Cream cheese makes everything better

Um.  I made some cinnamon rolls.  I thought they would maybe just be some regular homemade cinnamon rolls.  I was mistaken.

More than a little bit, I want to marry these cinnamon rolls.  I want to raise a family in a house with a white picket fence with these cinnamon rolls.  I want to grow old with these cinnamon rolls. 

You think I’m exaggerating.  Go make them and get back to me.  And stop drooling on your computer.

A little while ago, I started wondering what it would be like if I treated my cinnamon roll dough more like croissant dough.  When you make croissants, danish, or other flaky pastries, you roll butter directly into the dough.  It’s called laminating…you put some butter on your rolled out dough, then you fold it, and roll it, and fold it, etc.   The butter in between all the layers melts into the dough when you bake it and leaves fluffy, flaky layers.  I didn’t want to use butter for my cinnamon roll experiment (I was afraid of brown, crispy cinnamon rolls), and I definitely didn’t want to fold and roll and fold and roll infinite times.  I wondered what would happen if we rolled and folded some cream cheese into the sweet pastry dough instead.

Well, while I was sitting around on my butt, just wondering what would happen if I did this, Joy the Baker was actually doing it.  I found that post of hers and felt slightly less like a pastry genius.  But the upside is that it worked!  The recipe she used is from Saveur, and I’m sure it’s delicious…but I already have my favorite cinnamon roll recipe, from the March 2008 Bon Appétit thank you very much.  The dough was already pretty awesome before I tampered with it here, the filling is simple and tastes like cinnamon sugar (as it should), and the icing is good enough to eat off a spoon.  What more could you ask for in a cinnamon roll?

If you’re me, you could ask for some cream cheese in the dough. Cream cheese = even more awesome.

So what does it actually do for the dough, other than make you feel slightly more guilty about eating a cinnamon roll?  It makes the rolls just a tad bit richer.  It makes them crazy soft and tender, like I-wish-I-could-make-a-pillow-out-of-these-rolls soft.  It definitely created a few fluffy layers.  Not as many as laminated pastry, because we’re only folding a few times here, but just enough layers to make you want to pull them apart a little bit as you work your way to the center.  I made one other change to the recipe.  The original icing recipe calls for butter, but I used milk instead.  It was still thick enough to spread (and I even used skim milk), but a little less rich than it is when I make it with butter.  Next time I may increase the amount of filling a little bit too, just for a little more cinnamon-y gooey-ness.

This recipe is easy to halve (I did it, so you can too).  The only tricky part is getting half an egg.  I recommend beating the egg in a liquid measuring cup and using half of whatever the amount is.  I also took the route where you refrigerate the shaped rolls overnight instead of letting them rise right then and there.

These cinnamon rolls may seem a little intimidating, but don’t be afraid!  If ever there were a baked good that was worth the time and effort (and let’s face it, there are a lot of baked goods like that), this is one of them.  Don’t rush yourself and just follow the directions.  You’ll be rewarded with an out of this world cinnamon roll.   I made them this morning.  They made Ben happy.

Also, an unexpected bonus.  Someone at work told me I smelled “like heaven.”  Seeing as I wear the same perfume everyday, I can only assume this is due to the cinnamon roll baking.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls…with Cream Cheese Icing

Makes 16 cinnamon rolls

For dough
1 cup milk
3 TBS unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (plus extra for dusting) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 envelopes rapid-rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp salt
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
Nonstick cooking spray

For filling
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (I used light, but you could probs use dark too)
2 TBS ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (= 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

For icing
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk

1. For dough – Combine milk and butter in a glass measuring cup.  Microwave on high until the butter melts, 30-45 seconds, and stir to combine.  The mixture should be warmed to 120ºF-130ºF.  Pour into a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
2. Add 1 cup of flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt.  Mix with a wooden spoon (I’m still mixer-less) or on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add 2 1/2 cups of flour.  Continue mixing with the spoon or beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky.  Scrape down sides of the bowl occasionally.  If the dough is very sticky, continue to add flour by tablespoonfuls until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  (I only had to add about a tablespoon.  Since this is a sweet dough, it will be a little stickier than yeasted bread dough.  Don’t add too much flour!  It will be ok.)
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour if necessary.  Form into a ball.  Lightly oil a large bowl with cooking spray.  Transfer dough to oiled bowl, turning to coat lightly with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel.  Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.  (I have a neat trick for this: preheat your oven to 400ºF for 1 minute.  Turn the oven off, and let your dough rise in there.)
4. For filling – Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.
5. To roll and shape dough – Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead again for 1-2 minutes.  Place a kitchen towel over the dough and let it rest for about 5 minutes before rolling it out.  (This ensures that it will keep its shape better when you’re rolling it.)
6. Roll dough into a 15×15-inch square.  Ish.  If it’s a little rounded at the corners, that’s ok.  Spread 8 oz. of cream cheese evenly over the dough with an offset spatula.  Fold the dough square into thirds, like a letter.  (This means fold the bottom third of the dough square up, then fold the top third of the square down to form a 15×5-inch rectangle.)  Then, starting with the short end of the rectangle, fold it into thirds again, this time forming more of a dough square.
7. Flip the dough square over so the seam side is down and the smooth side is facing you.  Using the rolling pin, gently roll the dough out into a 20×10-inch rectangle.  Some cream cheese will probably sneak out…this is ok!  You can just add a little more flour to the surface or try to fold the dough over the cream cheese leak.  Don’t get stressed out about the cream cheese!  I found it was best to gently roll from the center of the dough outward.  Don’t try to stretch out the edges too much, that’s where the cream cheese will squirt out.  Be patient and just remember that there are cinnamon rolls at the end of the road.
8. Spread 1/4 cup room temperature butter evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border at one short side.  Sprinkle filling evenly over butter.

Starting at a short side of the rectangle, roll dough tightly into a cylinder, pushing ends in a little bit as you roll.  Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the cylinder into 16 equal rolls.  Butter two 9-inch square glass (or light metal) baking dishes and place 8 rolls in each pan, evenly spaced.  At this point, you can cover baking dishes with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and either a) let the rolls rise in a warm, draft-free area until puffy, about 45 minutes; or b) refrigerate the rolls overnight.

9. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF with a rack in the middle position.  If you refrigerated the rolls overnight, let them sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Bake rolls until the tops are golden, about 20 minutes, or until an instant thermometer inserted into the dough reads 190ºF.  Let the rolls cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.
10. For icing – While the rolls are cooling, make the icing.  In a small bowl, whisk together all 4 ingredients, adding more milk if you want a thinner consistency.  Spread icing over the rolls and serve warm (the best) or at room temperature.  Iced rolls will keep covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container, refrigerated, for a day or two.  (Re-warm before serving!)

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker and Bon Appétit

I told you we’d get back to the baking soon!  If anything is confusing in the rolling/folding directions, just let me know and I’ll clarify.  These babies are perfect for a special weekend breakfast.  Or an afternoon/evening snack after a long day at work!  Thanks for reading, happy baking!



  1. Sour cream has a similar effect on the dough. Good to know that cream cheese makes the dough soft too. Can you send a couple my way? :o) Having made yeasted cinnamon rolls before, I’m now curious to try my hand at cinnamon rolls leavened with baking powder. For that, I turn to ATK’s Healthy Cookbook.

    1. i would send some…but we had no problem finishing them off! those quick cinnamon buns are in the ATK baking illustrated book too. i haven’t tried them yet, you’ll have to let me know how they turn out!

  2. For some unfortunate reason, FB newsfeed only recently alerted me to your newest and most exciting hobby.

    Although AmeriCorps doesn’t leave as much time for cooking as possible, I do want to alert you to the existence of an epic ready I made several weeks ago and think you would love/should try: Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars by the infallible Ina Garten. I pretty much will cook anything she tells me to (for instance, I recently made her potatoes salad which is pretty delicious if you’re ever in the mood) but these bars blew my mind. and the minds of all the AmeriCorps members who ate them.

    I didn’t put the peanuts on top and I eyeballed the peanut butter so I don’t whether I used exactly 2 cups. Also, I didn’t measure the jelly either, I just spread it all over. But damn. It was epic. The peanut butter part could be come the new staple for all peanut butter bars.

  3. I’m stumbled on this post while trying to figure out if anyone had adapted this recipe in the same way! I tried it yesterday based on your instructions and it was just a DREAM. thanks 🙂

    1. aren’t they fabulous? I haven’t thought about these in a while and now I’m thinking I need some soon…
      Thanks for reading (and baking)!
      ~ Hannah

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