Cinnamon Rolls with Pearl Sugar

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon buns, just baked

There was no need to fiddle with a recipe that needed no fiddling. I have made Molly Wizenberg’s irresistibly soft and sticky cinnamon rolls countless times always to rave reviews.

But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.

But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.

While these buns are deliciously soft in the interior, they are crisper on the edges than traditional cinnamon rolls, and if you’re a soft-batch cookie lover, they might not be for you. But if you’re the type that orders your bacon extra crispy, that dips your dry toast into your coffee, that picks at the charred potatoes from the skillet, then these are for you. And while the presence of pearl sugar precludes the need for any sort of icing, it’s completely cool to pass a little on the side. Happy baking/weekend, Everyone.

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon bun

shaping the rolls

shaping the rolls

ready for the oven

ready for the oven

lars swedish pearl sugar

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon buns, just baked

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon buns, cooling

Cinnamon Rolls with Pearl Sugar

Adapted slightly from Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appetit & Epicurious
Yield = 12 cinnamon rolls

Note: Until this week, I baked these cinnamon rolls the traditional way in two buttered 8×8-inch or one 9×13-inch baking pan. You can find my original post here. They are delicious, and if you can’t find pearl sugar, the cream cheese icing is delicious. These are just a little crisper on the edges than traditional rolls, but still super soft and sticky in the interior, and there is something really fun and festive about the shape. The pearl sugar offers such a nice crunch, too, and looks so pretty. You can find pearl sugar here.

If you want to prepare these ahead of time, this is what I suggest: Follow the recipe until the rolls are cut and placed in the muffin tins, then stick them in the fridge to rest overnight. Allow yourself about four hours to mix the dough, let it rise, assemble the rolls, etc. — so if you go to bed at 10, make sure you’ve started the rolls by 6, and if you have the time, you’re best off starting them even earlier in the day. The following morning, remove the rolls from the fridge as early as possible. If you have it in you, set your alarm for 6 am, take the rolls out, then go back to bed. (If you don’t, you can bring the rolls to room temperature faster by preheating your oven for 1 minute (1 minute total — just turn your oven on to say 350 and turn it off after a minute…your oven will just be the slightest bit warm) and sticking the pan of cinnamon rolls there to rise for 45 minutes or so. Then continue with the recipe: preheat the oven to 350ºF. Brush the rolls with egg wash (this can be done right after the rolls have been removed from the fridge or later — it doesn’t really matter) and sprinkle with the pearl sugar. When the dough feels softer to the touch, which might take a few hours (if you haven’t done the warm oven trick), stick them in the oven.

1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (446 g) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup (114 g) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise or instant yeast
olive oil or butter for greasing

3/4 cup (156 g) packed golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (I use 1 tablespoon)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (… the rest of the stick from the dough recipe)

egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of milk/cream/half & half
pearl sugar for sprinkling

Update 12-15: I baked off a batch this morning (2 photos below), which I had assembled last night with a slightly less fussy method. I didn’t use the stand mixer, and I didn’t knead the dough. This is what I did: Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. (If you don’t own a microwave, gently heat the butter and milk together in a small skillet.) Place 1 cup (128 g) of the flour, the sugar, the egg and the salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly pour the warm milk and butter mixture into the bowl, whisking to combine. (Note: If you pour slowly you will ensure not cooking the egg if your mixture is a little too hot). Touch the mixture to make sure it is just barely warm. Sprinkle yeast over top and stir. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups (318 g) flour to the mixing bowl. Mix until all of the flour has been absorbed. Dough will be quite sticky. Don’t add any more flour. Continue to step 2, then at step 4, after you have placed the rolls in the muffin cups, stick the pan of rolls in the fridge covered with plastic wrap overnight. Bring to room temperature in the morning. You can do this quickly by creating a warm spot in your oven: Preheating your oven for 1 minute (1 minute total — just turn your oven on to say 350 and turn it off after a minute…your oven will just be the slightest bit warm) and then stick the pan of cinnamon rolls there to rise for 45 minutes or so. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sugar; bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes; let cool 5 minutes before serving.

1. Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. (If you don’t own a microwave, gently heat the butter and milk together in a small skillet.) Place 1 cup (128 g) of the flour, the sugar, the egg and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed. Slowly pour the warm milk and butter mixture into the bowl. (Note: If you pour slowly you will ensure not cooking the egg if your mixture is a little too hot). Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Touch the mixture to make sure it is just barely warm. Sprinkle yeast over top and stir. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups (318 g) flour to the mixing bowl. Continue beating on low speed until flour is absorbed and dough is smooth and elastic (or actually quite sticky), about 8 minutes. Note: In the past, I have added more flour (only about a quarter cup) but most recently I don’t add any more flour. The dough will not gather around the hook — it will look like a sticky mess — but after the two hour rise, it is surprisingly easy to work with.

2. Lightly grease a large bowl with butter or oil. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at 1 long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 12 equal slices.

4. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin. Place one roll in each cup. Brush each roll with egg wash. Sprinkle each roll liberally with the pearl sugar (not quite a teaspoon per roll). Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.

5. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. (One thought: The cinnamon and sugar tends to ooze out of these rolls and can spill onto your oven. You could either place the pan on a parchment paper lined sheetpan while baking. Or you could line your oven floor with aluminum foil.) Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool briefly, then turn out onto cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

plate of cinnamon buns

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon bun

This was the no-knead batch. I could not tell a difference in taste:
cinnamon rolls with pearl sugar

Via Instagram:


  1. A complete thing of beauty! I like the way you suggested a schedule to make them ahead of time. My stepson will be with us next week, I might just make a batch of these rolls for him. Not sure I can find pearl sugar, but… I’ll give it a try

    • Haha, I love it. Is it wrong that I’ve made two batches this week and have another batch rising at this very moment? I have been forcing my husband to take them into work, but I can’t stop making them.

      • IF that is wrong then I don’t want to be right. I made the dough this morning and intended to cook the batch off today but several rounds of christmas cookies, 25 pounds of apples to turn into sauce, one active 1 year old, and daycare holiday gifts wiped me out. I rolled, filled, and sliced and then threw them in the freezer. Maybe this weekend I can see how they do going from freezer to oven.

        There was a wee bit of extra that I put into a ramekin and baked off to have a little something to nibble on. The texture of the roll is definitely firmer than a cinnabon. But I like it. It’s kind of like a biscuit. In fact, I bet you could cut this dough into simple rounds and bake it off as sweet biscuits.

        • haha, i love it, wrong is ok every once in awhile i suppose. And, oh my gosh, what a productive day. I am impressed. I have never baked so much in a holiday season and there is still a week before Xmas. Every time I go to the store I buy 4 pounds of butter. Is that wrong? That might be. So glad you like the firmer texture. Love the idea of making sweet biscuits — fun!

    • Yay! I hope your family likes it, Kate! I just updated the notes section. Baked off a batch this morning that I had made last night using a very simple method: no kneading, no stand mixer, a one-bowl job. It was easy, and I couldn’t taste a difference. I’m also going to try freezing the unbaked rolls, but I won’t be able to report back until after Xmas…I cannot cannot cannot make one more batch of cinnamon rolls … they are too addictive. I hope you are well!

  2. I love pearl sugar and use it when I bake Liege waffles, which are fabulous, if I must say so myself. I have found the sugar at specialty stores though it is not inexpensive. I believe Sur La table also sells it. However that being said-I have heard that if you can find sugar cubes and give them a few whacks, that they just might mimic pearl sugar. I’m going to try that the next time I make waffles or perchance these great looking cinnamon rolls!

    • I have not done this but I imagine you could. We are on the same wavelength!: I am going to try this for my xmas morning without doing a test run. I plan on mixing a batch this week, and after I place the rolls in the buttered muffin tin, I am going to stick the whole pan in the freezer. Then on Xmas Eve, I will transfer pan to fridge; then on xmas morning (early) I will remove pan from fridge to rise. I added some notes to the recipe, too, because I baked off a batch this morning that I had mixed together yesterday using a much less fussy recipe. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  3. These are THE ABSOLUTE BEST cinnamon rolls I have ever had! It’s unreal how good they are! They are so tender, I guess that surprised me since I have a track history of having doughs come out too tough….not these! I could quit my job and sell these little gems….and making them in the muffin tin makes every one of them come out with just the right amount of crunch! I didn’t have the pearl sugar so I made the glaze but I can’t imagine that they would be any better, maybe a little cuter! Thanks for the great recipe Ali!

    • Yay! I am so happy to hear you liked these, Laurie! I just microwaved one, and it is delish, though not quite the same as when freshly baked. And I love the glaze! The pear sugar is fun, but there is something so delicious about a cream cheese icing. xoxo!

  4. These look great! I need to try them, soon! I had never heard of pearl sugar before last week. We were in NYC where we experienced liege waffles (from the Wafles & Dinges cart) for the first time and they were so good!! I researched recipes when I returned home. I discovered that pearl sugar is part of what makes them so good (except they use Belgian pearl sugar instead of Swedish). I noticed your link was for Belgian pearl sugar but the pics of your cinnamon rolls showed Swedish pearl sugar. Have you noticed a difference when using the two? I can’t wait to make these. Thanks for sharing!

    • Trish, hieee! Yes, you definitely need to try them :) They are so good. I need to cut myself off so that I can enjoy them on Christmas morning.

      I am so jealous of your liege waffle experience. Did you find a good recipe? I am dying to make them. OK, you are so smart, I didn’t even notice the difference, but without doing any research, I think I know the difference: Swedish pearl sugar is smaller (and nice for sprinkling), and Belgian pearl sugar is bigger, perfect for creating nice sugary bites in liege waffles. I will be ordering Belgian pearl sugar immediately :)

      • Hey Ali! I have found a couple of recipes for the waffles. But I have not tried either one yet because I want to find a good Belgian waffle iron. I also was on the hunt for the Belgian pearl sugar but found it at the first store I went to! Luckily, I live in a foodie city. I can send some to you if you would like! (And next time you are in NYC try the Wafles & Dinges if you get a chance).
        Thanks for sharing the info on the difference between the two sugars. (The only reason I pointed out the two in your post is because I thought you had tried both. Sorry). I also read that one melts and the other doesn’t but I can’t remember which one is which. Holiday brain. :)
        Will be trying your cinnamon rolls, soon!

        • You are so nice, Trish! I ordered some Belgian pearl sugar via Amazon — it should arrive today. And over the weekend, I made one recipe for liege waffles, and they were really good, but I only had 1/2 cup of the Swedish pearl sugar, so the effect wasn’t quite what it should be, but I am excited to experiment more. I made a no-knead (so lazy!) batter, and let it sit in the fridge overnight, which worked nicely. I will be sure to report back when I’ve found a good recipe!

          Will definitely try Wafels & Dinges — looks amazing…just went to the website. And now I’m only a few hours north of the city! Must get down there soon. Happy Holidays, Trish! Always wonderful to hear from you!

  5. Being swedish I am amazed by the size of these cinnamon rolls :-). I usually get about 30 rolls from a dough that size. I’m pretty sure my kids would love them though. Having “just one” wouldn’t be so bad then ;-)

    • Oh Lotta, are you appalled by the Americanness of the size of these rolls? I’m sorry :) These certainly could be baked in smaller muffin tins, and when they are baked in a 9×13-inch dish, the yield is more like 16 to 20. But yes, just 1 of these big ones is plenty!

  6. Wow! I had a Swedish cinnamon bun recipe I thought I really liked but this dough and baking method (why didn’t I think of a muffin tin—you’re so smart) is much nicer.
    I kept from my recipe 1 tsp of cardamom in the dough, and also kept my slightly less sweet filling as is (55 g butter, 45 g brown sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon). I also found preheating the oven to @ 430 and then lowering and baking at 375 for 15-20 min resulted in a very nice texture, but this could just be our oven—it’s a trick I use often for bread and rolls. Anyway, they were my best rolls ever on Xmas morning, so thank you, Alexandra! Will be making these forever.

    You featured heavily on our Xmas menu this year. We also made the cheat’s duck leg confit (they were so good on a rutabaga–celeriac purée and also wonderful with French fries and a nice pomegranate, celery and arugula salad on boxing day). Can’t wait to make them again.
    Have been meaning to write and tell you how great both recipes were. Hope you had a very happy Christmas, and a belated happy new year to you guys too!

    • Lucy, I’m so happy to hear all of this! I love the idea of adding a little cardamom to the dough, and I am sure a less sweet filling works nicely. I might have to try that myself — I am liking everything less sweet these days. Thank you for the tip on the oven temp — I’ll have to try that, too.

      So happy the duck confit turned out well for you, too! Your rutabaga-celeriac purée sounds divine. I love that sort of thing. And with french fries, too! A complete bistro feast! Wish I could have been there. Happy New Year to you as well. Thanks for writing in!


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