Waking up to the smell of sweet rolls baking in the oven or coming home to a house filled with their yeasty-cinnamon aroma is one of the joys in life that makes a house a home and brings a family together. Sweet rolls can take a bit of time, but are easy to make and a delicate weekend morning or holiday treat!
You can make sweet roll dough from scratch, a boxed mix, frozen bread dough, pizza dough, refrigerated bread dough, or refrigerated biscuit dough. When making sweet rolls from scratch, you can use one type of flour (such as white, cake, or whole wheat) or a flour blend.
If more than half of the flour in your recipe is whole wheat, use double the amount of yeast to give your rolls a light and delicate texture and keep them from being too heavy and dense. Always proof your yeast before adding it to your dough, even if the recipe calls for adding it dry.
To proof your yeast, place at least ¼ cup of warm water in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast and at least 1 ½ tsp of sugar or honey onto the water. Whisk the yeast and sugar into the water and let it stand in a draft free area for 10 minutes. Setting it in the microwave or a cool oven works well. After ten minutes, the yeast should be foamy and smell like fresh bread. If it has no smell or foam, discard the mixture and start over.
Be sure to cut ¼ cup of liquid and 1 ½ tsp of sugar from your dough recipe to account for what you used in the proofing process.
Unless your recipe states otherwise, add ingredients to your dough at room temperature. Eggs, milk, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. should all be at room temperature before you mix them into the dough. If you forget to set them out or need to bring your ingredients to room temperature quickly, you can gently microwave milk, butter, sour cream, and cream cheese. Try 30 second increments at 25% power until they are at room temperature, not hot or warm.
Set eggs in a bowl of warm water for 1 hour to bring them to room temperature. If your recipe calls for adding dried fruit to your rolls, soak it in ¼ cup of warm water or juice for about 20 minutes before adding it to the recipe so that it does not become dry or hard during baking. Drain off the liquid, pat the dried fruit off with a paper towel and it is ready to go.
Most sweet roll recipes call for kneading the dough. You could use your electric stand mixer or the kneading cycle on your bread machine. However, if these aren’t good options for you, or if you enjoy kneading it by hand, try this method. Instead of turning the dough out onto a floured surface, save time and effort by kneading your sweet roll dough in a bowl.
Place flour and the dough into a large mixing bowl, ceramic tends to work best. Have extra flour standing by to add as necessary. With floured or greased hands, knead the dough against the side of the bowl, pressing down with the palm of your hand and giving it a quarter turn. Continue this process until the dough is smooth and elastic. By working against the side of the bowl, you are doubling your efforts.
Let it Rise:
For most sweet roll recipes, the next step after kneading is rising. You could place your dough in the fridge overnight at this point. Your dough needs a warm, moist environment to reach the proper height.
Turn your oven onto warm. Once it has preheated, turn it off, but leave the oven light on. Place a glass casserole dish on the bottom rack of your oven and carefully fill it with boiling water. Put the sweet roll dough into a clean glass or ceramic bowl that has been greased and turn the dough once so that the exposed surface of the dough has been greased as well.
Place a layer or saran wrap or a clean kitchen towel over the dough and set the bowl with the dough on the top rack of your oven. Allow it to rise for the time called for in your recipe. Remove the dough from the oven once it has risen fully and use your hands to punch it down.
Roll It Up:
For rolled-style sweet rolls, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use a floured rolling pin or an empty glass jelly jar to roll the dough into the shape called for in your recipe. Apply even pressure from the center out as you roll and keep the dough moving, so it doesn’t stick.
Once your dough is the right size, spread on the filling. While many recipes call for spreading melted butter on the surface of the dough, it is much easier and cleaner to spread on room temperature or softened butter with a knife and then layer on the rest of the filling. Be sure not to overload your roll dough with too much filling or the rolls will come apart as they rise and bake, causing your filling to be everywhere but in the roll.
Leave a one inch border around the edge of your dough free from filling. Starting on one of the long sides, or at a large end of a wedge if you are making crescents, roll the dough tightly with your hands. Once you have created a large log, pinch the seam to seal it. Use a sharp, serrated knife or dental floss to slice your log into rolls, usually about 1-2 inches wide. If you use floss, make sure it is unflavored as you do not want your sweet rolls to have a hint of mintiness.
Make A Bun:
For sticky buns, divide the dough into the appropriate amount of buns called for in your recipe. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use a dough scraper to divide it equally. Use the palms of your hands to form each piece of dough into a ball, tucking the end up into the dough ball.
Follow the recipe instructions for preheating the oven, choosing the right pan, and greasing it. Both sticky buns and sweet rolls can be made in muffin tins for even rising and faster baking. Whatever pan, tin, or glass casserole dish you use to bake your sweet rolls in, be sure to give your rolls room to grow or they will not rise properly.
At this point, most recipes will call for you to let your rolls rise again before baking. Use the same method you did during the first rise, placing the dough-filled pans over a dish of boiling water in the oven. Once they have risen, remove the pan of water and bake your rolls according to your recipe, usually 18-25 minutes. If you notice your rolls are browning too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil continue to bake until they are cooked through.
Frosting and Storing:
While your dough is baking, make your frosting or glaze. Use room temperature ingredients. Don’t be afraid to use less sugar if you don’t like a super-sweet frosting. Replace some or all of the liquid in your frosting or glaze with orange juice to give it a fruity tang.
Once your rolls are done baking, take them out of the oven and place the pans, tins, or baking dishes on wire racks to cool. After about five minutes, remove your rolls from the pans and let them cool on a wire rack or a plate if they are messy. Frost or glaze your rolls with a butter knife or offset spatula.
Enjoy your rolls while they are still warm, or allow them to cool completely. Once they are cool, place your rolls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to six months.
If your rolls become a little stale in the fridge, butter them and reheat them in the microwave for 20 seconds on the low setting, and they will get back that fresh-from-the-oven taste and texture.
For the feel of a sweet roll without all of the effort, try one of these easy recipes: