Multigrain Cocoa Cinnamon Rolls with Brown Butter Glaze
December 31, 2020
My greatest weakness might be cinnamon rolls. It’s either that or my chihuahuas, but food-related, definitely cinnamon rolls. I can’t help but be drawn in by their fluffy dough, gooey centers, and sticky sweet glaze. But I wanted something even richer, with deeper flavor and more texture. That’s where these cocoa cinnamon rolls came from, with their multigrain dough and brown butter glaze.
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They are just so lovely. That spiral shape, I think it might be actually hypnotizing me. And then you unravel it, and it’s just filled with an ooey gooey sweet and spicy center. Each inner ring is slightly doughier than the last. Can you tell I have a slight addiction to this breakfast treat?
In this recipe, I added a bit of texture to a simple enriched yeast dough by using both whole wheat flour and oats. I also added some extra flavor. The cocoa provides a slight bitterness, accentuating the cinnamon; and the brown butter in the glaze gives everything a bit of nuttiness.
What You Need to Get Started
- Fridge: Milk, Butter, Egg, Heavy cream
- Pantry: Instant yeast, All-purpose flour, Whole wheat flour, Quick oats, Cornstarch, Brown sugar, Granulated sugar, Cocoa powder, Confectioner’s sugar
- Spice Rack: Salt, Cinnamon, Espresso powder, Vanilla extract
- Equipment: Mixing bowls, Bench scraper, Rolling pin, Pastry brush, Serrated knife, 9×13 baking pan, Saucepan, Silicone spatula
Let’s Make Cocoa Cinnamon Rolls
Now that we’ve established how obsessed I am with cinnamon rolls, let’s start making some! First, you’ll need to give your yeast a few minutes to wake up. I like to use a large glass measuring cup, and warm the milk until it hits just about 105F. Do this carefully, since you don’t want it getting too warm.
Anything over 110F can shock the yeast and they won’t be as effective. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the warm milk and set it aside. It will start to bubble lightly, and begin to subtly release that delicious bready smell we all love. Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk.
In this recipe, we are using both whole wheat and all-purpose flour. You can easily substitute the whole wheat with white whole wheat or more all-purpose, but I don’t recommend lessening the amount of all-purpose. There are also some oats here, which add a nice texture to the finished rolls.
Now that your yeast has had some time, add in the egg, melted butter, which has cooled slightly, and sugar. Stir this all together until the egg is fully incorporated, and be sure to get any yeast that is sticking to the sides of the cup.
Pour the liquids right into the dry ingredients, and start stirring. You can begin with a spoon or sturdy silicone spatula, but eventually it will start to get a bit tougher. That’s when you know it’s time to start kneading. Dump it out onto a nice floured surface and use your hands to fold the dough over on itself a bunch of times, flipping and kneading to really work that gluten.
Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Then, grease a piece of plastic wrap and carefully place it over the top of the bowl. Trust me, this is a little tough to do single-handedly, but it will make your life easier when it comes time to uncover.
Drape a clean kitchen towel over the bowl, and set it aside to rise. Keep it in a warm place until the yeast works its magic, and the dough doubles in size. The exact time this takes depends on a lot of factors, like the temperature in your kitchen. But it took me about an hour.
Towards the end of that rising time, you can make the cinnamon cocoa filling. This is pretty simple, but it involves melted butter, so if you let it sit for too long it may solidify slightly. If that happens, just microwave it until it’s soft again.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and espresso powder together, and whisk. I like to use the espresso powder to help accentuate the chocolate flavor. It can add an extra bitterness, however, so if you aren’t a dark chocolate fan, feel free to leave it out. Then pour in the melted butter and stir to make a smooth paste.
Once the dough is ready, dump it out onto a lightly floured surface, and grab your rolling pin and a bench scraper. Knead the dough a few times, flipping to be sure it’s not sticking, and then press it into a rectangle, about an inch or so thick.
Use a rolling pin starting from the center to roll the dough out into a 12 by 18-inch rectangle. Use your bench scraper to shape the dough, pushing in edges that are not straight, and then use the rolling pin to smooth it out. You’ll want the corners as square as you can, so the rolls are mostly uniform in size.
Once you have your rectangle, use a spatula or pastry brush to spread the cinnamon cocoa filling on top of the dough. There’s no need to leave a margin, so get it all the way to the edges, spreading it out into an even layer.
Then, beginning at one of the short ends of the dough, fold the edge over about a quarter of an inch into the filling. Continue rolling, trying to keep a consistent tightness across the entire width of the dough. At the end, you’ll have a log of dough, with the cinnamon spiraled throughout.
Use a serrated knife to cut the individual cinnamon rolls. The serrations will help you cut through the dough without having to use too much pressure, which can flatter out the shape. If they do flatten a bit, it’s okay. Just use your hands to shape them into circles rather than ovals.
Place the rolls in a pan, with the cut spiral sides facing up. If you use a 9×13-inch pan, your rolls will have a little bit of breathing room at this point, but that’s okay because they are about to rise again.
Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and set aside once more. The rolls will increase in size, so if your pan has lower sides, you might want to place greased plastic wrap under the towel like you did before.
It will take about an hour, but maybe slightly longer. I suggest waiting until after the hour to preheat your oven, just to give them a little extra time. Then, uncover and bake the rolls for about 20-25 minutes.
How to Make Brown Butter Glaze
While the rolls are baking, it’s time to make the brown butter glaze that will go on top. Cinnamon rolls are nothing without their frosting. Well, not quite nothing – they are still amazing – but the glaze makes them extra sweet and sticky.
In a small light-colored saucepan, melt the butter. I like to use a white ceramic pan so I can really see the color change well when browning butter. However, a stainless steel pan with plenty of light will work.
Continue cooking, allowing it to crackle and pop, swirling the pan occasionally. Once the popping lessens, continue heating while the solids drop to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown. When they are a medium brown and there is a nutty aroma, turn off the heat.
It will keep cooking even with the heat off, and brown butter can very quickly turn to burnt butter, so immediately add in the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Stir these all together until uniform.
Then add half the confectioner’s sugar, and mix it in completely before adding in the other half of it. Continue stirring until you have a nice, smooth glaze. I won’t tell if you taste a little bit before using it to top the rolls. I definitely did!
Your cocoa cinnamon rolls will be done when they look dry on top, and they have started to turn a light golden brown, especially around the edges. You can be completely sure by using an instant-read thermometer to check that the internal temperature is 170F.
Remove the rolls from the oven, and admire their beautiful swirls for a few moments. Get a little bit sucked into the design and the contrast. See what I mean about them being hypnotizing?
While they are still hot, pour the glaze over the top of the rolls. Use a spatula to spread it evenly, working quickly, since it will melt as it touches the warm rolls, oozing into every little cocoa cinnamon crevice.
Let these cool for about ten minutes, and then serve them warm. They taste the best immediately, but are still very delicious after a few days in a sealed container in the fridge. Just microwave individual rolls for about 30 seconds, until the glaze is melted and the rolls are warmed through.
Meet breakfast: These yeast-risen cocoa cinnamon rolls are made with whole wheat and oats, and topped with a warm brown-butter based glaze!
How to Serve These Cinnamon Rolls
These rolls are a bit of an exercise in patience. If you want them for breakfast, I suggest doing most of the work the day before. I made them all in one day, and we ended up eating these as an afternoon snack. But you can enjoy them any time of day, from brunch to dessert.
I love them for breakfast, with a warm cup of coffee or a hot pear cider. If you’d like a bit of a kick, try a peanut butter cup boozy hot chocolate or a chocolate turtle martini instead. As a side, try serving these with a few pieces of vegan breakfast sausage.
Looking for something a little bit different? Try apple butter brioche cinnamon rolls instead!
Use Up Leftover Ingredients
Multigrain Cocoa Cinnamon Rolls with Brown Butter Glaze
- ¾ Cup Milk warmed to about 105°F
- 2 ¼ tsp Instant Yeast one packet
- 1 ½ Cups All-Purpose Flour plus more for kneading
- ¾ Cup Whole Wheat Flour
- ½ Cup Quick Oats
- ¼ Cup Cornstarch
- ½ tsp Salt
- 2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter melted and cooled slightly
- 1 Egg room temperature
- ¾ Cup Brown Sugar
- ⅓ Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
- ½ tsp Espresso Powder optional
- 4 Tbsp Butter melted
Brown Butter Glaze
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 2 tsp Heavy Cream
- 1 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
- ⅛ tsp Vanilla extract
- In a small bowl or large measuring cup, heat the milk to around 105°F, no hotter than 110°F. Sprinkle the yeast on top, and set it aside for at least 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add both flours, oats, cornstarch, and salt and whisk until fully combined. Add the melted butter, egg, and brown sugar into the milk and yeast mixture, and stir until uniform and the egg is fully incorporated.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir, fully combining everything together. When the mixture becomes too tough to use a spoon, pour it out onto a generously floured surface. Use your hands to knead, adding more flour as needed until the dough is not sticking to your hands.
- Form the dough into a large ball, and place in a greased bowl. Cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size, about an hour.
- Towards the end of the rising time, make the filling. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and espresso powders in a small bowl and whisk. Add the melted butter and stir until you have a uniform paste.
- When the dough is ready, turn it onto a lightly floured surface, and roll it out into a 12x18" rectangle. Using a pastry brush or spatula, spread the cocoa-cinnamon filling on top, creating an even layer all the way to the edges.
- Starting at one of the short ends of the dough, tightly roll into a log, creating a spiral. Use a serrated knife to cut this cross-wise into 12 pieces, each about 1 ½" thick.
- Place the rolls into a greased 9x12 high-sided baking pan or casserole dish. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in size, about an hour. If you are making these in advance, cover the pan tightly and place it in the fridge overnight, after they have risen the second time. Allow to come to room temperature before baking, about half an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F, and bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes until the edges and top are a light golden brown and the dough looks dry. The best way to assure they are done is to use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature is at least 170°F.
Brown Butter Glaze
- While the rolls are baking, make the glaze. In a small light-colored saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking, allowing it to crackle and pop, swirling the pan occasionally. Once the popping lessens, continue heating while the solids drop to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown. Once they are a medium brown and fragrant, turn off the heat.
- Immediately add the cream and vanilla, and stir to combined. Then add in the sugar half a cup at a time, stirring until smooth.
- Pour the glaze over the hot cocoa cinnamon rolls, and then let them cool about 5-10 minutes before cutting.
- Serve warm, using a hard spatula to separate the rolls. Or store in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat individual rolls in the microwave, for about 30 seconds each, until the glaze is melted and the roll is warmed through.