The best cinnamon rolls are stickily glazed, covered with creamy frosting, and then soft and tender when you tear open the inside.
If you’re baking cinnamon rolls, how do you make sure they come out soft and moist? And how do you store them to keep cinnamon rolls soft?
To keep cinnamon rolls soft when baking, use only the required amount of bread flour and the tangzhong method. Do not overknead or overwork the dough. Use warm ingredients and softened, not melted, butter for the filling. To keep cinnamon rolls soft, store them in an airtight tub or plastic wrap.
Cinnamon rolls should be soft and fluffy when you bite into them – unfortunately, they can be dry, hard, and even tough.
What can you do during the baking process to ensure your cinnamon rolls stay soft? Once they’re baked (and assuming your family hasn’t inhaled them in a single sitting), what are the best ways to store leftover cinnamon rolls to keep them soft?
How to Keep Cinnamon Rolls Soft When Baking
Baking delectable cinnamon rolls does take time and effort. It’s worth learning the secrets of keeping your cinnamon rolls soft and gooey when preparing the dough and baking the rolls.
With cinnamon rolls, as with many other baked goods, the final product’s texture is determined early on by the ingredients and how you handle them.
1 – Watch the Yeast
One of the first steps in making cinnamon rolls from scratch is activating your yeast, either by adding warm milk or mixing the yeast with the dry ingredients and then adding warm milk/water, butter, and eggs.
For the softest, fluffiest cinnamon rolls, use high-quality, fast-activating yeast. This kind of yeast will help your rolls to rise quickly, which is the secret to that dreamy texture.
It’s also helpful to ensure that your yeast is fresh – don’t rely on the appearance of the package alone. Check the expiry date. When in doubt, “proof” your yeast – test it by adding one teaspoon of yeast to a ¼ cup of warm water and ¼ teaspoon white sugar. Stir to combine and set aside in a warm place for about five to ten minutes. If the mixture is foamy and bubbly, your yeast is good to go. If not, discard the yeast.
However, it won’t help if you use the perfect yeast and do not add the liquids at the right temperature. To activate the yeast, you must warm the water/milk and butter before adding them to the dry ingredients.
However, if the liquid is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If it is too cold, the yeast won’t activate. (So don’t add eggs straight from the fridge, either.)
Ideally, any liquid you add should be just warmer than body temperature, so slightly warm to the touch.
2 – Use Bread Flour
Another secret to soft and tender cinnamon rolls is to use bread flour rather than cake flour or all-purpose flour.
The reasons is that bread flour has a higher level of protein, which produces more gluten, that stretchy, web-like molecule responsible for the chewy, springy texture you want in a cinnamon roll.
3 – Use the Tangzhong Method
If you’ve ever tasted Asian milk bread, you’ll have delighted in the gentle pillowiness of the tangzhong method of making yeast bread.
Tangzhong, widely used in Chinese and Japanese baking, involves pre-cooking a portion of the flour and milk or water in a bread recipe to lock in moisture before adding the mixture to the remaining ingredients.
The logic behind tangzhong is that heating the flour and liquid to about 149⁰F (65⁰C) activates the flour’s starch molecules, allowing them to retain more moisture than dough could usually hold – up to twice as much water than the usual dough-making process.
The extra moisture converts to steam in the oven, which increases the bread’s feathery lightness and lengthens its shelf life.
One famous cinnamon roll recipes that use the tangzhong method are the King Arthur Baking Company Recipe of the Year 2021, which begins by whisking together and making a paste from about 10 % of the flour in the recipe and some milk (in this particular recipe, it’s about ½ cup of milk and three tablespoons of flour).
The paste cooks into a thick pudding for a few minutes. You then add it to the rest of the dough ingredients. The warmth of the tangzhong paste is enough to activate the yeast.
4 – Don’t Use Too Much Flour
One of the greatest culprits of dry, tough cinnamon rolls is using too much flour. Many bakers add extra flour to a cinnamon roll dough because the dough seems too sticky – but don’t be tempted to add more flour.
The consistency of your dough is key to a delicious result, so take heart – the dough for cinnamon rolls is supposed to be a pretty sticky dough, almost too sticky to handle comfortably, but not gluey.
To avoid adding too much flour, don’t dump all your flour into the bowl at once. Gradually add the flour, mixing it in. The dough is ready to knead when it pulls away gently from the sides of your mixing bowl. Your dough should feel tacky, moist, and slightly bouncy.
The mixed dough will be a little sticky before kneading, so work on a lightly floured surface if you’re kneading by hand. Again, don’t be tempted to add more flour to ease the stickiness.
The dough is soft and tacky even after kneading – the sliced buns will look misshapen in the pan – don’t worry, they will rise and look splendid while baking.
Have faith in your recipe – add the moderate amount of flour required, not less, not more.
5 – Don’t Overknead the Dough
A common reason why cinnamon rolls end up tough and bready is overworking or overkneading the dough. It’s necessary to knead the dough for cinnamon rolls a little, but you can do this in the stand mixer if you’re using it to combine the ingredients, and it won’t take long.
Bear in mind that you don’t want your cinnamon rolls to have the texture of bread, so if you are kneading by hand, don’t knead the dough like bread dough. Also, don’t be tempted to add more and more flour as you knead.
The problem with overkneading is that it produces more and more gluten, creating stretch and a thicker structure and texture – ideal for bread, but not cinnamon rolls.
Overworking the risen dough by rolling and rerolling before filling it will also cause your cinnamon rolls to be tough for the same reason. Overworking will also push the air out of the dough, which is essential for good rising.
6 – Oil the Rising Bowl
Once you have created a soft, sticky dough, you need to let it rise. Form the springy, satiny dough into a rough ball and place it in an oiled bowl, covered with clingfilm, in a warm place to rise.
You oil the bowl and cover it to stop your dough from sticking to the bowl as it rises and from drying out and forming an unpleasant crust.
7 – Use Softened Butter in the Filling
Once your dough has completed its proofing and is ready to be rolled and filled, take care to use softened, room-temperature butter rather than melted butter for the filling.
Although it seems easy to use melted butter to spread across the doughy landscape, it doesn’t give you such tender and fluffy rolls. This problem happens because the melted butter will leak out of the rolls while cooking, leaving you with a dry filling.
Spread the buttery-sugary-cinnamony mixture gently – you can even use your fingers so that you don’t press down too hard with a knife or spatula and flatten out the dough.
Also, be generous with the filling and apply a thick layer of filling, edge to edge of the dough – these are cinnamon rolls after all and are intended to be decadently, squishily filled.
8 – Pour on Cream Before Baking
It may sound odd to pour cream over unbaked goods, but those in the know swear that this is the secret to Cinnabon’s luscious gooey rolls. The idea is that the cream seeps into the dough, making it soft and tender, and melts into the filling, making it yummy and smooth.
This step takes place after you have let your rolls rise for the final time. Heat some heavy cream until it is warm, not hot. Then, pour the warm cream over the rolls just before you pop the pan in the oven.
The cream oozes through your cinnamon rolls, leaving them so soft and gooey.
9 – Keep an Eye on the Oven
It’s utterly disappointing to have nurtured your dough and rolled beautiful little swirls of dough only to overbake your cinnamon rolls.
The ideal temperature to bake cinnamon rolls is 375⁰F (180⁰C). Preheat your oven to this temperature before putting in your rolls.
You may be tempted to put the cinnamon rolls in at a hotter temperature to speed up the baking process, but you will end up with burnt, tough rolls.
Also, don’t expect cinnamon rolls to take as long as bread to bake. It only takes about 35 minutes to produce richly brown, gorgeous rolls. Baking your rolls for too long will also dry them out.
Check them after 30 minutes – the center will be soft and give a little because of the filling. However, it shouldn’t be raw-looking.
10 – Double Frost Them
Once your cinnamon rolls are ready and you have lifted the golden beauties out of the oven, you can ensure they remain soft by double frosting them or glazing and then frosting them.
To double frost your rolls, you need to have the frosting or glaze ready as soon as you take the rolls out of the oven. Before taking them out of the pan, spread about a quarter of your frosting over the rolls. This first layer of frosting will melt down into the rolls and add to the gorgeous, sweet center.
If you’re not mad about a lot of frosting on your cinnamon rolls, sprinkle the warm rolls with powdered sugar.
When the rolls have cooled enough, add the rest of the frosting as usual.
How to Keep Cinnamon Rolls Soft When Storing
If your family is like mine, the question of storing cinnamon rolls never arises – the rolls disappear within a couple of hours. But if you have baked an extra-large batch or prepare your rolls in advance, you’ll want to stop them from going stale and keep them soft while storing.
1 – Keep Them Airtight
The best way to keep your cinnamon rolls fresh and soft is to store them airtight. You can keep your cinnamon rolls fresh in a few ways:
- To store the buns in the pan, tightly wrap the entire pan in two layers of plastic wrap with an additional layer of aluminum foil.
- Store them in an airtight Tupperware-style container. Some people swear by keeping a slice of bread or apple in the container to help maintain moisture.
- Wrap each cooled roll individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place the individually wrapped rolls in a freezer bag.
Cinnamon rolls stored like this at room temperature will stay soft for a couple of days.
2 – Keep Them in the Fridge or Freezer
If you want to store your cinnamon rolls for longer than a few days, you need to make them airtight by wrapping them up or putting them in a container and putting them in the fridge – they will stay soft for around a week.
Refrigerating cinnamon rolls is never ideal, though, as the cold, dry fridge air tends to dry them out a little, no matter how well you have wrapped them.
You can keep well-wrapped and sealed cinnamon rolls in the freezer for around six weeks, so long as they are airtight. Place the rolls in a Ziploc or freezer bag to trap the moisture inside.
How to Soften Hard Cinnamon Rolls
If you’ve baked a tray of cinnamon rolls and they’ve come out hard and tough, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. A cinnamon roll bread-and-butter pudding is a possibility if you have the heart, but you may just want to discard the lot.
To enjoy cinnamon rolls that you have stored for a while, you’ll want to soften them up again – especially if they’ve gone a little dry and stale. Unfortunately, these techniques don’t work if the cinnamon rolls start tough and chewy.
- If the cinnamon rolls have been in the fridge or freezer, let them first come to room temperature. They might be good to eat immediately if you stored them properly.
- To bring slightly stale cinnamon rolls back to life, put them in the microwave with a cup of hot water for 30 seconds.
- Heat cinnamon rolls in the oven by wrapping them in a damp towel, putting them on a baking sheet, and heating them for about seven minutes at 350⁰F (180⁰C).
- For very dry cinnamon rolls, spread the exposed areas with butter before heating them.
Cinnamon rolls are a breakfast delight, and there’s nothing like a big, pillowy, frosting bedecked roll. But to make sure the cinnamon rolls you bake stay soft, make sure that you are using good quality yeast, bread flour, and warm ingredients.
Try the tangzhong method of preparing the flour for extra moisture. Also, don’t overknead the dough. Store freshly baked cinnamon rolls airtight to keep them soft.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.