This scaled down recipe for a single cinnamon roll uses minimal ingredients to make one epically tasty treat.
After scrolling past the umpteen-thousandth photo of golden buttery layers of dough spiraled around cinnamon filling and slathered with icy white frosting I basically had no choice but to make some of my own. (Twist my arm, yadda-yadda-yadda.)
Like many of you, I’m trying to be judicious with my use of precious pantry ingredients like butter, eggs, flour, and milk these days and I didn’t really want to make a whole pan of sticky buns.
Cinnamon rolls are enriched with lots of butter, eggs, and milk and it just didn’t feel practical to put a whole stick of butter or multiple eggs into one recipe.
I wanted a single cinnamon roll, not 12 cinnamon rolls and finding a scaled down cinnamon roll recipe proved trickier than anticipated. But I had a craving and was determined to satisfy it.
After searching through what felt like a million variations of brioche recipes, I finally found the perfect base for this recipe in a somewhat unlikely place: Malasadas, a Polynesian fried dough treat popular in Hawaii.
When our much-belated Hawaiian honeymoon cruise was cancelled by the pandemic last month I had been researching malasada recipes, and the buttery, simple, no-mixer-required dough is actually perfect for a cinnamon roll.
So I abandoned my plan to make malasadas and started working on bringing my vision of a recipe for single cinnamon roll to life.
When you get to the end of this post and see how long the recipe looks, don’t be scared. It’s actually really simple.
Yeasted doughs can be finicky, and I know there are a lot of beginner bakers out there so I’ve included some troubleshooting tips. I’ve also included notes on how to adjust the rising time, so you can make and shape it at night and then bake it in the morning, or make and shape it in the morning and bake it at night.
how to shape one (epic) sticky bun
Unlike your standard cinnamon roll or sticky bun which has just one coil, this single cinnamon roll gets coiled twice. A coil inside a coil. Coilception.
When your dough is ready to shape, roll it out into a rectangle, spread it with melted butter and cinnamon sugar filling, and then roll it up into a log. If this were a regular cinnamon roll, you’d stop here and slice the log into rounds which would bake face-up. Instead we’re going to take this one step further — from basic to epic.
Once you have your rolled up log, instead of slicing it into rounds, flatten it out into a strip, spread it with more butter and cinnamon sugar mixture, and roll it up again to make a coil. That coil is now a cinnamon roll filled with layers of buttery dough and cinnamon sugar filling.
See, I told you it was epic.
single cinnamon roll baking tips
Temperature is key to getting your dough to double in size. here are some things to be aware of as you’re baking so you can adjust as needed:
- The temperature of your kitchen: In the first resting period after you knead the dough, it’s really important that it doubles (or almost doubles) in size. It should be puffy and a little bit airy to the touch.
The first two times I made this dough my apartment was a cool 70F and the dough barely rose in an hour. The last time I made it my apartment was 75F and it doubled in size within an hour easily.
How to adjust: If your kitchen runs cool (70F or lower) help your dough along by letting it rise covered in your off oven with the oven light on or in another very warm spot in the house. If your house is warm (72F+) check the dough after 45 minutes at room temp; if it’s already doubled in size, you can move on to the next step or pop it in the fridge for up to 4 hours.
- How to use your fridge to control rise times: This dough needs to rise twice. Once after you knead it, then again after you shape the cinnamon roll coil. Either one (but not both) of those rise times can be done in the fridge (8-12 hours) to fit your schedule.
If you’re going this route, I recommend doing the fridge rise after the cinnamon roll has been shaped, but if you need to do it before shaping, that’s okay too. Cooler dough is easier to handle, so if you’re having trouble rolling the dough out after the first rise, just pop it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
- Warm milk: Ideally a temp of 95-100F. Microwave in 5 second increments, stirring in between. If your milk is too hot (over 115F) it will kill the yeast. But if it’s too cool, your dough might take extra long to rise. The milk should be lukewarm or warm, but not hot.
general tips for success:
- Yeast: I use saf-instant yeast and in most recipes I simply add it to the dry ingredients and get on with my life. I’ve tried this recipe both ways and got a much better rise when I mixed the yeast with the warm milk and sugar before adding it to the dry ingredients. Usually I try to eliminate these extra steps whenever possible, but in this case it’s worth it.
- Butter: I used unsalted butter, but if all you have is salted butter that’s fine — just don’t add salt to the dough. And if you want to take this whole thing to the next level, you can replace all the instances of butter with browned butter.
- One egg, beaten: Leave your egg out at room temp for 15-20 minutes before cracking it open if you can. Beating the egg helps the egg yolk and white evenly incorporate into the dough, and letting it come to room temp ensures that residual cold from the fridge doesn’t slow down any yeast activity.
- Shaggy dough: A shaggy dough is a little bit craggy and messy looking and has only just begun to come together. There will still be some floury bits in the bottom of your mixing bowl, and visible dry patches of flour in the dough.
- Rolling it up: Start with the bottom corner of the long edge of the dough rectangle closest to you and work your way across the bottom edge, moving steadily back and forth from one side to the other until you reach the top. If you try to roll the whole bottom edge at once you risk ending up with trapped air pockets and an uneven log. (See step 4, above).
- Cinnamon sugar filling: I kept it simple — brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, and a bit of allspice. Bare minimum all you need is sugar and cinnamon. You can use all brown sugar or all white sugar, depending on what you have on hand. And depending on what’s in your pantry you can add pinches of cayenne, ginger, cardamom, orange zest, finely chopped nuts… it’s really up to you! Just remember, this is an extremely scaled down recipe so a little goes a long way when you’re adding new flavors.
- When I demo’d this on Instagram a number of you asked about the small 5×5″ baking dish I used. It’s a Le Creuset Heritage Square Baking Dish (0.56 qt capacity) that I got as a gift and is seemingly impossible to find online, though I think you can find them at Le Creuset outlet shops, if there are any near you. If there aren’t, this is a good dupe. Any 5×5″ or 6″ round baking dish will work.
other recipes you might like
- cinnamon fruit salad with chocolate chips and walnuts
- flaky brown butter cinnamon roll pancakes
- orange-cardamom ice cream with hot fudge swirl
- cinnamon toast crunch ice cream
- mini loaf pan focaccia [scaled down recipe]
just one (epic) cinnamon roll [scaled down recipe]
- Parchment paper
- 3 TBSP warm milk (around 95°-100°F)
- 5 tsp granulated sugar, divided (1 tsp with the yeast, 4 tsp with the dry ingredients)
- ¾ tsp yeast (active dry or instant)
- 175 grams All Purpose Flour (1-1½ cups. Start with 1 cup, add up to ½ cup more if needed.)
- ½ tsp whole nutmeg
- 1 pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 1 egg, beaten (preferably room temperature)
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter
cinnamon sugar filling
- 3½ TBSP brown sugar (light or dark)
- 2 TBSP granulated sugar
- 1½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp flour
- ¼ tsp allspice (optional)
- pinch salt
- 1 TBSP butter, melted
- 2 TBSP butter, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 TBSP milk
- 1/8 tsp vanilla
- 1 TBSP cream cheese, softened (optional)
- Combine warm milk, 1 tsp sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Whisk and set aside 5-10 minutes until slightly foamy while you prep the other ingredients.
- Combine flour, remaining 4 tsp sugar, nutmeg, and salt (if using) in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add beaten egg, melted butter, vanilla, and yeast mixture. Stir with a spatula, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well into the liquid center to form a shaggy dough.
- When the dough is just starting to stick together but still has visible dry patches of flour and some floury bits in the bottom of the bowl, turn it out onto a clean countertop and knead 2-3 minutes until a cohesive, slightly tacky dough forms. After kneading, the dough might feel a little rough and sticky, but there shouldn't be any visible dry patches of flour and, while it might leave some residue on your hands, it shouldn't cling to your hands when you touch it. If the dough is too sticky: Dust 1 TBSP of flour onto the countertop and knead it into the dough, repeating as needed. If the dough feels too dry while kneading: Knead with lightly oiled hands to incorporate moisture into the dough.
- Shape the dough into a ball, cover, and let rise for 1 hour in an off oven with the oven light turned on, or in another warm (75-78F) spot in your house. It should rise a little bit — maybe 50-75% — but might not double in size.If the dough hasn't risen at least 50% in the first hour, let it sit for another hour.
cinnamon sugar filling
- Combine brown sugar, white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and allspice in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Punch down the dough, cover it, and return it to the bowl to rest for 5-10 minutes while you prepare the melted and softened butter.
- Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and roll into a rectangle approximately 17"x7" and 1/4" thick. Use a bench scraper to square off the dough as you roll to keep a rectangular shape.Dust the counter with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking, but don't use too much or you'll end up with raw flour rolled into your cinnamon roll.
- Arrange the dough rectangle so one of the long (17") edges is facing you. Brush off any excess flour, then generously brush the surface of the dough with melted butter all the way to the edges. Sprinkle about ⅔ of the brown sugar mixture onto the buttered dough, using your hands to spread it out into an even layer with no empty patches. Leave a strip about ½" wide along the top long edge of dough free of cinnamon sugar — this will help seal it shut.
- Roll the dough into a log starting with one of the bottom corners. For a tighter roll with more layers, gently lift and stretch the dough slightly toward your body before each forward roll.Arrange the finished roll so the seam side is against the counter.
- Use your rolling pin to flatten the log. Be gentle but firm — you don't want to tear the layers of dough and filling inside it. You just want to flatten it into a strip about 2" wide and ½" high.
- Flip the strip of dough over so the seam side is facing up. Spread the softened butter over the surface and edges of the dough. Top with the remaining cinnamon-sugar filling, again using your fingers to spread it out so there's no bare spots or gaps.
- Starting from one end of the dough, roll the the strip up into a coil and tuck the open end underneath it. Place inside a well-greased 5×5" oven-safe baking dish (with a square of parchment paper on the bottom just to be safe). Cover and set aside to rise for 1 hour in a warm spot (or 8-12 hours in the fridge) until slightly puffy.
- During the last 30 minutes of rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Bake 25-30 minutes, until the internal temp at the center registers 190°F on an instant read thermometer.After 15 minutes, tent with aluminum foil to prevent the top from browning too much.
- Remove from oven and let cool in the dish on a wire rack before icing.
- WITHOUT CREAM CHEESE: Whisk powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk together in a small bowl until a smooth icing forms. You can add more powdered sugar 1 TBSP at a time or more milk 1/2 tsp at a time, whisking between additions, to adjust the consistency as needed.
- WITH CREAM CHEESE: Whisk softened cream cheese, milk, and vanilla together in a bowl until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 3 TBSP at a time and whisk until a thick, smooth icing forms. Adjust the consistency as needed by adding 1/2 TBSP powdered sugar or 1/2 tsp milk, whisking between additions.
- Wait until the cinnamon roll is cool to apply icing or frosting or the heat will cause it to melt and slide off the roll.
Serve warm. Enjoy!
- Warm milk: Ideally a temp of 95-100F. It should be lukewarm or warm, not hot.
- If you don’t have a perfectly 5×5″ baking dish, a round 6-7″ oven-safe ramekin or 6-7″ square baking pan would also work.
- If your kitchen is 70F or cooler, you may find you have trouble getting the dough to rise. Put it in your off oven with the oven light on to give it a warm spot to rise. If after an hour it still hasn’t grown by 50-75% or more, let it sit for another hour with the oven light on. You can also transfer it to the fridge for 8-12 hours and do a cool rise instead.