These ultra soft cinnamon rolls are made using the tangzhong method. Don't worry if you're unfamiliar with this baking method, it's easy to master and I walk you through it step by step!
These squishy soft cinnamon rolls will truly make your heart happy with their gooey brown sugar and spice filling, encased in the light, tender dough. The Asian milk bread dough base creates the perfect chewy cinnamon roll texture and the technique will change your world.
You'll never need another cinnamon roll recipe. It's a promise!
The Japanese style bread-making method makes cinnamon rolls absolutely transcendent. It begins with a starter called tangzhong. The milk bread starter ensures the moist yet airy cinnamon roll dough you have always wanted. You won't regret taking the extra five minutes for this step.
There's nothing too complicated about this cinnamon roll dough recipe. You might learn a few new things, but for sure you'll be able to recreate them in your kitchen.
In this post, the first thing I'll tell you about is this interesting cooking method. You'll also get info on storing, frosting and step-by-step instructions on how to make the rolls. Keep reading for more!
- Explaining the Tangzhong Method
- What Makes These the Best Cinnamon Rolls?
- Ingredients in the Soft Cinnamon Rolls
- The Perfect Cinnamon Roll Filling
- Choosing & Measuring the Flour
- How to Make Super Soft Cinnamon Rolls
- Make Ahead Options
- Tips for the Best Soft & Fluffy Cinnamon Rolls
- Super Soft Cinnamon Rolls - Tangzhong Milk Bread
Explaining the Tangzhong Method
If you've ever stopped by a China Town bakery in New York City and tried their soft, sometimes filled rolls, you may have had tangzhong milk bread. (I love the coconut-filled rolls in those bakeries! Try one if you're in town!)
Traditionally a Chinese bread making technique, tangzhong found its way to Japan where it is widely known as milk bread.
This Asian bread-making technique produces rolls or loaves with a feathery, springy texture. It involves the step of making a paste from flour and milk, plus sometimes water.
5% to 10% of the flour in the recipe, with some of the recipe’s liquid or milk is cooked into a thick paste. It's almost pudding-like. The mixture gets added to the rest of the dough recipe and kneaded in.
The science is that the paste traps or holds water in the flour molecules, which makes it possible to add much more liquid than what the dough could normally hold.
That extra moisture keeps the crumb of the bread soft and tender without being too wet. The moisture converts to steam during baking, which helps make the bread light and fluffy.
It sounds more complicated than it is. This recipe does the math for you and you don't have to worry about percentages. It takes all of five minutes at the stove and an extra pot, but the results are worth it.
What Makes These the Best Cinnamon Rolls?
For me, the ultimate cinnamon roll has the perfect balance of dough to filling to frosting.
Here's the list for what every cinnamon roll should check off, in my humble opinion!
- Lofty, soft dough that stays soft even if it's not fresh from the oven.
- Tender and ever-so-slightly chewy bite.
- Balance of gooey brown sugar and cinnamon flavor.
- Perfect balance of bread to gooey filling.
- A delicious not-too-sweet vehicle for creamy frosting.
One thing I love about this recipe is how long these rolls stay soft. The next day they aren't stale one bit.
You can make these rolls big and thick or even mini. Just roll and cut them the size you desire.
Ingredients in the Soft Cinnamon Rolls
These tangzhong cinnamon rolls don't require any special ingredients and are similar to classic cinnamon rolls, only softer.
The tangzhong starter is a simple combination of water, whole milk, and all-purpose flour.
To create the cinnamon roll dough, additional flour is added, along with instant yeast, dry milk, whole milk, eggs, and unsalted butter.
Note that there is no sugar in the dough! This is because sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water molecules. If there was sugar in the dough, it would attract all those water molecules to itself leaving the bread with a dry mouthfeel and courser crumb.
Conversely, the eggs are in the dough to make it a lovely rich, satiny texture. Ideally your eggs will be at room temperature or almost, when you use them for the dough.
Keeping all your ingredients on the warm side when mixing dough helps the proofing time happen at a good speed. To warm cold eggs, just let them sit in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
The Perfect Cinnamon Roll Filling
Too much talk of cinnamon rolls? Listen, if you made it this far you must love them as much as I do! And I feel like the filling is oh, so important.
I don't think fancy fillings using cornstarch or other ingredients are necessary. I stick with the classic — butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
And guess what? You can add as much sugar or cinnamon as you like.
For this size recipe, I think 1 cup of brown sugar (preferably dark brown sugar for me) and 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon is perfect.
Any more cinnamon is overpowering. Any less, and it's just a sweet roll. The brown sugar is the perfect amount to create the gooey center, but not too much that it all melts out the bottom.
Choosing & Measuring the Flour
I based this recipe off of a mix between my mom's delicious rolls and the King Arthur soft cinnamon rolls recipe. The KA recipe calls for bread flour. And while this makes sense and I totally trust and love them, I have to disagree here!
Having made my recipe with both flours I loved the texture and loft of the rolls using all-purpose flour better.
Bread flour contains more protein than AP flour. For making bread that's sliceable and sturdy, you want to use bread flour that helps develop a strong gluten situation.
For soft cinnamon rolls, I found I don't need this strength and my rolls were much more tender when I used AP Flour!
The Right Way to Measure Flour
Measuring technique for flour is important. Everyone scoops, spoons and measures flour differently. That's why professional baking recipes use weight.
I've included both weight and cup measurements for the flour. The first time you make these, feel free to weigh the flour. You'll be able to see if your amount is heavy or light.
After that, the recipe is a tiny bit forgiving, but keep your measurement technique in mind.
How to Make Super Soft Cinnamon Rolls
Here are the steps, with helpful images, for making Japanese milk bread cinnamon rolls.
First make the tangzhong paste mixture. Cook the small measurements of flour, water and milk in a small saucepan on the stove.
Add the paste and all the remaining dough ingredients to the bowl of a mixer. You'll mix this with the dough hook.
The dough will be rough and seem dry. Let this mixture rest for 20 minutes to soften, then you will knead it some more.
Once kneaded for a few minutes following its little 20 minute nap, the smooth and soft dough gets its first proofing session. This will take 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the temperature and conditions of the room.
Roll the dough into a 12-by-19-inch rectangle.
Spread the butter for the filling, gently over the rectangle, then top with brown sugar and cinnamon.
Gently roll the dough from the long end into a tight spiral. Pinch the end edge to secure the spiral together.
Cut the roll into 12 or 15 rolls, depending on your preference. I use doubled thread or unflavored floss to cut each roll. You can do this or use a knife.
Let the rolls rise in a buttered pan until puffy, but not quite doubled in size. Your finger mark should remain when the rolls are lightly touched. The mark shouldn't spring back. This will take about 60 minutes.
Bake the rolls about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden brown. Let cool slightly before adding frosting.
Make Ahead Options
There are several options for you to make the rolls ahead.
Option 1: You can bake them but don't frost them. Wrap the cooled baking pan in plastic and gently heat them the next day. Remove the plastic, cover pan with foil and heat them for about 5 minutes in a 350ºF oven. Then add the frosting and serve.
Option 2: You can also prepare the dough, but don't let it rise for the 60 to 90 minutes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it overnight. Then remove, roll, fill and let rise as rolls. Because the dough is cold, it will take longer to rise. Bake when fully proofed.
Option 3: Another option is to let the dough rise the first time, then form the cinnamon rolls and place them in the pan. Cover and refrigerate or freeze.
If you refrigerate them, you can let the buns come almost to room temperature, rise properly in the pan and then bake.
If you freeze the buns, remove them from the freezer and transfer them to the fridge overnight to thaw. In the morning, let them come almost to room temperature and get a proper rise, then bake. You may have to add a few minutes to the baking time.
What's the Best Frosting for Cinnamon Rolls?
The perfect frosting for cinnamon rolls is a confectioners' sugar based frosting and can be all butter or even include cream cheese.
I love a simple butter and confectioners' sugar frosting like my Fluffy Vanilla Frosting. I use a half batch of my frosting for these rolls and add a little milk to make it softer. That's all it takes.
You might also like a cream cheese frosting. It's pretty dreamy on cinnamon rolls.
How to Store Cinnamon Rolls
The beauty of a tangzhong cinnamon roll is that the dough doesn't get stale very quickly. Storing them, covered, for a day or even two is great.
How to Reheat Cinnamon Rolls
You can reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds if you prefer a warm roll.
How Long Do Cinnamon Rolls Last?
Once baked, these soft and fluffy cinnamon rolls will last up to two days at room temperature. If frozen, they'll last up to three months.
Can This Recipe Be Made Gluten-Free?
This straightforward recipe doesn't work with the swap of all-purpose gluten free flour. Your best bet is to try my Quick Cinnamon Roll recipe and swap the regular flour for gluten free. That recipe doesn't use yeast and has a nice biscuit texture.
Tips for the Best Soft & Fluffy Cinnamon Rolls
Typically sweet bread doughs are enriched with eggs and have sugar to boost that sweet flavor. The yeast helps this rich dough rise after the gluten has been formed from kneading.
This tangzhong dough is unique in several ways. Here are some top tips for making this recipe.
Want a great way to slice a log of dough into buns? Use doubled thread or unflavored dental floss. Loop it under and around the log, then pull it tight criss crossing. The thread will cut through the dough easily without smashing the rolls like a knife might.
Typically yeast is proofed (or softened in water) before being added to the dough. The yeast in this recipe is added dry.
It absorbs the liquid from the dough and because it hasn't already been proofed, it takes its sweet time raising the dough. This creates the perfect texture and flavor because it's not pushed and rushed.
Super Soft Cinnamon Rolls - Tangzhong Milk Bread
- 5 tablespoons water
- 5 tablespoons whole milk
- 10 teaspoons (28g) all-purpose flour, (3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
- 4 cups plus 2 tablespoon (496g) all-purpose flour
- 1¾ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoons instant yeast
- ¼ cup nonfat dry milk
- ¾ cup warm whole milk
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the tangzhong starter:
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, milk and flour. Whisk together and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens. This will take 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture will be the consistency of thick pudding. Remove from heat; set aside.
Make the dough:
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt, instant yeast, and dry milk. Add the warm milk, eggs, melted butter and reserved tangzhong paste.
- Mix the dough on medium speed until combined. Dough will be dry and form a ball. Cover bowl with a clean towel and let rest 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes mix dough on medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes until a smooth dough forms. Scrape down from dough hook as needed to allow dough to mix evenly. Remove dough hook and use a rubber scraper to bring dough together into a ball. Spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray.
- Cover bowl and transfer to a warm place to proof. Let rise until almost doubled in bulk and finger imprint remains and doesn't bounce back when touched, 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the warmth and environment.
- Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently press into a small rectangle shape, then roll into a 12-by-19-inch rectangle.
- Spread filling butter over the entire surface. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon evenly over the top.
- Starting with a long edge, roll dough around filling into a spiral log. Pinch open edge so it stays together.
- Use thread or a knife to cut log into 15 rolls. (Alternatively you can cut it into 12 pieces for large rolls.). Place rolls, cut side up, in a buttered jelly roll pan (10-by-15-inch pan).
- Cover pan and let rolls rise until almost double in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes depending on the warmth and environment.
- When rolls have almost proofed completely, heat oven to 350ºF with rack in the center.
- Bake rolls until just turning golden, 22 to 26 minutes.
- In a mixing bowl beat the butter until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time, mixing, until frosting comes together. Add vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Spread icing on warm, not hot, rolls.
You'll need this equipment to make these cinnamon rolls:
About Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes & food-styling for magazines, books, television & advertising. Order my new cookbook & stick around for amazing things to eat.
Sharon Hewlett says
Tara I made these rolls over the weekend. I have had an amazing cinnamon roll, but it seems like no matter what I would do some of the center rolls would fall and be gooey. This was a great dough recipe. The dough was so silky and held together and the rolls were delicious. In fact I made 5X the recipe and with some constant hand washing and counter disinfecting I was able to give away almost all (especially to family). I did make a sugar water syrup that I use in my other recipe and brush them on the rolls when they come out of the oven and before I frosted them I can see how this dough would refrigerate well. Thanks for sharing. Another Tara recipe added to my favorites!
I'm impressed with how fluffy these cinnamon rolls are. Wish I had some right now! 🙂
Amy | Two Healthy Kitchens says
Cinnamon rolls are one of my favorite breakfasts, hands-down! I've been looking for a really perfect recipe for a while, and I know these will be my go-to now!
Breakfast, lunch and dinner for me! LOL.
Wow, this looks completely awesome, and I am loving your site! I'd really like to try these rolls, my mouth was watering reading about them!
Thanks! These really are delicious!
So happy I have yeast on hand. Baking is what's getting me by lately. It just feels good to be in the kitchen working with my hands. Even better when the reward is this sweet!
Sam | Ahead of Thyme says
Wow, I am totally drooling right now! Those cinnamon rolls look amazing! I actually have some yeast so this is the perfect recipe to make. Thank you for sharing.
This looks dangerously good. So good I'm going to make this today. Can't wait. It's delicious!
Kacey Perez says
I absolutely love making rolls and this recipe made some seriously fluffy ones! This is a recipe I will definitely be hanging on to for a long time!
This was a fantastic cinnamon roll recipe. Thet turned out perfect and the entire family asked that I make this recipe again!
These are the best looking cinamon rolls I have ever seen!
Jacque Hastert says
I made this yesterday for breakfast and they were amazing! I loved that they were gone within minutes and everyone was raving about them. Thank you!
Jacque awesome! Glad they were a hit!
These moist, fluffy, and delicious cinnamon rolls are really stepping up the cinnamon roll game.
Sara Welch says
What a great way to start my day! This will pair perfectly with my morning cup of coffee, indeed!
I would LOVE to wake up to these any day!
This is absolutely amazing! A sure hit at my house!
We made these over the weekend. They turned out soft and delish just like we expected. This made plenty of rolls to have some leftover also.
Hi, no sugar is needed for the roll dough? Thought sugar is required to activate the yeast?
Same question. I have a dinner roll recipe that is rather sweet, but isn't as soft as the Asian method results. I was hoping cinnamon roll dough would have a higher content of sugar; I'm surprised this has none.
Tara Teaspoon says
The milk bread method helps the dough stay tender just like added sugar would in a different recipe. I understand it's a surprise not to see sugar in this type of recipe, but by using a different method, you can avoid the added sugar.
I don't think I'll ever make another cinnamon roll recipe. This is perfection! They didn't dry out overnight, but beyond that, I can't report because the cinnamon rolls didn't last beyond 24 hours.
Awesome rolls! I have several "taste tester" neighbors and everyone loved them so much I had to make a second batch 2 days after my first! Thanks for the recipe!
Christine Anderson says
Can I use my food processor and dough blade for this recipe?
And is the sugar missing?
TY so much!
Tara Teaspoon says
Hi Christine, I haven’t tried it but I think the method will be fine in the food processor. You may need to adjust the kneading time to less.
It makes a decent amount of dough, so just make sure it fits ok in your particular machine.
I’ve always wanted to be a good roll maker and now I am! These are glorious and so easy! Thank you, Tara Teaspoon!!
Tara Teaspoon says
Oh I'm glad you like them! They are divine in my opinion!
Anxious to try this recipe. Had a question…in the recipe it calls for “instant yeast” does this mean the Rapid Rise yeast? Thank you!
Tara Teaspoon says
I'm excited for you to try the recipe. No, Instant yeast is not Rapid Rise. Instant yeast just means you don't need to activate it with warm water before using it. Rapid Rise is a different formulation and not the best for these rolls. I rarely use rapid rise because I want the time for the dough to proof properly.
If rapid rise is the only kind you have, you can try it. I haven't tested the recipe with it.
I've used instant yeast and active dry. Both of those work.
Thank you for your clear instructions and well executed recipe. I made a test batch for evaluation prior to sharing. No adjustments. I pour cream over prior to putting in oven. I use another frosting.
Loved this technique. Interested in how the ones will taste tomorrow using this method. Thank you too for your comparison with KA’s. It was a considered exposition and very helpful to read. I couldn’t help but wonder about using bread flour in the tangzhong and ap for balance of recipe.
The dough was a dream to work with. Tip. In a cold kitchen a heating pad covered with a towel makes a warm base for you dough bucket to sit on.
Thank you again for this well crafted recipe and fantastic technique
One more comment. As this recipe has no sugar in the base dough, I think that it can also be used in making more savory pinwheels (with ham), or even garlic knots.
Tara Teaspoon says
Great suggestion Leisa! I love when my recipes inspire others. Tara
Irene Mistretta says
Does this make 2 rolls, 15 rolls each? When printing the recipe it states 30 med. rolls? Thank you.
Tara Teaspoon says
Hi Irene. The recipe makes 1 log, cut into 15 rolls. Is there a chance you may have hit the "2x" next to "ingredients" before printing? That's the only reason I can think of that would change the 15 to 30. If that's not the case then there is a glitch in my printing button and I appreciate you letting me know!
This recipe is delicious. Can it be made in a bread machine without adjusting a bunch of the ingredients? I am just trying to save some time and effort by letting my machine do the work! Thanks!
Tara Teaspoon says
Hi Donna, I've never used a bread machine with this recipe, but my guess is that once you've made the tangzhong, you can let the bread machine do the rest of the work. If you try it, please let us know how it turned out. Tara
I made this yesterday in the bread machine. Came out a little sticky but got it to a great consistency with a little more flour as I rolled it out. Baked them in a large muffin tin to make them as big as possible. Would have liked them to be a bit bigger but will keep making them and experimenting.
Thanks for a delicious recipe!
Can these rolls be made without the powdered milk?
Tara Teaspoon says
Yes Liz, they can be made without powdered milk. The milk enriches the dough, adds flavor and helps with browning, but it's not imperative to the rolls.
I've made these rolls three times in two weeks and each time they've been a little different. (Mostly because I change a thing here or there). But omg do they taste fantastic. I use active dry yeast and they turn out great and the tangzhong tech. Is a breeze. This is my ultimate common roll recipe thanks little lady.
Tara Teaspoon says
Thanks Karl, so glad you are enjoying these yummy rolls. Tara
I love cinnamon rolls. These have a special place in my heart now. I lived in Japan for 18 months and these were as they say in japan, "nazukashi." I forgot how good their breads are in Japan till I made these last October. It is tradition in our home to eat cinnamon rolls the first sunday of the month of October and April. This recipe didn't disappoint. Game changer in our home. Thanks Tara for this great recipe that our family now loves.
Tara Teaspoon says
So glad to hear this recipe is now part of your semi-annual tradition. Thank you for sharing! Tara
We made these today, and the dough was dreamy to work with. They are super soft. We made a cream cheese frosting but otherwise followed the instructions exactly. They were a huge hit and so good! I have your Delicious Gatherings cookbook, and we have loved everything so far. We made the red beans and rice yesterday and the breakfast hash brown bake this morning. They were both delicious. Thank you!
Best ever. Thanks so much 🙂
Hi Tara, just found this wonderful site!
I have a question, for the cinnamon rolls using the tangzhong tech.
Can I add raisins to it when I roll them out, when I was a kid we lived around the block from a bakery, and these look like what he made, light and fluffy more yeast roll looking than a normal cinnamon roll, can't wait to try making them this week. The head baker has long since passed away but his son has his own place and still makes his dads pastry, cakes, donuts they are all very light.
Tara Teaspoon says
Absolutely you can add raisins! I hope they taste just like the bakery that you remember. You can add raisins as you mix the dough or add with the filling. It will work either way!