For years I’ve been creating and updating dairy-free dining guides for major restaurant chains. Some are impressive, while a few are extremely disappointing, like Cinnabon. I can sum up their ‘dairy-free menu’ in just a few words: black coffee and frozen lemonade. When lamenting about the paltry options, my husband said, “why don’t you make a recipe for it?” Brilliant! I have been baking dairy-free cinnamon rolls for decades, but decided to take it to the next level with this dairy-free Cinnabon copycat recipe.
Dairy-Free Cinnabon Wishes Come True with this Copycat Recipe
There are quite a few Cinnabon copycat recipes circulating the internet, and they are all pretty similar. I put my own spin on those recipes to achieve a gooier, more flavorful dairy-free Cinnabon alternative. I’ve been told it’s pretty close, and perhaps, even better than the original. To help you reach cinnamon roll nirvana, I have several tips and answers to FAQs.
Dairy-Free Cinnabon Roll Tips
Flour: I don’t buy bread flour. We simply don’t have the space in our little place to be storing big bags of different flours. Instead, I keep a small bag of wheat gluten on hand, and add a little to all-purpose flour to mimic bread flour. We are currently in a very humid climate. So I simply measure out 4 cups of flour and whisk in 2 tablespoons of gluten. I then knead in about 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and usually have to add a little more flour on my hands as I go when the dough gets too sticky.
Prep: Most bread recipes tell you to knead the dough on a floured work surface and then place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl. I hate dirtying dishes and work spaces. For all of my yeast baking recipes, I knead the dough right in the mixing bowl, and leave it in there to rise, too. I don’t oil it, and have never had an issue. I lightly cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that I later use to cover the rolls on the second rising, and again once the cinnamon rolls have baked and cooled.
Rising: It’s important to let the dough rise in a warm draft-free place. If your place is cool or breezy, simply turn the light on in your oven, and place the bowl or pan in your oven for the rising time. Usually the light alone, with the lack of draft, is enough heat to ensure a good rise. Some ovens actually have a proofing temperature that keeps it at around 90 degrees. Just make sure you remove the pan before preheating your oven!
Cutting: The dough is very tender, so it can be hard to cut the dough log. Even with a serrated knife, it tends to smoosh as you cut, sometimes squeezing out the filling. For easier slicing, grab a long piece of dental floss, and slide it under the log to where you want to make your first cut (I start with halfway). Grab each side of the floss with opposite hands, bring them up, cross them over, and pull to create a bakery-worthy cut. Repeat until you have twelve even slices. This quick video is helpful!
Pan Size: I stuck with the classic 9×13-inch baking dish because it’s a standard size that most people have. But sometimes when I bake these rolls they practically squeeze out of the pan. If you have a slightly larger pan, by a couple inches, go ahead and use that one. Using a larger pan, and spacing the rolls out more, does reduce the baking time a little bit and provides more even baking. below is a picture of the rolls pre-rise and post-rise in a 9×13-inch pan.
Dairy-Free Cinnabon Roll FAQs
If I missed your question in the Q&As below, let me know in the comments.
What Makes this Cinnabon Recipe Different from the Others?
Well first, it’s dairy-free! But, I did make a few other changes, starting with the dough. For that perfect, tender, and slightly chewy texture, I use bread flour. Well, I use cheater’s bread flour. See my flour note in the tips above. For a gooier filling, like Cinnabon’s, I increased the buttery ratio and premix the filling ingredients. I also added a little vanilla for that warm vanilla-brown sugar scent while baking. And I reduced the cinnamon to a still generous but more tasteful level. The instructions are also written from scratch, with my own method and tips.
Can I Use All-Purpose Flour Instead of Bread Flour?
Technically, you can, but bread flour is highly recommended. As mentioned in the tips above, I do use a little cheat. Rather than spending the money and the space on both all-purpose and bread flour, I buy just all-purpose flour and keep a small bag of wheat gluten on hand. You need about 1/2 tablespoon wheat gluten per 1 cup of all-purpose flour to mimic bread flour. Instructions are in the recipe notes. As mentioned, the extra gluten adds more tenderness and moisture to the dough, but it also helps to replace that wee bit of helpful protein missing from the lack of dairy milk.
Why Do You Premix the Filling?
It evenly distributes the flavor so you don’t get clumps of brown sugar, dry spots, and overwhelming bites of cinnamon. Plus, once warmed, the mixture is extremely easy to spread and even out on the dough. Just drop it all over the dough and spread. This method also makes a slightly gooier filling, since the butter alternative doesn’t get the chance to absorb as much into the dough.
What Type of Milk Alternative Do You Recommend?
This is a very forgiving ingredient. I use unsweetened, because I think the rolls already have enough sweetness. That said, I use whatever type I have on hand. If I don’t have any milk alternative, I thin some coconut milk or dairy-free creamer with water (I usually have a nutpods in the pantry). In a pinch, I use plain warm water! Either way, make sure your liquid is warm, but not hot. Ideally, it will be around 100°F.
Which Type of Butter Alternative Do You Use?
Did you know that Cinnabon uses margarine, not butter, for their cinnamon rolls? So this dairy-free cinnamon roll recipe is in some ways closer to a replica than the copycat recipes using butter! But I digress. To answer the question, I prefer to use “buttery sticks” in baking. They hold up better than the spread. I usually buy Country Crock because it goes on sale often, works well, and adds salty contrast, which I think heightens the flavors in this recipe. For the dough, filling, and frosting, you need the butter alternative to be softened. So I recommend taking it out of the refrigerator in advance.
Is that Really 2 TABLESPOONS of Cinnamon?
Yes. Cinnabon is known for their intense cinnamon. Unfortunately, they use a type of cinnamon that we can’t get at the grocery store. To compensate, many recipe creators use a whopping THREE tablespoons of cinnamon. Yes, I actually reduced the amount. I think three tablespoons is not only too much in taste, but also excessive from a health safety perspective. Two tablespoons is a better balance all around. But if you are nervous, you can reduce it to 1 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon.
Which Brand of Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Do You Recommend?
See our Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Taste Test for a comparison of the brands. I personally like Kite Hill or Tofutti for cream cheese frosting. If you don’t have a cream cheesy option that you like, you can make the Vanilla Frosting option, or simply whisk a dash of vanilla and a splash of water into powdered sugar to make an icing drizzle. My husband prefers the vanilla frosting to cream cheese frosting. But the cream cheese does make the frosting more spreadable, and keeps it from melting away completely on warm cinnamon rolls. The picture below shows the cream cheese frosting a good 15 minutes after slathering on these dairy-free Cinnabon rolls.
What are the Cinnamon Roll Nutrition Facts without the Frosting?
Each cinnamon roll is about 356 calories, 11.5 g fat, 3.1 g saturated fat, 324mg sodium, 57.4g carbohyrates, 2.1g fiber, 20.3g sugar, and 6.2g protein. And they are still amazing without any frosting! If you want just a little coating, Make the vanilla frosting option, and just spread on lightly, as desired.
How Big are these Dairy-Free Cinnabon Style Cinnamon Rolls?
They’re big, but about 25% smaller than a classic Cinnabon.
How Can I Make those BIG Cinnabons?
First, I would reduce the cinnamon in the filling to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Then, roll the dough about 16 to 18 inches wide, and as long as possible to get dough that is about 1/4 inch thick (around 25 inches long or so). Spread on the filling as directed in the recipe, leaving a border on one short side. With the opposite short side toward you, tightly roll the log up. Cut the log into 8 or 9 rolls – again, the dental floss method works best here. Place the rolls cut side down in your greased baking dish, and bake as directed.
Special Diet Notes: Dairy-Free Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, optionally nut-free, peanut-free, optionally soy-free, and vegetarian.
- 1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk alternative, lukewarm
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- ⅓ cup dairy-free butter alternative, softened
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 to 4 ½ cups bread flour, plus additional as needed (see Flour Note below)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- ½ cup (1 stick) dairy-free butter alternative, softened
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 4 ounces (1/2 tub) dairy-free cream cheese alternative
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) dairy-free butter alternative, softened
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Generous pinch salt
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- To make the rolls, Pour the warm milk alternative into a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle in the yeast and just a dash of your measured sugar. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. It should become bubbly or foamy. If not, your yeast might be inactive. Get fresh yeast and start again!
- Add the remaining sugar, eggs, butter alternative, salt, and 2 cups flour. Mix until combined (I use dough hooks on a hand mixer). Add 2 more cups flour and mix until combined.
- Bring the dough together with your hands, adding more flour, as needed, to create dough that is a little sticky, but still workable. Try not to add too much flour! Knead the dough for about 5 minutes.
- Place the dough in a large bowl, lightly cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. It should double in size.
- While the dough is rising, make the cinnamon filling.
- Place the brown sugar, butter alternative, cinnamon, and vanilla (if using), in a microwave-safe mixing bowl, and beat until combined.
- Punch the dough down and let it sit for 5 minutes. While it sits, grease a 9x13-inch or larger baking pan and sprinkle a large, flat work surface with flour.
- Plop the dough out onto your work surface, and roll the dough out into roughly an 18- to 20-inch square. You want the dough to be relatively thin - about ¼ inch thickness.
- Heat the brown sugar mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave. Stir it and then spread evenly on your dough, leaving about a 1 inch border on the far edge.
- Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up, as tightly as possible and seal.
- Press the scraggly ends of the log in a little to even the rolls out. Cut the log into 12 rolls, roughly 1½ inches each. For clean slices, I use the dental floss method.
- Place the rolls in your greased baking dish, cut side down. Lightly cover, place the dish in a warm place, and let rise for 30 minutes to an hour, or until almost doubled. (See before and after rising photo in post above.)
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Bake the rolls for 20 to 27 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in a center roll reaches about 180 to 190°F. They should be just beginning to tan on top.
- While the rolls bake, make the cream cheese frosting.
- In a mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese alternative, butter alternative, vanilla, and salt until creamy. Add the powdered sugar, and blend in with the mixer on low. Once combined, turn the mixer up and beat until creamy.
- Let the cinnamon rolls cool for 10 minutes.
- Slather the entire pan of rolls with the frosting while still warm (like Cinnabon does) or serve the cinnamon rolls warm and let each person frost their own (preferred for storing leftovers!).
Vanilla Frosting Option: In a small bowl, mix ¼ cup salted dairy-free buttery sticks, 2 teaspoons dairy-free milk alternative or creamer, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ¼ teaspoon lemon juice. Mix in 1½ cups powder sugar until smooth and creamy. Add more milk alternative or creamer, as needed, to reach your desired consistency. Spread on warm cinnamon rolls.