The cream cheese is baked right into the dough for a incredibly rich, flaky roll, and the caramel topping is just over-the-top crazy-good.Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

I have something to admit to you, dear readers.  I’m afraid that Liz has a painfully serious addiction to cinnamon rolls.  I’ve tried to help.  Therapy, cold turkey, hot turkey, the bacon patch…  But I’ve just had to come to grips with the fact that she will always be slave to the delicious goodness of homemade cinnamon rolls.  And with this recipe, it’s very clear that I am an enabler.

This is actually the first cinnamon roll recipe I’ve ever made.  While I’ve been happy to eat my fair share of the delicious pastries, it’s just never really called out to me to make a batch.  But last year, as I pondered what to make Liz for a Valentine’s Day brunch, inspiration struck.

The battle rages over what is the best style of cinnamon roll.  Is it the smaller and neater version,  with emphasis on the rich, warming spice blend?  Or is it the hulking, frosting-slathered behemoth that leaves you quite happy, but also unable to move for at least 15 minutes?  While I don’t actually have the answer, this one falls more into the latter category.  Except instead of frosting on top, there’s caramel…and inside there’s a secret ingredient that puts it in a class all by itself.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

Well, not that secret.  It’s in the name of the recipe.  What sets this recipe apart from others is the lamination of cream cheese into the dough itself.  I remember seeing a recipe for homemade croissants with laminated dough, and how they involve spreading butter over a dough, and folding and flattening over and over until you have many layers of both, which leaves you with that awesome light flakiness in the finished product.

I also knew that doing that much work with a high butter dough would undoubtedly leave me weeping in the corner with the ruined remains of my dough forever clinging to my hands.  But these cinnamon rolls are a lot easier than that.  This addition of cream cheese was quite beneficial to me, because I kept going back and forth over whether to make Liz some rolls with caramel or cream cheese frosting.  She’ll kill for either one… no, seriously… I’ve seen some things…  This sort of let me do both: cream cheese in the dough + caramel on the top = a happy Liz.  Oh mimosas don’t hurt either.Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

Once you make the dough, you spread cream cheese over it, and then fold it like a letter going into an envelope two times so you end up with a small, stout piece of dough that ends up with 9 layers.  Then you roll it out, add your sugar and spice, and roll it up to cut into individual pieces.  At least, that’s how I roll…

The caramel in this is pretty easy, but do be careful because the combination of hot honey and sugar is sort of a culinary napalm.  It works very well to make ahead if you trying to prep in stages.  For example, you can make the caramel during the initial dough rising.

And if you are looking to do even more work ahead of time, you can actually have these cinnamon rolls ready to go the night before.  Go ahead and do the cream cheese lamination, filling, rolling, and cutting, and then nestle the rolls and the caramel in your preferred baking vessel.  They can do the second rise overnight in the refrigerator.  The next morning, you just need to let them warm up for about half an hour, and bake in the oven for super fresh cinnamon rolls.

They must have turned out pretty well, since Liz has insisted that they are now a yearly tradition.  Well, twist my arm… (Confession: I can’t stop eating them either.)


Dough and filling adapted from Brown Eyed Baker.  Caramel topping adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Roll

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls with Caramel Pecan Topping
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
The cream cheese is baked right into the dough for a super rich, flaky roll, and the caramel topping is just over-the-top crazy-good.
Serves: 8 rolls
For the dough
  • 1 package (2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoons, plus ¼ cup sugar, divided
  • ½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
For the Caramel
  • ½ cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup (110 grams) honey
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
For the filling
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
For brushing after baking
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
Make the Dough
  1. Combine ½ teaspoon of sugar with ¼ cup of warm (100-115 °F) water in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl if you are doing this by hand (I commend your dedication to brunch!). Mix vigorously for about 15 seconds and wait 10 minutes until the top is foamy and the mixture smells yeasty.
  2. Add in the ¼ cup of sugar, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Mix briskly with the whisk attachment until thoroughly blended. Remove the whisk and replace with the dough hook. Add the salt and about half of the flour. Mix on low until the first dose of flour is combined. Stop and add the remaining flour. Once fully incorporated, increase the speed to medium high and work the mixture for about 4 minutes.
  3. While the dough is mixing, cut 8 tablespoons of butter into 8 pieces. When the dough is done, stop the mixer and add the butter. Restart the mixer and work on medium high for an additional 6 minutes. Remove the bowl from your mixer.
  4. Turn out the dough on a heavily floured surface. Work in approximately ⅓ of a cup of flour as you knead the dough by hand. You may need to use a little more or less, but the dough should remain slightly sticky. Don’t worry, you’ll add some more flour before you do the heavy work. Roll the dough into a nice, tight ball and place in an oiled container at least twice the size of the dough. Cover the container and leave the dough somewhere warm to double in size (90 minutes to 2 hours). Tip: if you’re lacking a good place to keep the dough, turn your oven on briefly to warm it up, then turn it off and store your dough in there. Frees up some counter space as well. This would be a good time to make the caramel and the filling (see below).
  1. To make the caramel, melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over moderate heat.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and drop the heat to medium low.
  3. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The caramel should be golden brown and have a glossy sheen. If you are not using immediately, set aside until it reaches room temperature, then refrigerate in an airtight container.
  1. Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
  2. Stir in the maple syrup. Set aside.
Form the Rolls
  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a heavily floured surface and knead, adding flour as needed, until it is no longer sticky. When you are done, cover with a tea towel for 5 minutes. This will give the gluten time to relax and make it easier to roll out.
  2. Grab your trusty rolling pin, flout it, and roll the dough into a 10” x 10” square. Liz thinks it’s crazy, but I use a framing square when working with big pieces of dough. Just make sure it’s clean.
  3. In a bowl, work the 4 ounces of cream cheese until it is smooth and easy to spread. I tend to sort of “shave” it off the main block and fold it back onto itself. Once it’s easily spreadable, evenly cover your 10” dough square with all of the cream cheese.
  4. Fold the dough in thirds like it’s a letter. You should end up with a fat piece of dough that is approximately 3” x 10”. Fold it in thirds again going the other way, so you arrive with a small, tall square.
  5. Put side with seam on the work surface. Here comes the tricky part: you need to roll this blob into a 10” x 20” rectangle. Resist the urge to bear down on it like you’re giving it CPR. You want to be as gentle as possible so that the cream cheese doesn’t burst through the layers of dough. Some of it probably will anyway, but that’s ok. Work gently until you get to your desired size. If you find the dough starting to contract back after you work it, cover with a tea towel and let it rest a few minutes. Congratulations! The hardest part is over.
  6. Brush the surface of the dough with 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Yes, it looks like it’s too much. No, it’s really not..
  7. Leaving a 1” border clear along one of the 10” sides, spread the filling evenly over the dough. Use your hands and gentle pressure to push it down into the dough.
  8. Lift up the 10” side without the border and start rolling the dough into a cylinder. Go slowly, and try to make your roll as even as possible. This is easier the more square your corners are. Continue until you have a nice tight cylinder.
  9. Pinch together the dough without any filling (that 1” border) to the exterior of the cylinder. This will help keep the rolls from unraveling. Place the cylinder seam side down, and use a thin, sharp knife to cut into 8 equal slices. If you are a perfectionist, you can trim the ends, but why waste the delicious dough?
  10. Line a 9” x 13” baking dish with foil (or if you really enjoying scrubbing pans, skip this step). Pour all the caramel into the bottom of the pan (heat the caramel in the microwave briefly if you have made it ahead and refridgerated it). Space your 8 rolls evenly in the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours somewhere warm (or overnight in the fridge).
Bake the Rolls
  1. Place the your oven rack in the middle and pre-heat the oven to 375 °F. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and delicious (props to Alton Brown).
  2. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Brush the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter over the rolls and let sit 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the rolls from the dish using a spatula and invert onto plates so that the sticky caramel is on top. Spoon extra caramel from the pan over the top (I would say this is optional, but c’mon).
  4. Bask in the opulence of your creation!
Rolls can be prepared in advance. Make them all the way up until they are ready for their second rise, then leave them covered in the fridge overnight. In the morning, set out at room temperature for about half an hour, then bake.

Rolls freeze very well. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month or two.

Dough and filling adapted from Brown Eyed Baker. Caramel topping adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

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