Our 2021 Recipe of the Year, Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, is a classic yet ingenious recipe that turns familiar ingredients — bread flour, milk, butter, sugar — into an ultra-soft, sugary delight.
But maybe you’re looking for alternative ways to prepare these cinnamon rolls. Perhaps you follow a gluten-free diet, or you need to avoid dairy, or you’re trying to eat less sugar.
No matter your dietary preferences (or the contents of your pantry), here are all the different ways you can make these stellar rolls.
As with any recipe changes or substitutions, the altered rolls won’t be exactly the same as the original recipe. The degree to which results differ will vary: Vegan rolls will be almost indistinguishable from the non-vegan version, while keto-friendly rolls will have a drier texture and more “wheat-y” taste.
But no matter how you whip them up, you’ll be rewarded with sweet, swirled, cinnamon-y treats that brighten any morning.
How to make gluten-free cinnamon rolls
If you’ve said goodbye to gluten in your baking, try our Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls. They’re based on the recipe for Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, with some changes.
And since they’re not made from wheat flour, they skip the tangzhong step found at the beginning of the original recipe; as we’ve found in previous recipe tests, tangzhong doesn’t seem to have an effect on the texture or shelf life of gluten-free yeast breads. That said, using the tanzhong method does make the dough feel more like conventional yeast dough, and it deepens the golden color of the baked rolls. So if you’d like to use it in these rolls, we’ve included a tip on how to do so at the bottom of the recipe page.
How to make vegan cinnamon rolls
Even without the dairy, these rolls still come out soft and pillowy. They’re prepared almost exactly the same way as the original recipe, just with two ingredient substitutions: coconut oil for the butter, and any plain non-dairy milk of choice for the whole milk. You can find the full recipe here: Super-Soft Vegan Cinnamon Rolls.
A note on butter replacements: We tested this recipe using both Earth Balance Buttery Sticks and coconut oil instead of butter. The dough made with Earth Balance was very soft, and it was harder to work with than the dough made with coconut oil. The Earth Balance rolls also didn't hold their shape well and collapsed a bit after baking.
So ultimately, we recommend using coconut oil. That said, you can certainly make this recipe with the butter substitute of your choice, though be prepared for a softer dough and slightly misshapen (yet still delicious) rolls.
How to make whole-grain cinnamon rolls
With so many flour options at your fingertips, you might be eager to explore beyond the bread flour in the original recipe. In particular, you may wonder how to incorporate more whole grains into these rolls.
Before making any changes, first know that whole-grain rolls will not be as plush and pillowy as Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls made with bread flour, and they won’t have the same long shelf life.
That said, if you’re planning to make cinnamon rolls with whole wheat flour, start by substituting it for 25% of the bread flour, and don’t swap out more than 50% of the bread flour. More than that, and your rolls will have a crumbly texture that’s much less enticing than the original rolls; in addition, the whole wheat taste can be overpowering. (For milder flavor, use white whole wheat flour.) Add a few extra teaspoons of milk to the dough if it seems dry, which will help make the rolls as tender as possible.
You can also try using medium rye flour in this recipe for a nutty, slightly toasted flavor; but only swap rye for 25% of the bread flour in the dough. More than that and the texture of the rolls will be compromised, since rye has less gluten than wheat.
How to make sugar-free cinnamon rolls
Sugar is kind of essential to cinnamon rolls. Otherwise, they’re more like dinner buns. But if you’ve sworn off sugar or you’re keeping an eye on your intake, decadent cinnamon rolls are still within your reach — all thanks to our Baking Sugar Alternative.
A zero-calorie, zero-sugar substitute for granulated sugar, this product was formulated specifically for baking, making it an excellent choice in Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls. To prepare, replace the sugar in the dough and the brown sugar in the filling with an equal amount of Baking Sugar Alternative, measuring by volume. (The filling will be slightly drier and more sand-like in consistency than the brown sugar version, but there’s no need to make adjustments. It’ll bake up just fine.) Decrease the baking temperature to 350°F and bake for 25 minutes, until the rolls turn light golden brown around the edges.
To top, try the icing from our Keto-Friendly Cinnamon Rolls, which is designed to work well with Baking Sugar Alternative.
How to make keto-friendly cinnamon rolls
Speaking of Keto-Friendly Cinnamon Rolls, they’re a great choice for those following a low-carb or keto diet. They won’t have the same ethereally soft texture as original Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls (as brilliant as our test kitchen is, they’re not magicians). But they’re still sweet and satisfying, and they make a fantastic occasional treat for those following a keto diet.
It’s all possible with our Keto Wheat Flour, a super low-carb baking option that performs spectacularly in yeast recipes since it’s made from wheat. (For more on this one-of-a-kind flour, see our previous post, Introducing Keto Wheat Flour.)
How to make savory cinnamon rolls
Maybe you actually do want dinner rolls after all? The ridiculously soft dough that makes Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls is well suited to sweet treats, but you may be tempted to bring some of that enticing texture to the dinner table instead.
For a savory version of these rolls, omit 1 tablespoon of sugar from the dough, then prepare the dough according to the recipe. Swap the cinnamon-sugar filling for a range of savory options (like the filling from our Pizza Party Buns, for instance). Cut, proof, and bake accordingly.
And needless to say, ditch the sweet icing.
Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, customized for you
As with all baked goods, we recommend following the recipe exactly as written for the most reliable results. But we also know that every baker’s circumstances differ, and sometimes the written recipe isn’t something you can bake.
So whether you don’t eat gluten or you don’t bake with butter, you can still make and enjoy a batch of sweet, cinnamon-y rolls (or not, if you decide to go the savory route instead!).
Want to learn more about Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls? See our 10 genius tips to bake Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls and take a closer look at tangzhong, the secret behind their fluffy, cloud-like texture.
Cover photo by Liz Neily