My sister and I have a longstanding Christmas Eve tradition that requires cinnamon rolls.
As children of the 1990s, we exclusively relied on the canned, eight-count Pillsbury original with the super-
sugary, runny topping. We’d bake them and fight over who got more frosting—the perfect precursor to us exchanging our gifts.
Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday this year, which means my morning will consist of coffee at my cubicle instead of cinnamon rolls with my sister. But if I were going to be having a leisurely Christmas Eve at home, I definitely would upgrade my cinnamon-roll game by making these overnight gingerbread cinnamon rolls. They might be my favorite Test Kitchen recipe yet.
The “overnight” means this is a breakfast you prepare ahead of time, so when you want to eat the cinnamon rolls, all you do is pull them out of the fridge and whip up some frosting while they bake. The gingerbread flavor comes from the molasses in the batter, which I did not find to be overpowering.
A couple disclaimers:
• I do not have a KitchenAid with a dough hook. (I’m not sure what level of recipe-testing fame you have to rise to before someone just buys you a KitchenAid, but I am not there yet.) I used a wooden spoon to mix everything until the dough came together, and then I kneaded it by hand a few times. It turned out great.
• Apparently you are supposed to use salted butter for this recipe, though it does not say that explicitly in the ingredients list. I didn’t. The rolls still were delicious.
• I was going to purchase vanilla beans and scrape out their insides for the frosting until I saw the price tag on vanilla beans. My budget is not unlimited, so I used vanilla extract instead.
My dough roll yielded enough for 12 cinnamon rolls. I got nervous when I put them in the 9-inch-by-13-inch pan as suggested because they barely took up any room. I spaced them out and hoped once they rose overnight in the fridge they would look better. They did not. But after they came out of the oven, the entire pan was full. It looked perfect. I truly never have been more proud of a baked creation. They puffed up so beautifully.
I let the rolls cool all the way before topping them with frosting. Even if you’re not a fan of the cinnamon rolls, you’re going to want to save this cream cheese frosting recipe and put it on everything.
If you refrigerate your frosted cinnamon rolls (like I did), 20 seconds in the microwave will bring one back to all its gooey, warm glory.
For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 cup warm whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg or ground cloves (use your favorite or both)
For the frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean
1. Place the yeast and brown sugar into a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Add the warm milk and gently stir. Let sit until it is puffed and foamy on top, about 10 minutes. To the bowl, add the melted butter, egg and molasses. Stir to combine. Add in the flour and salt. Knead the dough with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and forms a ball, about 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl. Oil the bowl or use cooking spray to coat. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm area for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
2. Make the filling. Add the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to a new bowl and mix well.
3. Generously grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish or a dish slightly smaller with butter.
4. Lightly dust a surface with flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle (about 9 inches by 24 inches). Spread the butter evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon/ginger sugar evenly over the butter, and lightly push the mix into the butter. Starting with the long edge closest to you, carefully roll the dough into a log, keeping it fairly tight as you go. When you reach the edge, pinch along the edge to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut into 10 to 12 rolls. Place rolls in the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge to rise overnight.
5. In the morning, remove the rolls from the fridge and allow them to come to room temp while the oven preheats, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
6. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla. Spread the frosting on warm rolls. Eat!