Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

from 11 votes

Add a festive spin to a breakfast favorite with this crowd-friendly recipe for pillowy Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting.

A white baking pan with red velvet cinnamon rolls and cream cheese frosting being slathered on top.

Are you ready to take breakfast to a whole new level? Behold, the ultimate red velvet cinnamon rolls slathered with tangy cream cheese frosting!

These beauties may require a bit of time and patience, but the end result is more than worth it. Just check out those chocolatey-cinnamony swirls…

Unfrosted red velvet cinnamon rolls.

A true red velvet recipe (whether for brownies or cakes) doesn’t just add red food coloring and call it a day. It must have cocoa powder, and that works majorly in our favor in this 100% made-from-scratch cinnamon roll recipe.

There are a whole lot of red velvet cinnamon roll recipes out there that are made with cake mix, but my thought is, if you’re going to do it, let’s do it right! A yeasted dough made with cocoa powder is proofed then buttered, filled and cut into rolls.

After a second proof, these bright red beauties are baked until they’re pillowy and soft. And before you get worried that this is going to be sugar overload, allow me to calm your fears with the reassurance that this isn’t your ordinary cloyingly sweet frosting.

This cream cheese frosting includes buttermilk for an added touch of tangy. The result is a silky-smooth frosting that’s the quintessential pairing for red velvet everything.

Put it all together and we have a show-stopping breakfast or brunch item that looks just as great as it tastes.

Not a red velvet fan? Don’t miss my recipes for classic overnight cinnamon rolls and short-cut pizza dough cinnamon rolls!

Key Ingredients

  • Milk: Use warm milk (around 110°F) to help activate the yeast effectively. Make sure it’s not too hot to avoid killing the yeast. Using a kitchen thermometer can ensure the correct temperature.
  • Butter: Butter is used in the cinnamon roll dough and the cream cheese frosting. It’s also melted for the cinnamon filling. I use unsalted butter to control the salt content.
  • Sugar: Three types of sugar show up in this recipe. Granulated sugar sweetens the dough and brown sugar makes the gooey cinnamon filling. And confectioner’s sugar is used in the frosting.
  • Yeast: Use a package of active dry yeast to help the dough rise, for the fluffiest rolls. If you have a jar of yeast rather than packets, the equivalent measurement is 2 ¼ teaspoons.
  • Flour: All-purpose flour is used to give structure to the rolls. Check out my video on how to accurately measure flour to get the most precise measurement.
  • Cocoa powder: Real red velvet recipes have a little cocoa powder for that indulgent red velvet flavor. Either natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works.
  • Eggs: Eggs help bind, enrich, and leaven the dough.
  • Red food coloring: Food coloring puts the “red” in “red velvet”! I prefer gel food coloring for vibrant color without having to use too much.
  • Cinnamon: A generous helping of ground cinnamon flavors the gooey filling that’s rolled inside the dough.
  • Cream cheese: Tangy cream cheese adds flavor and creaminess to the frosting.
  • Vanilla extract: If you’ve made my homemade vanilla extract, it’s wonderful as a flavoring for the frosting!
  • Buttermilk: A couple of tablespoons of this cultured dairy product is the secret to silky texture and added tang to the frosting. Use leftover buttermilk in Peach Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuits or Light and Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations

I’m a big fan of cinnamon rolls, so you’ll find plenty of variations on my site. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Make-Ahead Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting — Like this recipe, these cinnamon rolls also feature a tangy, luscious cream cheese frosting and you’ll love the instructions on how to make them the day before.
  • Easy Homemade Cinnamon Rolls Without Yeast — If using yeast intimidates you, or you don’t have time to proof dough, this recipe relies on baking powder for quick and easy homemade cinnamon rolls.
  • Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls — Short on time? Use store-bought pizza dough as a shortcut to breakfast bliss.
  • Cinnamon Roll Cookies — These cute cookies have all the best flavors of cinnamon roll, from the warm spicy filling to the drizzle of icing.
  • Apple Cinnamon Roll Bake — Doctor up store-bought refrigerated cinnamon rolls with fresh apples and other ingredients for a decadent breakfast casserole. 

How to Make Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls from Scratch

Working with yeast doughs can seem intimidating. But don’t panic! I’ll walk you through every step and you’ll discover these red velvet cinnamon rolls are actually quick and easy to make. Just allow enough time for the dough to rise.

  1. Activate the yeast. Combine the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat it over low heat to melt the butter and warm the mixture to just below 110˚F when checked with a thermometer. Stir in 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and the yeast, set aside.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and remaining sugar.
  3. Make the dough. Add the yeast mixture and the eggs to the stand mixer and beat for 2 minutes. 
  4. Tint the dough. Add red food coloring to reach your desired color (keep in mind that the baked rolls will be lighter than the dough), and beat the dough for about 6 minutes more until it’s combined and smooth.

Kelly’s Note: Achieving the perfect consistency for your red velvet cinnamon roll dough is crucial for soft and pillowy results. Aim for a dough that is soft, slightly tacky and elastic. It should stick to the bottom of the mixing bowl but not the sides. If the dough is excessively sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

Red velvet cinnamon roll dough is being mixed in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  1. Proof the dough. Transfer the dough to a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray or lightly coated with oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, dark place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours. 
  2. Roll out the dough. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 by 18 inches in size, and about ¼ inch thick.
  3. Make the filling. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Whisk together the sugars and cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over the dough.
A mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar and sugar is sprinkled over red velvet cinnamon roll dough.
  1. Cut the rolls. Starting with the long end, roll the dough tightly into a log. Trim off the ends, and slice the log into 12 rolls, about 1.5 inches wide.

Pro Tip: To cut cinnamon rolls easily, use a length of unwaxed, unflavored dental floss. Lift the end of the cinnamon roll and put the center floss underneath where you want it to be cut. Hold the two ends and cross them over the top of the cinnamon roll. Pull the ends quickly in opposite directions to cleanly cut a piece off the log. 

Just-cut slices of red velvet cinnamon rolls sit on a cutting board.
  1. Second rise. Arrange the rolls in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, dark place until roughly double in size, about 30 minutes. 
Uncooked red velvet cinnamon rolls are arranged in a white baking dish.
  1. Bake the rolls. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Uncover the rolls and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the rolls are no longer doughy in the middle. Let cool.
  2. Make the frosting. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attention, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla extract, buttermilk, salt and confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy.
Cream cheese frosting is being mixed in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
  1. Frost the rolls. Spread the frosting over the cinnamon rolls and serve.

Kelly’s Recipe Tips

  • Don’t have a stand mixer? It’s easy to make cinnamon roll dough by hand. Mix the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or a spatula until the dough comes together. Then transfer it all to a floured surface and knead it by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 to 7 minutes. 
  • For a vibrant red color in the cinnamon roll dough, use gel food coloring, which is more concentrated and yields a more vibrant color than liquid food coloring. I start with about 3 drops of gel food coloring and add more as needed.
  • Let the dough rise in a warm spot. My favorite place to proof dough is in the dryer! Run your dryer for 5 minutes then turn it off (this is important!). Place the covered bowl of dough inside and close the dryer door. The dough will now thrive in a warm, dark and humid environment!
  • Test your yeast. Active dry yeast has a shelf life of about two years in an unopened package. If you’re not sure if your yeast is still good, dissolve a teaspoon or so in about a half-cup of warm water. If, after 10 minutes, it is bubbly, it is still good to use. 

How to Make Ahead of Time

These homemade red velvet rolls can easily be made ahead of time and baked in the morning.

  1. Make the rolls. The day before, make the dough and form the cinnamon rolls (through step 5 in the “Make the Filling” part of the recipe). Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerator overnight. 
  2. Remove from refrigerator. The next morning, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them warm up at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour to finish rising as the oven preheats. Bake and frost as instructed! 
  3. Make the frosting. The cream cheese frosting recipe can also be made the day before and refrigerated, covered, until needed. Take it out while the rolls are baking. If it’s very stiff, beat it for a moment with the stand mixer. 

Freezing

Unbaked rolls can be prepared ahead of time and frozen in the pan.

Prepare the rolls up to the point where they’re cut and rolled and ready for their second proof. Then wrap the whole pan tightly in plastic wrap (a disposable foil pan is great for this purpose) and freeze. The night before you plan to bake them, transfer the frozen rolls to thaw in the fridge overnight. In the morning, take them out of the refrigerator and let them warm up and rise until they’re doubled in size. Bake and frost as directed.

Baked, unfrosted cinnamon rolls can also be frozen, tightly wrapped and in the pan. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm in a 350˚F oven for 10 minutes if desired. Frost and serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are my cinnamon rolls not doubling in size?

There could be a few reasons why your cinnamon rolls aren’t doubling in size. The yeast could be too old or expired, or you could have killed off the yeast if the milk mixture was too hot. The dough also could be too cold for the yeast to reproduce. Try moving it to a warmer place in the kitchen, such as next to the stove or in a sunny window. 

Is it OK to leave cinnamon rolls out overnight to rise?

If you leave them out overnight at room temperature, the cinnamon rolls will rise too much and could collapse in the oven, which will result in dense, gummy rolls. To prepare the cinnamon rolls ahead of time, refrigerate the rolls in the pan overnight. They’ll slowly rise in the refrigerator. Take them out of the fridge the next morning and let them come to room temperature and rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Can I use natural cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed cocoa powder in red velvet cinnamon rolls?

Because these cinnamon rolls use yeast as a leavening agent, rather than baking soda or baking powder, you can use natural cocoa powder or Dutch-processed cocoa powder interchangeably in this recipe. 

A hand holding an offset spatula slathers cream cheese frosting atop red velvet cinnamon rolls in a white baking dish.

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Breakfast

Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

Add a festive spin to a breakfast favorite with this crowd-friendly recipe for pillowy Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Author: Kelly Senyei
4.46 from 11 votes
A white baking pan with red velvet cinnamon rolls and cream cheese frosting being slathered on top
Prep Time 3 hours
Cook Time 22 minutes
Servings 12 servings

Ingredients 

For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1 (3/4-oz.) package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • Red food coloring
  • Cooking spray

For the filling:

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the frosting:

  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Instructions 

Make the dough:

  • In a small sauce pot set over low heat, combine the milk and butter and cook until the butter has melted and the mixture is warmed to just below 110°F.
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and the yeast then set the mixture aside for 5 minutes.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and remaining ½ cup sugar.
  • Add the yeast mixture and eggs to the stand mixer and beat for 2 minutes.
  • Add red food coloring until the dough reaches your desired color then continue beating for 6 minutes until the dough is combined. (It will be tacky. If it's too tacky, or you're in a humid environment, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency.)
  • Grease a large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer the dough into the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Store the dough in a warm, dark place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  • Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  • Lightly flour your work surface then roll the dough into a rectangle that's 1/4-inch thick and measures about 12×18 inches.

Make the filling:

  • Brush the dough all over with the melted butter.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon.
  • Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly atop the butter.
  • Beginning at the long end, tightly roll the dough up into a log. Slice off the ends then slice the log into 12 rolls.
  • Arrange the rolls in the greased baking dish then cover them with plastic wrap. Set the rolls aside in a warm, dark place until they double in size, about 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Uncover the rolls and bake them for 18 to 22 minutes or until they are no longer doughy. Set the rolls aside to cool.

Make the frosting:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter.
  • Add the vanilla extract, buttermilk, salt and confectioners' sugar and beat until combined.
  • Spread the frosting atop the cinnamon rolls and serve.

Kelly’s Notes

  • To make cinnamon roll dough by hand, mix the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or a spatula until the dough comes together. Transfer it all to a floured surface and knead it by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  • For a vibrant red color in the cinnamon roll dough, use gel food coloring, which is more concentrated and yields more vibrant color than liquid food coloring. I start with about 3 drops of gel food coloring and add more as needed.
  • To test yeast to make sure it’s active, dissolve a teaspoon or so in about a half-cup of warm water. If, after 10 minutes, it is bubbly, it is still good to use. 
  • ★ Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!

Nutrition

Calories: 481kcal, Carbohydrates: 72g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 19g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 75mg, Sodium: 271mg, Potassium: 116mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 39g, Vitamin A: 604IU, Calcium: 57mg, Iron: 2mg

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Recipe by Kelly Senyei of Just a Taste. Please do not reprint this recipe without my permission. If you'd like to feature this recipe on your site, please rewrite the method of preparation and link to this post as the original source.


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Comments

  1. This recipe looks amazing! Just one question: is it possible to make this without the dough hook? I misplaced mine and I only have the paddle and whisk attachment. I would prefer not to do it by hand but if that’s the only other way, I would have to try that out. Thank you!

    1. Hi Ashley! The dough hook is best because it won’t overstretch the gluten in the flour. By hand would be your best bet!

    1. Hi NaTishia – You could do it by hand! It should work out without any issues (although the texture might be slightly different), you’ll just want to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated. Mix the ingredients using a wooden spoon or spatula until the dough starts to come together. Once the dough starts to form, transfer it to a floured surface and knead by hand for about 5-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

  2. 5 stars
    I just made these and I’m so happy how they turned out so beautifully. They are so delicious my kiddos are going to love them for an after school snack. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. Im always looking for new recipes to try.

    1. You are so welcome, Kathryn! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the recipe and I hope your kiddos enjoy the cinnamon rolls, too!

      1. I am making these for my fiance for his birthday tomorrow for breakfast before he goes to work. Can I make these the night before and bake them in the morning. If so how do I store them over night.

      2. Absolutely! After you’ve cut them, place them in the greased pan and cover it with plastic wrap. The next morning, remove them from the fridge and let them come to room temp for about 30 mins then bake and continue with the recipe as directed. Enjoy!

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