99: Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

99: Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

I feel like I’ve made a lot of Alton Brown recipes and in particular done a lot of AB baking – and I have. This recipe I chose to make not because it was Alton Brown’s, though. I made this recipe because they were Overnight Cinnamon Rolls.

I was taking something in for a birthday brunch at work, and it was up to me to make something baked and/or sweet. I’ve made a lot of coffee cakes, and somehow cinnamon rolls came to mind.

From-scratch cinnamon rolls take time, and there’s no way I was going to be able to make them in morning, so having a recipe that accounts for refrigeration overnight is great!

This recipe calls for a stand mixer but you could just as easily assemble and knead the dough by hand. I wouldn’t dare use a hand mixer, though.

I used about 2.5 or 3 cups of flour in the dough in the stand mixer before I kneaded it briefly by hand and then let it rise. This is to counter criticisms that the recipe as it’s written uses too much flour and makes the rolls tough.

I rolled the dough out and spread two tablespoons of margarine along it. I’ve used melted butter on cinnamon rolls in the past and it’s been a mess, so I’ve found that spreading soft butter with a knife is more effective for me. I doubled the cinnamon (to 2 tablespoons, equivalent to the amount in other recipes) because I’d heard that these cinnamon rolls weren’t that cinnamony.

These were the prettiest cinnamon rolls I’d ever made, and I thought that before I even baked them.

alton brown's overnight cinnamon rolls
Overnight Cinnamon Rolls, ready to be refrigerated

I let them sit out to rise a little bit (about 15 minutes, until I went to bed) because I know that my yeast doesn’t rise as much as it should. The next morning, I pulled them out of the fridge and put them in the oven with a boiling pan of water underneath them. The steam should help them rise a little more, and come up to at least room temperature before you bake them. Then you remove the pan, heat the oven, and bake. I’d heard that these could be overdone if you follow the time directions, so I checked them at about 20 or 25 minutes (whenever they started to look done). I used my instant read meat thermometer between the cinnamon rolls to see if they’d reached 190F, at which point I should take them out. They were at about 185F, so it didn’t take long for them to reach doneness.

I mixed the cream cheese frosting with my hand mixer. I added a little vanilla to it because I thought that it could use it. I was in a hurry, so I spooned it over the still-hot cinnamon rolls so I could tote them to work. It’s a shame it covers up the cinnamon rolls so much, but the frosting also makes them delicious!

alton brown's overnight cinnamon rolls
Delicious, delicious overnight cinnamon rolls

These were an amazing hit. Everyone asked who made the “sticky buns.” [Why do people call these sticky buns? They’re cinnamon rolls. Is this a Midwest thing? Wouldn’t a sticky bun be less cinnamony? Is a cinnamon roll a subset of sticky bun? *sigh*]

These were very tender and delicious. I can’t think of a thing that I should have done differently. Just be sure to take these out of the oven when they look done and use more cinnamon than Alton Brown tells you to. I’ll make these again, and whenever I make another cinnamon roll recipe I may adapt it so that it rests overnight as well.

Want more cinnamon rolls somehow? You can try these cinnamon rolls adapted from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice; these cinnamon rolls adapted from Smitten Kitchen; these super-tender, quick and easy cinnamon rolls; or these gluten-free cinnamon rolls if you need to make something gluten-free.

Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
Servings: 12
Author: Leona Konkel
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar (2 ounces)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled slightly
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • about 3 cups flour (15 ounces)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast
  • 5/8 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter very soft
  • 2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened (1/4 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (about 5 1/2 ounces)
  1. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg yolks, egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add 2 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt, and mix until combined. Switch to the dough hook. Add another 1/2 cup of the flour and knead on low for 5 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Add more flour or water if necessary.
  2. Knead for another 5 minutes on low, until dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 30 seconds. Place in an oiled bowl (or back in the stand mixer bowl). Cover the bowl and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
  3. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon, then set aside.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured (or a plastic wrap-lined) surface. Shape the dough into a 18x12-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter across the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border along one long top edge. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the dough, leaving a 3/4 inch border along the long top edge; pat the filling into the dough. Roll the dough into a tight roll, starting with the long edge closest to you. Pinch the seam to seal the roll, and place it seam side down. Slice into twelve 1 1/2 inch rolls. Place rolls, cut side down, in a well-greased 9x13 inch pan (I prefer glass for easier clean-up). Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight.
  5. The next morning, remove rolls from refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3 inch full of boiling water, place on bottom rack of oven below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they're puffy, about 30-60 minutes. Remove rolls and pan of water from the oven.
  6. Preheat oven to 350F. Uncover rolls and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. If you take their temperature, it will be 190F.
  7. While rolls cool slightly, use an electric mixer to cream the cream cheese. Add milk, then add powdered sugar. Spread over rolls and serve immediately.


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