Did we mention that you can make them in one hour and don’t need a mixer?

By Darcy Lenz
May 08, 2020
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Darcy Lenz

If you’ve made any attempt to find yeast at the grocery store lately, you know that it’s tricky to come by. But necessity is the mother of invention, my friends—and in this case, I’m not mad about it. Because now, I know that it’s possible to wake, bake, and enjoy fluffy, buttery, decadently gooey homemade cinnamon rolls within an hour. 

Classic cinnamon roll recipes call for yeast, and like any yeasted dough, these recipes also call for a couple of rounds of proofing. Which ultimately means that the cinnamon rolls you start working on in the morning won’t actually be ready for consumption until later in the afternoon. And to me, that’s less than ideal. 

Removing yeast from the equation significantly expedites the process (cutting an all-day affair down to a manageable one-hour activity) and makes baking cinnamon rolls a far more approachable endeavor. In fact, this No-Yeast Cinnamon Rolls recipe was developed specifically to streamline as much as possible while still delivering mouthwatering results. You don’t even need a mixer. (Truthfully, the biggest commitment you have to make for this recipe is setting your butter out to soften the night before.)

In a lot of cases, especially when it comes to baking, I’m gun-shy about shortcuts. I’ll admit, I can be a downright snob about them in my own kitchen. Too often, the shortcutted version of a dish is such a far stretch from comparing to the original—and I end up bummed out over it. But let me tell you… there was hardly a thing on this planet that could bum me out when I dug into one of these yeast-free beauties warm from the oven. Here’s how it’s done. 

How to Make Cinnamon Rolls Without Yeast

Darcy Lenz

There are a few categories of leaveners in the baking world, and yeast is what we consider a “biological leavener.” In other words, it’s a living organism that leavens via fermentation. Yeast provides powerful lift and delicious nuanced flavor. However, because you are working with a living thing (rather than a chemical agent), yeasted doughs tend to be on the finicky side. Yeast’s fermentation process produces carbon dioxide gas at slower rate than a fast-acting chemical leavener (such as baking soda or baking powder), and it’s commonly used to leaven heartier baked products with more thoroughly developed gluten architecture—like breads—that can house these slowly developing gasses through various stages of proofing.

Making a yeastless cinnamon roll is simply a matter of replacing this biological leavener with a different breed of leavener. In this case, the most stable and reliable breed of leavener: a “chemical leavener.” For this recipe, we’re tapping our consistent, no-surprises pal, baking powder—a good deal of it. Using this fast-acting leavener means we get to skip the proofing and just make our way through the recipe in one fell swoop. 

And in the interest of prioritizing tenderness over developing a substantial gluten structure, we’re going all in on all-purpose flour, rather than incorporating a portion of bread flour. To add a touch of the fermented personality lost in eliminating yeast, we’re also utilizing some full-fat plain yogurt. Do note, you’ll want to use plain yogurt—not Greek yogurt— for this recipe. You could also swap in sour cream in a pinch or simply replace the yogurt with an additional ½ cup of milk. 

For those who are interested, the last classification of baking leaveners is “mechanical” or “physical leaveners.” This category entails air or steam created through the baking process. Think about when you whip cream, whip egg whites to make a meringue-based dessert, or even thoroughly cream the butter and sugar for a pound cake that calls for no mechanical leavener—that’s air at work. Meanwhile, delicate, airy pastries such as gougères and popovers rely on steam to do the heavy lifting. 

Pro-Tips for Success

Now that we’ve covered the major ingredient change-ups you’ll encounter in this recipe, all that’s really left to do is mix, roll, cut, and bake. Here are just a few quick-tips: 

  • The recipe calls for “very soft butter;” make sure yours is truly soft (like barely still a solid), or else you’ll encounter problems.
  • When you mix together your wet ingredients for the dough, it’s likely that you’ll have some small pieces of butter that don’t fully incorporate—that’s totally fine. Just be sure to thoroughly combine your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. (Be thorough, but careful not to over-mix.)
  • Go borrow your kid’s ruler when it comes time to roll and cut. It may seem arduous, but having a measure is so much easier than eyeballing it. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about saving yourself frustration. 
  • When rolling your dough into a log, try to make the roll as tight as you can. This makes it easier/less messy to transfer your rolls to a baking pan. 
  • If you have a sharp serrated knife, that’s what you should use to cut your rolls. 
  • Even if your cinnamon rolls aren’t super brown toward the end of baking, give one a light tap with a fork; if the exterior edges feel crisped, pull them out. There’s nothing sadder than an over-baked cinnamon roll. 
  • Give them a few minutes to cool down after you pull them from the oven, but you want to ice your cinnamon rolls while they’re still warm. 
  • These rolls are best served with a fork and a tall glass of milk. 
Darcy Lenz

The Icing On Top

As if the buttery, gooey brown sugar-cinnamon filling weren’t decadent enough, everyone knows a cinnamon roll isn’t complete without a creamy icing draped over the top. And our easy, no-yeast cinnamon rolls deserve only the best—which is why we’re making brown butter (A.K.A. the best tasting substance known to mankind). Making brown butter is nothing more than toasting the milk solids present in butter until they’re fragrant and caramelized, yielding one of the most nutty and richly delicious flavor boosters imaginable. Basically, you melt butter and cook it over medium-low heat until the smell makes you want to spoon it straight from the pan. If you’ve never made brown butter, you’re in for a serious delight. The fact that something so good can be created so easily will surely renew your faith in the world. 

Once you’ve made your brown butter, you can pour it directly from the stove over a (3-ounce) block of cream cheese, whisk it until smooth and then stir in just a bit of powdered sugar, some vanilla, and a pinch of salt to make a toasty, salty-sweet icing for the ages. Slather this mixture over your fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls and that’s it, you’re ready to wow whoever’s sitting at your breakfast table.