Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls (with Overnight Option)
Start your Christmas morning with delicious gingerbread cinnamon rolls! Soft, fluffy and topped with a luscious cream cheese icing, this breakfast pastry is a family favorite. You can make the rolls the night before and pop them in the oven in the morning!
I love baking cinnamon rolls—primarily because the kitchen fills up with sweet aromas of cinnamon sugar. This year for Christmas I wanted to put a festive spin on the classic breakfast pastry by making a gingerbread variation! The simple swaps from my classic cinnamon roll recipe proved to be easy and delicious.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Holiday flavors. A little molasses and extra spices make this breakfast treat perfect for Christmas morning.
- Soft and fluffy! The tender texture is irresistible. It’s so satisfying to pull apart the roll!
- Option to make ahead of time. You can make the rolls the night before and bake them in the morning. Another option is to par-bake the rolls and freeze them for up to a month.
- Tested recipe. This recipe is a variation of my homemade cinnamon rolls. I’ve made this recipe several times and they turn out tender and sweet every time!
- Yeast: Instant yeast or dry active yeast works. Check the expiration date and, if using active yeast, proof it to make sure it’s alive.
- Milk: Whole milk makes a more tender, soft texture due to the full fat content. Warm it so about 100° F before using.
- Flour: Unbleached all purpose flour is preferred. Bread dflour has a bit too much protein content and will yield a chewy texture.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter for the dough and the filling. It’s best to add the salt separately since different brands of salted butter have different amounts of added salt.
- Molasses: The classic gingerbread flavor requires molasses. Use unsulphured (I prefer the Grandma’s brand). Blackstrap is too bitter.
- Brown sugar: You can use dark or light brown sugar. Both will complement the gingerbread spices wonderfully!
- Spices: Check that your spices are fresh (not expired) for the best taste.
- Cream cheese: A cinnamon roll is only as good as the icing! Use full-fat block-style cream cheese for extra rich and creamy icing.
Refer to the recipe card for ingredient details and measurements.
Try a different icing. I think a maple icing would taste delicious. Simply replace the milk with pure maple syrup. You can also add more gingerbread flavor by using molasses in the icing! Start with 2 tablespoons and add more to taste. Use milk to thin the icing as necessary.
Add some orange. This citrusy ingredient pairs well with molasses and holiday spices. Add 1 Tablespoon zest to the filling mixture. You can also add fresh orange juice to the icing instead of milk.
Make mini rolls. Divide the dough in half and roll into two 12-inch by 8-inch rectangles. Follow recipe as directed making smaller logs. Cut logs into thirds and each third into three rolls. This will yield 18 mini rolls. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes.
How to Make Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls
- Combine water, yeast, brown sugar, egg and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until incorporated.
- Add milk and melted butter, then 2 cups flour and salt. Mix until well combined.
- Add 2 more cups of flour and use the dough hook to knead on medium speed for 10 minutes. If necessary, add more flour if the dough is too sticky.
- Shape dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Punch dough down and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a rectangle, about 16-inches by 12-inches.
- Make the gingerbread filling. Place brown sugar, spices, salt, molasses and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until butter is melted. Stir until smooth.
- Brush filling over the dough leaving a 1/2-inch border on the far long side of the rectangle. Rightly roll into a log.
- Use floss to cut the log in half, then cut each half into quarter. Cut each quarter into three pieces yielding a total of 12 rolls.
- Place rolls in a lightly grease 9×13 baking pan. Cover and let rolls rise for 1 1/2 hours. After they have risen, preheat oven to 350° F.
- Bake at 350° F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Prepare cream cheese icing while rolls bake.
- Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk. Mix until well combined.
- Spread icing over warm gingerbread cinnamon rolls and serve.
Weigh the ingredients. It’s more accurate than measuring your ingredients! If you don’t have a scale, spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level with knife (don’t pack it down).
Keep an eye on the dough while kneading. If after 7 or 8 minutes the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, then add more flour 1 Tablespoon at a time. Dough should be soft and just slightly sticky to the touch.
Let the dough rest. If it keeps springing back when it’s rolled into a rectangle, cover it with a kitchen cloth and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the gluten to form making the dough easier to work with.
Use unflavored dental floss to cut the log of rolled dough. It may sound odd, but trust me it works! This makes a clean cut with each roll so they stay round and the swirl stays in tact! If you use a knife, the rolls are at risk of getting smushed.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
Make ahead the cinnamon rolls, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, let them sit at room temperature to finish rising (about 30 minutes). Bake and serve warm with icing.
Par-bake and freeze the rolls. This is my preferred method for making this recipe ahead of time when I have lots of holiday prep to be done. Prepare the recipe as directed and only bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, defrost the rolls in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, uncover and finishing baking for 15 to 20 minutes.
Store cinnamon rolls in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Keep in mind they are best when eaten the day they are baked.
Freeze the baked rolls (unfrosted). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. Remove plastic wrap and place rolls in a pan. Reheat from frozen at 350° F for 10 to 15 minutes. I suggest placing a shield of aluminum foil over the top to prevent browning.
The standard temperature is typically between 75 F and 85 F. I keep the dough in the warmest place in the house, which is usually the kitchen. You can also put it in the oven to rise (make sure it’s turned off and stays off).
Most likely the yeast was expired or there was a temperature issue. Yeast needs warm liquid to work properly. The dough needs to be in a relatively warm environment too.
Considering this recipe calls for 2 yolks and one full egg it would be difficult to cut the recipe in half. Instead, I suggest baking half the rolls and freezing the other half for later.
Yes, I’ve baked cinnamon rolls in Denver, CO. Here are my adjustments: Use a high-protein flour (such as King Arthur). Due to a dry climate, the dough may need extra milk to achieve right consistency. Rising times will be quicker, baking times and temperatures will remain the same.
Looking for more holiday baking inspiration? Try these recipes next!
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Get the Recipe: Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls
- ½ cup (118 mL) warm water, (about 100° F)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast, (one envelope)
- ¼ cup (50 g) brown sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature
- ½ cup (125 mL) warm whole milk, (about 100° F)
- 6 Tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, melted and warm
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 4 to 4 ½ cups (500 g to 560 g) all purpose flour
- 4 Tablespoons (56 g) unsalted butter
- ½ cup (100 g) brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons unsulphured molasses
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Cream Cheese Icing
- 1 cup (225 g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine water, yeast, brown sugar, egg and egg yolks. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
- With the mixer running, add the milk and butter followed by 2 cups of flour and salt. Increase speed to medium and mix for 1 minute until well combined.
- Switch to a dough hook. Add 2 more cups of flour and allow the hook to knead on medium speed for 10 minutes (you can also do this step by hand, but it will be quick the arm workout). The dough will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl and it will be slightly sticky. If after 8 minutes the dough is too sticky and staying stuck to the sides (as opposed to pulling away), then add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. You want the dough to be a little sticky to the touch, but still soft enough to handle easily.
- Transfer dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
- Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down and transfer it to a floured surface. Use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a 16-inch by 12-inch rectangle. If it keeps springing back, let the dough rest for 10 minutes for the gluten to relax, then continue rolling into the rectangle.
- For the filling, add the brown sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, molasses and butter to a microwave safe bowl. Heat in 20 second intervals until melted and sugar is dissolved.
- Brush filling mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch clear at the far, long side of the rectangle.
- Roll the dough beginning with the long edge closest to you. Use your fingertips to pinch the dough as you roll. Dap the top 1/2-inch with water to seal the roll. Press on the ends of the cylinder if necessary to make a uniform roll.
- Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan (or two 9-inch round cake pans) with butter. Use dental floss (or a sharp knife) to cut the roll in half and then into quarters. Cut each quarter into 3 equal pieces (you will have 12 rolls total about 1 ½ inches thick).
- Place rolls in prepared pan. Cover it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and allow them to rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
- Preheat oven to 350° F and adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Remove plastic wrap from the cinnamon roll dish. Bake cinnamon rolls for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. While they baked, prepare the icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until light, fluffy and no clumps remain (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla. Mix again until combined, about 1 minute.
- After rolls have cooled slightly (about 10 minutes), use an offset spatula or knife to spread the icing on top and serve.