This time of year is definitely a feast for the senses. From glimmering lights lining houses to the warmth of being wrapped in a blanket by a crackling fire to the sounds of carolers and holiday music, the spirit of the season has embraced us. But its the sense of smell that brings back so many memories for me, as well as stirs up my appetite.

I vividly remember waking up and racing my brother down the hall to see what treasures Santa had left us. My parents were usually still asleep, as we woke early in anticipation, having barely slept the night before. Once they woke, my mom would hand out presents while taking pictures. And my dad, being the chef he is, would whip up an elaborate spread fit for a king. And every year, no matter what else he’d cook, the aroma of cinnamon rolls always filled the house. 

You know the smell; the heavenly combination of cinnamon and butter, fresh baked pastry and sweet, warm, gooey frosting. I love it so much that I even buy the candles scented like it. 

Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning is a family tradition I’ve carried on and it’s been made easier with this recipe.

These Overnight Cinnamon Rolls are made the night prior and then proofed and baked in the morning. And any make ahead recipe is a winner in my book. They’re perfect for holidays, guests, weekend brunch, or just because. 

The ingredients are usual kitchen staples. Though it does call for buttermilk, and I don’t know about you, but I never have that on hand. But there’s an easy way to make it; by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes. The acidity sours the milk. It won’t get as thick as buttermilk, but it gets the job done.

These rolls are fluffy, soft and deliciously rich. The cream cheese icing pairs so well with them and oozes into every crack and crevasse, making every bite divine. Sometimes I add sliced almonds into the filling and sprinkled them on top of the icing too, for added texture and flavor. Depending on your taste, other add-ins options are blueberries and lemon zest, minced apples or raisins, and cranberries and orange zest.  

With the aroma of cinnamon rolls drifting thru your house, your family and guests will have one sweet awakening. I don’t believe there’s a better scent. And for me, it will always be a nostalgic reminder of Christmas mornings past. 

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls




4 large egg yolks, room temperature 

1 large whole egg, room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature

4 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for dusting

1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

Vegetable oil or cooking spray


1 cup light brown sugar, packed 

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 


1/4 cup cream cheese, softened

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar



For the dough: add egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter and buttermilk to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with whisk attachment. 

Slowly add in 2 cups of the flour and the yeast and salt; mix until combined and moist. 

Replace the whisk attachment with a dough hook. Add in all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and let knead for 5 minutes at low speed. The dough should feel soft and moist, but not sticky. Add more flour if needed. Continue to knead on low speed for 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. 

Place dough on lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 30 seconds. Oil or nonstick spray a large bowl. Transfer the dough into bowl, cover and let double in volume, about 3 hours. 

For the filling: mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Set aside. 

To assemble: thoroughly butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish and line the bottom with parchment paper.  

Turn the dough onto lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Using a rolling pin, roll out to a 18 by 12-inch rectangle. 

Leaving a 1/2-inch border along top edge, brush the dough with the melted butter. 

Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the buttered dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge. 

Press the filling into the dough using hands or rolling pin. 

Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. 

Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls, making 12 rolls. 

Place rolls cut side down in the lined baking dish. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

To bake: remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place on top rack in cold, turned off oven. 

Pour boiling water in a shallow pan until 2/3 full, and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; about 30 minutes.

Remove the rolls and the pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When oven is to temp, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Set rolls to cool slightly and make the icing. 

For the icing: start by beating the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and vanilla, and mix until combined. Turn mixer to low and sift in the powdered sugar, then beat on medium speed until smooth. Immediately spread over the rolls and serve.

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Adapted from Alton Brown