When it comes to indulgent treats, there’s nothing tastier than a cinnamon roll. These sweet bread-based treats are made with enriched dough, which contains fat. They’re filled with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and topped off with cream cheese frosting.
As a keen baker, they are one of my favorite pastries to make, even if they are time-consuming. While you can purchase ready-made dough from the grocery store, I prefer to make my own, but the proofing time required when making dough from scratch, and the 30 minute cook time, means in total making cinnamon buns takes almost three hours.
While there’s nothing I can do to shorten the proofing time of homemade dough, air fryers are great for creating an evenly browned crisp finish, often in a shorter amount of time. That left me wondering, could cooking them in an air fryer offer a better result than my traditional method of a cooker?
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Here comes the science bit
When cooking bread, mid-range temperatures are best as these ensure the cinnamon rolls cook fully, so they’re soft and pillowy rather than raw and dense. The crust will be evenly browned and crisp without burning.
In my conventional cooker, using a temperature of 356 F / 180 degrees is perfect for cinnamon rolls, but as we’ve already mentioned they take around 20 minutes to cook. On top of that, there’s a further 10 minutes, while the oven reaches the desired temperature. They are still delicious but not as crisp and brown as bread from a bakery.
Air fryers have a smaller cavity than traditional cookers, which means the hot air is circulated around food more evenly during cooking, and they also heat up quicker than conventional ovens. This means that they can brown and crisp food evenly, as well as heat up faster than traditional ovens.
I have the Instant Vortex Plus, which currently tops our list of the best air fryers, and can bake, roast, reheat, and dehydrate as well as air fry. The hot air doesn’t circulate as quickly in bake mode as it does when used in the air fryer mode.
This means the finish isn’t as crisp, crunchy, and brown – which is ideal for softer bakers, such as a Victoria Sponge – but in the case of cinnamon rolls I want crunchy and deep brown rather than soft and lightly colored, so in this instance, I stuck with using the appliance as an air fryer. Now it was time to get baking.
Let’s get baking
Over the past few years, I’ve tried several different recipes for cinnamon rolls and I’ve found that while some aspects of a recipe prove successful, others not so much. So I’ve settled on my own hybrid method, which uses the enriched dough from this BBC Good Food recipe.
However, if you are short on time and can plan ahead, it is possible to make and proof this dough in advance, then pop it in an oiled plastic container and freeze it.
Remove from the freezer a few hours before you need it and let it defrost at room temperature. Follow the below steps to fill and cut the cinnamon rolls.
When it comes to the buttery, slightly-spicy filling, after many tries I have settled on using 2.1 oz / 60g soft butter spread over the dough, then sprinkled with a mix of 3 oz / 85g of dark muscovado sugar and 1.5 tsp cinnamon.
I combined the dough ingredients, and left it to proof for 1.5 hours, then I rolled it into a rectangle 15.7 x 9.8 inches / 40 x 25 cm (l x w) wide and spread over the filling.
Using the long edge of the rectangle, I rolled the dough into a long sausage shape (in the same way you’d roll a swiss roll) and cut it into 11 equal portions (I always slice of each edge to ensure the rolls are neat before cutting into equal sizes, which means I get 11 rolls rather than 12). I then left these to proof for a further 30 minutes.
Once the cinnamon rolls were ready to cook, I switched the air fryer on and set the cooking temperature to 356 F / 180 degrees. I used my previous experience of cooking in an air fryer – for example when I discovered this game changing hack to make fries taste even better in an air fryer and when I made fried chicken to rival KFC in an air fryer, coupled with some research on air fryer cinnamon roll recipes (all of which used pre-made dough, incidentally) and settled on a cooking duration of 10 minutes – exactly half the time they take to cook in an oven.
However, when I went to place the cinnamon rolls into the air fryer, I ran into my first problem – the air fryer basket wasn’t big enough to hold all 11 of the cinnamon rolls. I was able to fit seven cinnamon rolls on the crisper tray of the air fryer basket, and then set aside the rest to cook later.
The Instant Vortex Plus has a reminder to shake function, which alerts you half way through the cooking process so you can shake or turn the food in the air fryer drawer to ensure every inch of it is crisp and crunchy. For cinnamon buns, you don’t have to brown the bottom.
Once I’d got to the end of the cooking time, I peeked into the air fryer and was extremely impressed. The cinnamon rolls were crispy and golden brown on top. However, the sides were just as pale as when I used a cooker. To ensure that the inside was cooked through, I took the one closest to the drawer of the air fryer.
When I sliced into it, the dough was soft and spongy indicating it was indeed cooked through. I simply had to add the cream cheese and powdered sugar to the dough and then eat it.
As I began to remove the remaining rolls for the air fryer, I suddenly spotted a massive error. I noticed that some of the buttery, spicy filling had leaked from the buns onto the crisper plate. Some also seeped into the basket.
The crisper plate is dishwasher safe, which makes for easy cleaning and is the same amount of effort as when cooking them on a tray in the oven. It is a different story with the air fryer basket. This model must be cleaned manually (although some air fryers can use dishwasher-safe baskets). I spent a little more time cleaning it up than I would like.
To ensure this wasn’t the case with the second batch, I positioned them on a round baking tray and placed this on a crisper plate of the air fryer. The metal tray reflected hot air onto the rolls and created crisp edges.
I shared the baked goods with my partner, who was very impressed and was unaware that they’d been cooked differently to my usual method.
It’s clear that an air fryer really can improve cinnamon rolls by ensuring the sides are crisp and evenly browned as well as the tops, without compromising on the quality of them. They are far better than baking them in the oven.
Although going forward I’ll always use an additional oven tray to hold the cinnamon buns during cooking to ensure I get a perfect result every time. This recipe is a must-try if you enjoy these sweet treats as much I do.
Carrie-Ann Skinner is Smart Home & Appliances Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie is a specialist in smart home devices, such as smart lights and smart plugs. She also covers small and large appliances like vacuum cleaners, air fryers and blenders. Carrie is passionate about baking and can often be found making delicious cakes and bread when she isn’t searching for the perfect gadget.