Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

You know you want to eat it

A couple days ago I got a craving for some gooey cinnamon rolls. My roommates both work from home over the weekends and it’s nice to treat them with something sweet and delicious sometimes. The best thing about this recipe is that you can make this the night before, meaning you can sleep in and just throw these in the oven when you wake up. Brilliant.

The original recipe uses a stand mixer, something I as a 1)broke graduate student ,and 2)tenant in a New York apartment, do not have the luxury of owning. Instead, I used a large bowl and an awesome hand mixer. This gets tricksy when the dough hook comes out, so be prepared for a bit of an arm workout if you go my route. Be bold! Be brave!

I give to you: “Overnight Cinnamon Rolls” by  Alton Brown.

Cast of Characters


  • 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 large whole egg, room temperature
  • 2 oz. sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
  • 6 oz. buttermilk, room temperature
  • 20 oz. all-purpose flour, approx. 4 c. (plus additional for dusting)
  • 1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 tsp
  • 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil or cooking spray


  • 8 oz. light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
  • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4-oz. unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons


  • 2 1/2 oz. cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
  • 3 Tbs milk
  • 5 1/2 oz. powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

For the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with hand mixer) with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add about 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Replace the whisk with the dough hook attachment. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. If you’re using a hand mixer you might have to manhandle it a bit, but I promise it can be done

Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Continue to knead on low speed  about 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. ATTENTION: If you made the same mistake I did and not check what kind of yeast you have and instead add Active Yeast instead of Instant Yeast, never fear! It might take a little longer to rise. I didn’t realize my mistake until AFTER the next step, but everything turned out OK.

To create your filling, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface- a silpat or some other silicone sheet works great (mostly because most of them have rulers along the sides). Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving about a 3/4-inch border along the top edge and gently press the filling into the dough.

Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal. Don’t be afraid if this is a bit tricky; you  may have to smooth it a bit to get the edge to stick.  Roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

The Next morning!

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; about 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven. [Note: I have no idea why we do this, I mean I’m sure it has something to do with ‘waking up the yeast’ or something, but it works. So just listen to Alton Brown and all will be well] [It is indeed to reactivate the yeast.Thanks, Josh!]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F–about 30 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese a medium or large bowl until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately. Eat until you can eat no more. If you’re nice, share with your roommates.


About Wish

A graduate student with two cats and a passion for good food and good conversation, both preferably shared with friends.
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3 Responses to Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

  1. Joshua Hirsh says:

    The purpose for the boiling water in the oven before baking is to get the secondary (or tertiary, depending on the kind of dough) rise out of the dough by, quite correctly, reactivating the yeast. The cold of the refrigerator slows the yeast down a lot but doesn’t kill it (like a freezer or any temperature over 137 degrees F would), so the warm, moist environment reactivates the yeast and allows the dough to rise another time, which is a crucial step in bread- and dough-making. According to my fancy-schmancy Baking and Pastry notes from school that is the ninth step (out of 10) in bread making called the final proof, and its purpose is to achieve maximum fermentation (yeast + sugar = CO2 and ethyl alcohol: the CO2 aids in leavening and the alcohol burns off), leavening, and the ideal gluten structure.

    And now I really want cinnamon rolls but totally don’t have the time to make them. Dammit.

    Hope my food snobbery has been somewhat educational. Love you Wish.


  2. Jess says:

    Those look amazing! Way better than the store bought cinnamon rolls I had that same morning :p

    I’ll definitely have to try these out next time I’m craving cinnamon goodness.

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