once the kneeding is done transfer back to the bowl. Using a baking sheet is to keep the mess contained and the counters clean.
** The dough will be very soft and may seem a bit underdone. Take a fork and gently lift the center of one of the middle rolls. If the dough stretches or is gooey then bake for another few minutes. If it is holding together and looks solid then it is done.
If a less sweet icing is desired, add 2 Tbsp. of softened cream cheese to the icing.