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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingman; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: Kitchn
Recipe Review

Why the Vanilla Bean Blog’s Cinnamon Rolls Are the Only Ones I’ll Make

published Dec 19, 2019
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In the name of our recipe showdown series, I recently had the pleasure of trying out some of the internet’s most popular cinnamon roll recipes (I know, tough job). And while three of the contenders were pretty obvious picks — Alton Brown, Stella Parks, and a Cinnabon copycat — there was room for debate for the fourth slot. This particular recipe almost didn’t make the list, but Kitchn’s News & Culture Editor, Arie Knutson, insisted that The Vanilla Bean Blog’s cinnamon rolls were the best she’d ever had.

Despite the fact that Sarah Kieffer, the author of the blog, is the creator of the viral pan-banging chocolate chip cookies, I’ll admit I was skeptical of her cinnamon roll recipe. It seemed straightforward enough — no hard-to-find ingredients or special equipment required — but the sweet dough base requires nearly a full day of prep. Would that be the secret ingredient to the best-ever cinnamon rolls — or would I want my day back? Here’s what happened when I took to my kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingman; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: Kitchn

How to Make Vanilla Bean Blog’s Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls are quite complex, so you’ll want to start the dough well in advance of whenever you plan to serve them. You’ll begin by making a sweet dough, which requires a lot of babysitting during its first two-hour rise (you have to fold it every 30 minutes). The dough is then refrigerated overnight.

Filling and shaping these cinnamon rolls is pretty straightforward. You’ll roll out the rested dough, brush it with melted butter, and sprinkle with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Of all the recipes I tried, these cinnamon rolls had the least amount of filling. You’ll then roll them up, slice them, and place them in the pan. You can either let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or let them rise again overnight in the fridge, which I recommend.

The next morning you’ll feel doubtful, because these rolls don’t puff very much during their second rise, but they fill out beautifully in the oven. While they’re still hot from the oven, Kieffer suggests frosting them with just a bit of the icing, then letting the rolls cool before frosting them completely.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

My Honest Review of The Vanilla Bean Blog’s Cinnamon Rolls

Although I was initially skeptical about whether these rolls would be worth the effort, I can now say with certainty that they absolutely are. I did have my moments of doubt — the folding felt fussy, the filling seemed skimpy, and the pre-baked rolls weren’t very impressive-looking — but as they baked, they filled out beautifully, and the texture of the baked rolls is pure pillowy goodness. Kieffer’s frosting trick will forever be my favorite, because it creates a crackly layer of icing under a second layer of soft, gooey icing.

Of the recipes I tested, this cinnamon roll recipe was the best-tasting, and what seemed like a small amount of filling turned out to be perfectly balanced with the sweet, fluffy dough. Sure, you have to do a little bit of planning to make this truly special cinnamon roll, but you’ll be glad you did.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

If You’re Making The Vanilla Bean Blog’s Cinnamon Rolls, a Few Tips

1. Leave yourself enough time. This dough requires an overnight rise, which may seem fussy, but it’s the key to better flavor and texture. You can make this dough a full 72 hours in advance if you need to.

2. Don’t stress over the rolls’ appearance. There was a point when I thought these cinnamon rolls would fail, but it’s just because these puff up the most in the oven, not during the overnight rise.

3. Follow Kieffer’s advice for frosting the rolls. When you swipe the icing over the hot rolls it will all but disappear, but it helps the rolls stay really moist, and you’ll get your gooey frosting moment when you add the rest of the icing later. Use this tip regardless of what cinnamon roll you make.

Rating: 10/10

Have you tried the cinnamon rolls from The Vanilla Bean Blog? Tell us what you thought in the comments.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingman; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: Kitchn