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Lighter Everyday Cinnamon Rolls

Everyday Cinnamon Rolls

Who can resist a soft, gooey cinnamon roll? And the better question is, do you really want to resist one? Cinnamon rolls are one of the most delicious breakfast options out there. They’re sweet, satisfying and very indulgent – not to mention fairly time consuming to make. They’re a great brunch item to make when you have some extra time on a weekend, but they’re not usually the top choice for an easy weekday indulgence. In the past, I’ve gotten around this by baking Cinnamon Bun Bread, a one-dish, no-rise yeast bread that comes out tasting just like cinnamon rolls even though they don’t look like them. With this recipe for Lighter Everyday Cinnamon Rolls, you will end up with light, soft, sweet cinnamon rolls in less than half the time of a traditional recipe – and you’ll still get those lovely, individual rolls.

This recipe comes from the America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, the newest book from ATK. The book focuses on lighter, healthier versions of favorite dishes and they managed to lighten up cinnamon rolls, as well. These rolls don’t call for yeast. Instead they use a soft, biscuit-like dough as the base for the rolls. The dough is slightly sweet and flavored with melted butter and buttermilk. It contains some whole wheat flour to add fiber (I used white whole wheat and would recommend it, as it has a lighter flavor) and a slightly nutty, whole grain flavor. This soft dough is rolled around a filling of sugar, brown sugar and spices, then sliced into individual rolls and baked.

The baking is the ingenious part of this recipe. Most lower fat baked goods – especially things like cinnamon buns – dry out or get too hard when they’re baked. These rolls are baked covered with aluminum foil for the first half of the baking time. This actually steams the rolls and ensures that they will be soft and moist, though they will still rise up nicely. They are baked uncovered for the remaining baking time, which gives them plenty of time to come to a nice, golden brown color. The buns should be eaten while still warm, but they reheat very well in the microwave the next day (store in an airtight container or bag), so there is no pressure to eat the whole batch in one go. They’re just sweet enough with a great cinnamon flavor and a hint of whole wheat.

You end up with fluffy cinnamon rolls that have just 290 calories and 7 grams of fat each – which isn’t bad considering that each Cinnabon has about 730 calories and 24 grams of fat, and that these rolls come with the ability to infuse your kitchen with the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls on any given morning, even a weekday one, because these take less than an hour start-to-finish.

Freshly made cinnamon rolls
Lighter Everyday Cinnamon Rolls
w/ permission from the America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen

1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) all purpose flour
3/4 cup (4 1/8 oz) whole wheat flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled, divided

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 oz light cream cheese
1 tbsp buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425F. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil and lightly grease.

Prepare the filling. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all purpose flour, whole what flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine. Add in buttermilk and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter and mix until dough starts to come together into a shaggy ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes, until dough begins to look smooth and can be handled easily. This can also be done by kneading for about 1 minute with a paddle attachment or dough hook, and adding a tablespoon or two of flour to a mixer bowl.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and press or roll out into a 9×12-inch rectangle with the long side facing you. Take remaining tablespoon of melted butter and brush over dough rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with filling mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border around each edge.
Using a bench scraper to help you (or a large, flat spatula if you don’t have one), roll the dough up into a tight spiral. Pinch seam to seal.
Use a serrated knife to cut dough into 9 even pieces. Gently flatten each of the rolls before placing them in the prepared pan, to even them out if they were misshaped when sliced.
Cover pan with aluminum foil.
Bake for 12 minutes covered, then uncover the rolls and bake for 14-18 minutes, until golden brown.
Use the foil to life the rolls out of the baking pan and place them on a wire rack. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk all glaze ingredients together with a hand mixer until very smooth. Drizzle over slightly cooled rolls and serve.

Store leftovers in an airtight container after they have completely cooled.

Makes 9 cinnamon rolls.

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  • Lauren at KeepItSweet
    January 14, 2011

    Definitely saving this, because obviously I need an everyday cinnamon roll;-)

  • michelle
    January 14, 2011

    I’ve been looking for a good cinnamon roll recipe that doesn’t require a bread machine. These look wonderful! The better for you part is an added bonus!

  • Donna
    January 14, 2011

    Light and easy – sounds great – I’m hoping to make them tomorrow.

  • Heather
    January 14, 2011

    Oh oh, sounds like yet another AMT cookbook I’m going to have to buy. Your cinnamon buns look delicious.

  • Cindy Johansen
    January 14, 2011

    They look wonderful!

  • Rachel
    January 14, 2011

    I had kind of an “ah ha” moment when I read your description of the ingeniously simple baking technique that keeps these rolls from drying out. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to try this recipe and then I’m going to try covering some other, similar things with foil.

  • Melissa
    January 14, 2011

    I’m with Rachel! I can’t wait to try that technique. And these cinnamon rolls look fabulous~cinnamon rolls, but semi-healthy? That’s the best!

  • BakerMan
    January 14, 2011

    I must not try these before the end of January!

  • Esther x3baking
    January 14, 2011

    I love ATK’s books, or rather their Family baking book! I have to try it out. I also happen to have all the ingredients! Thanks for sharing.

  • Inna
    January 15, 2011

    What a wonderful concept! A lighter cinnamon roll…I would never have even considered the idea! Definitely going to try this out!

  • Katie
    January 15, 2011

    definitely need to try this out! any idea whether these can be prepared the night before they’re baked? would make them even better for a sunday morning…

  • Tessa
    January 15, 2011

    These look too great! Cinnamon rolls + somewhat healther definitely = success!

  • Ryan
    January 16, 2011

    Oh my, I think you may be my new favorite person ever, I am definitely making some of these ASAP, they look and sound amazing!

  • Nicole
    January 16, 2011

    Katie – I would’t try to prepare these the night before. I think you’ll get the best results if you simply prepare the dough and bake it. They don’t take much time at all to mix up (doing a test batch can help you speed up your time even more) and you’ll have them done start to finish – raw ingredients to eating yummy rolls – in less than an hour.

  • Joe
    January 17, 2011

    Thank you so much…. now instead of having a cinnamon roll once every 2 months i can have them once a month…

  • Gary Egerer
    January 17, 2011

    Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • Marion
    January 17, 2011


  • Valerie London
    January 17, 2011

    Chocolate mousse cake. Watched the video on how to make it – YES. My Paying Guests this summer are in for a treat.
    I live in Central France, so love this site, the books and the inter-net connection. My American friend Kathy, introduced me to Cooks Illustrated/Country/Test kitchen and they are now high on my, will JUST HAVE A LOOK AT THAT ONE!!
    Keep up the good work, you are much appreciated.

  • a frog in the cottage
    January 17, 2011

    for sure, I’m not the one who can resist neither wants to !!! i love cinnemon roll

  • Molly
    January 19, 2011

    YUM!!! Lighter recipe and no yeast?! Definitely saving this one!

  • Carolyn
    January 24, 2011

    Hi Nicole … Thank you so much for introducing me to the BEST cinnamon roll recipe I’ve ever tried, including yeast ones. These were “blond” & tender, & both the pastry & the filling were so flavorful. I made 2 minor changes: soured whole milk vs buttermilk, & here in Canada Robin Hood’s Nutriblend flour in place of whole wheat. After they were baked, my husband & I ate all but 2 which went into the freezer for testing purposes. They passed with flying colors. I was at first concerned because once thawed they were a bit firm, BUT! were totally fresh & soft & awesome when reheated for 14 seconds on high in the microwave. These are a FAVORITE for us! Thanks again for posting them.

  • Michelle
    January 24, 2011

    I made these this weekend, and was very excited about them. I didn’t have any whole wheat or white wheat flour, so I just used all-purpose for the whole amount. My dough came out very, very sticky – so much so that I couldn’t roll it into a log because it was sticking to my surface so much. I even tried adding a little more flour, to no avail. Do you know what I might’ve done wrong? I checked all my measurements. I’d love to make them, but don’t want to waste ingredients again. I’ve tried lots of your recipes, and they always come out great, by the way.

  • Nicole
    January 25, 2011

    Michelle – The dough will be very sticky for this recipe. The key is really to flour your work surface and to use a bench scraper (or the flat part of a large spatula, if you don’t have one) to lift the dough up. With that tool, you can really get under even the stickiest dough with no problems and you’ll be able to shape the rolls much more easily.

  • Michelle
    January 27, 2011

    OK – Thanks for the tips. I’ll try them again this weekend.

  • Steph
    January 29, 2011

    I just made these rolls this evening and mine look absolutely nothing like the ones pictures. Mine are very flat and dense. I have 6 kids and they all gave them a thumbs down. I think it’s the cloves that are throwing them off. Any ideas of what I did to the dough that made them so flat and dense? I would love to have this recipe work!

  • Ashley
    February 5, 2011

    I have made these twice now. Love them. I’m sure you aren’t supposed to add more flour but I did because the dough was too sticky to work with. Otherwise these are great and quick!

  • Penelope
    February 5, 2011

    I made these this morning and they were like little, dense rocks. The dough was incredibly hard to work with, I had to add quite a bit of flour. They were so unpleasant that I’ve had to throw them out, such a shame. It’s probably best to treat this like scone dough, with as little handling as necessary.

  • Nicole
    February 5, 2011

    Penelope – Sorry they didn’t work out! I think you’re right that the dough should not be handled much and that you should also not add extra flour to the dough. It is very sticky and should be very sticky, hence the America’s Test Kitchen suggestion to handle it with a bench scraper. I think that the lower fat recipes are pretty susceptible to becoming tough or dense if you’re not careful.

    February 27, 2011

    OMG! just finished making these and they are the EFFING BOMB thanks so for putting this recipe up i luv! <3 🙂

  • Pavlina
    March 25, 2011

    Wow, I waited so long to make these and I finally did this morning. I love cinnamon rolls! These I did not like. The texture was just weird. I was kind of expecting a cross between a biscuit and a cinnamon roll. These were just…weird. The texture was spongy. I didn’t like them at all. Well, not entirely true, i did love the sugary filling, the brown sugar really added a lot of gooiness that I like. I’ll try them on the kids, but I’m sure they won’t like them either. I’ll just deal with making a regular sweet dough recipe that I know ALL will like.

  • Pavlina
    March 26, 2011

    and…when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong! I am WRONG!

    Littlest girl LOVED them so I’ll have to re-print this one out again for those occasions when we need buns in a hurry!


  • Nicole
    March 26, 2011

    Pavlina – Thanks for the update! I know that these aren’t going to beat out Cinnabon for a lot of people, but looks like they still have their fans (and they’re quick, too!).

  • Jessica
    October 23, 2012

    I’m making these for xmas, well not exactly like your recipe but I found you when I googled “how to keep cinnamon rolls from getting hard” you know like keeping them fluffy after setting them aside and I’ve never had any luck. Its like we have to eat them as soon as I get them out the oven. Any idea on how to keep them soft after baking?

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