Genius Recipes

How to Make Cinnamon Rolls That Stay Pillowy-Soft for Days

No surprise: King Arthur Baking Company's 2021 recipe of the year does not disappoint.

February 24, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


In one of my most vivid memories, I’m watching my parents make cinnamon rolls from scratch on Christmas morning. Flour and mess are everywhere; dough is coiled directly on the counter. The house smells like the siren song of Cinnabon at the airport. I want our home to feel like this every day! And it happened exactly once.

Because, inevitably, cinnamon rolls from scratch are a commitment. There’s usually (but not always) yeasted dough to rise twice, filling and icing to measure and whisk, rolls to swirl and slice and bake.

Rolls you will make more than once. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.

But most problematic of all: The joy is fleeting. Most rolls are at their best still-warm and molten. Do a little math, carry the one, and—in order to have breakfast at breakfast time—you’re waking up just a few hours after you went to bed. Maybe that part’s just me, but it’s no wonder my parents didn’t make this an annual tradition.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I make a great cinnamon roll recipe already but I’m definitely going to try this one with the tangzhong. This could be a game changer!”
— Nancy L.
Comment

The team at King Arthur Baking Company knows this, of course. They also know, with the pandemic still keeping much of the world at home, that we could really use a cinnamon roll, but won’t be in a position to polish off a whole pan at once any time soon.

So the King Arthur team’s mission, with their 2021 Recipe of the Year, was to change all this, and to bring from-scratch cinnamon rolls into more homes, more often. The recipe they developed is so pillowy-soft, the rolls will taste just as good for lazy Sunday brunch as they do on groggy weekday mornings (and midnight snacks) thereafter, with some bakers even reporting pillow-softness a week later. This also means you can make the entire recipe ahead the night before, then just warm and frost as you go in the morning. Cancel that 6:30 a.m. alarm.

But how? And will coffee shops everywhere stop giving away their pastries at the end of the day when they learn about this recipe? The King Arthur baking team relied on the moisture-retaining powers of tangzhong, a technique you may have seen used in Japanese milk breads and other downy baked goods to achieve lasting moisture and softness (1).

In tangzhong—a technique with origins in Japanese yukone (or yudane), widely popularized by the Taiwanese cookbook author Yvonne Chen in her book 65 Degrees C—simply pre-cooking a portion of the recipe’s flour with water before mixing with the rest of the ingredients kick-starts the gelatinization of the flour’s starches. This makes them better able to hold liquid—up to twice as much as if you were mixing the flour and water together at room temperature or lukewarm. The same amount of hydration in a recipe without a tangzhong step would be a runny, un-kneadable mess.

And best of all, that well-trapped moisture sticks around long after the rolls are baked. Hence the plush, gooey cinnamon rolls for days on end, an experience so rewarding, it most certainly won’t be the last time you do it.

(1) A couple other beloved recipes that make the most of tangzhong: Stella Parks’ bagels and Ideas in Food’s New-Fashioned Apple Cider Doughnuts in Genius Desserts. Do you have other favorites?

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

43 Comments

Kittie M. March 12, 2021
Wondered if anyone who has made these has also made the cinnamon roll recipe by Erin Jeanne McDowell - that's the one that has nearly a pound of butter in it! 😆Thanks!
 
Kittie M. March 12, 2021
Oh - and how do they compare?
 
Vicki March 12, 2021
Now you’ve got me curious, too!

And I wonder if the people at Food52 could have their programmer switch the spelling of “replies”...Sorry, I can’t help it, I used to be an editor and so copywriting is in my blood…!
 
Kittie M. March 12, 2021
😆 I feel your pain!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
I just requested—thanks for pointing that typo out! Haven't made Erin's rolls but can't see how they could be anything but delicious :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 7, 2021
The typo is fixed! Thanks for speaking up.
 
Nancy L. March 5, 2021
I just received my new King Arthur Baking Companion this week and I zeroed in on this recipe like steel to a magnet! I immediately let my niece and daughter-in-law know and they ordered their own books.
I make a great cinnamon roll recipe already but I’m definitely going to try this one with the tangzhong.
This could be a game changer!
 
Juanita S. March 5, 2021
It truly is. Everyone who got one from the batch I made, said it was the best cinnamon bun they had ever eaten.
 
Cheryl H. March 3, 2021
Random question what are you using to cover your bowls while rising?
 
Juanita S. March 3, 2021
Saran wrap
 
Arlene B. March 8, 2021
She used beeswax wrap by Bees Wrap. It’s reusable.
 
Juanita S. March 8, 2021
Or one of my bread cloths
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
Yes, Bee's Wrap! It's a game changer and I use so much less plastic wrap now. There are a bunch of pretty patterns in the Food52 Shop: https://food52.com/shop/products/3951-bee-s-wrap-reusable-food-wraps
 
Juanita S. March 3, 2021
I made these this morning, and they are fabulous. I used heavy cream in the icing.
 
Samantha B. March 1, 2021
Technique was interesting and fun. They are yummy and light for sure, but I would prefer the filling less sweet, and then with the super sweet topping, it wasn't my ideal image of what a cinnamon roll should be. I think I prefer a more buttery, slightly tangy cinnamon roll. Will have to play around with that for next time.
 
Heather W. February 28, 2021
I made these today. They are definitely going to be done again! They are the family's new favorite cinnamon roll. I did see someone asking about using active dry yeast, which I did and it worked fantastically!
 
Vicki February 28, 2021
I made two batches this afternoon. One, I used the bread maker to mix it up, using the dough setting from the menu. For the second, I used the KitchenAid. For whatever reason, the batch in the bread maker that much lighter and fluffier. After baking, the second batch caught up, but the truth is that the first dose seem to be light and slightly sticky as was described. I’m starting to wonder about the temperature of my oven, however. (Electrolux double oven that seems to be measuring about right...) Neither batch got even golden brown... although they tasted good, both batches looked slightly anemic. I did bake them in the top third of the oven, agreeing that usually that position gets things to brown better. I’m not sure what I did wrong… I measured all of the ingredients and followed the directions to the letter. Did anyone else have that problem?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
Oven temperature is a great thing to look into—it can be shocking to see how off an oven is when you get a thermometer (and they're pretty cheap). I personally have preferred these paler and softer than the ones I baked in the video because they softer longer, and then you can always toast them as much as you like on reheating them.
 
Vicki March 12, 2021
Yes, the temperature seems to be OK...And personally I agree with your thoughts about the lighter color. I was just surprised at how pale they looked… Thanks for the reply!
 
Peiming Y. February 28, 2021
I used Thermomix to make them today, saved me a lot of time, they are so soft and tasty. Thank you.
 
Tamara D. February 25, 2021
I've made these 3 times since January, my husband and grandsons love them!! if you decide to make them, do not skip the tanzhong, it is what makes them so good!
 
bruce February 25, 2021
What brand is your stove? It seems to have the features I want, but I cannot find any that have them.
Thank you
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
Thanks for your patience Bruce—it's a Maytag "Advanced Cooking System" and it was here when I moved into my rental home. I've been very happy with the consistent temp in the oven, and less happy with my tendency to burn food on the stovetop, but that has been the case with other electric ranges I've had and may prove to be operator error.
 
Janet S. February 25, 2021
Did anyone make these into cinnamon nut rolls? Caramel topping?
Thanks... I love genius recipes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
Commenters on King Arthur's website certainly have!
 
Isubscribe25 February 25, 2021
Would this recipe work with the King Arthur GLUTEN FREE bread flour? Or is there a gluten free recipe version of this recipe using the Tangzhong technique? Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
King Arthur recommends this gluten-free recipe instead: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/gluten-free-cinnamon-rolls-recipe
 
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Pete M. February 25, 2021
I don't actually like cinnamon rolls--sacrilege I know--but savory rolls are a different matter. I'll try this in sun-dried tomato rolls. But not my favorite mushroom rolls perhaps, where the goal is maximum earthiness: whole wheat sourdough + garlic oil + extra strength mushroom sauce.
 
Virginia H. February 24, 2021
Yep! I am going to make them, sans the curtie pie helping.
 
DMN February 24, 2021
Made these for Valentine's day. A big hit with both my husband and me. Best cinnamon rolls going. Love using the tanzhong. I have been making KAF's Japanese milk bread for months.
 
Donna S. February 24, 2021
I made these and they were SO good!
 
Kathy February 24, 2021
I've made these twice since finding the recipe about a month ago - they are so good! Hubby asked me to toss my other cinnamon roll recipes...
 
Tonny M. February 24, 2021
I’ve made them numerous times! Awesome recipe. Even got them to rise up here in Calgary My granddaughter calls the Heaven Buns!
 
Antomattei February 24, 2021
Can you substitute instant yeast with active dry yeast?
 
2tattered February 24, 2021
Sure, always. I’d warm 1/3 of the milk for the dough and whisk in 2 tsp active dry yeast (frankly, I’d throw in the whole packet since it’s 2 1/4 tsp and I hate waste). Leave 5 to 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved and slightly foamy. Continue with dough recipe; don’t forget to add 1/3 cup more warm milk!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 12, 2021
Charlotte Rutledge, the developer of this recipe, says that you can swap them 1:1 here, without proofing!