14 Expert-Approved Tips For Upgrading Canned Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are a breakfast favorite, but who has time to bake them from scratch except for on special occasions? Even an easy cinnamon roll recipe takes time, so usually people reach for the canned variety. The trouble is, they aren't the best. They're usually a solid medium but nothing special — unless you upgrade them, that is. You don't have to just make them as directed with no extras, there are all kinds of ways you can improve canned cinnamon rolls.

I'm no stranger to these pastries in a can, and I love upgrading them, but don't just take my word for it. I wanted to get extra insight into how to level up these easy treats, so I spoke to two chefs and a food blogger to get their insights. These expert-approved tips for upgrading canned cinnamon rolls are game-changers. You can try each tip individually or combine a few for next-level results.

Add extra spices to your cinnamon rolls

While these canned rolls are already packed with cinnamon flavor, more spices never go amiss. If you're anything like me, there's no such thing as too much cinnamon, so adding more to the tops of your rolls before baking can give them some extra punchiness. However, you don't just have to add cinnamon — there are other fragrant spices that work well here.

"Extra cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom intensify the flavor profile, making the rolls more aromatic and flavorful," says Grace Vallo of Tastefully Grace. But, you don't have to stop there with the spice choices. Others that would work well with cinnamon include ginger, allspice, cloves, and star anise.

Gocha Hawkins, chef and founder of Gocha's Restaurant Group, suggests sprinkling your rolls with cinnamon sugar. This not only adds some extra cinnamon flavor but, when added before baking, the sugar will caramelize slightly on top of the buns and give them a slightly crunchy top.

Brush them with butter before baking

If you like your cinnamon rolls gooey, rather than crunchy, brushing on some melted butter before you make them can help you get the texture you're after. What's more, it can also improve the flavor. Canned cinnamon rolls often use cheap margarine, not real butter. This is good for the manufacturers in terms of cutting costs, but it is detrimental to the taste. However, brushing butter on top introduces that buttery flavor we know and love. It can make them taste more like homemade with very little effort.

Jonathan Metcalf, Pastry Chef at The Barn at Blackberry Farm, suggests combining the melted butter technique with adding extra spices, as suggested above. "I also love to pour a bit of melted butter over the tops and sprinkle each one with a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg before the rolls are baked," he says. "This will boost the flavor of your cinnamon rolls and add a 'from scratch' quality to them."

Cook your cinnamon rolls in a waffle maker

It's not just adding extra ingredients that can upgrade your cinnamon rolls, you can also try mixing things up with different cooking methods. Jonathan Metcalf suggests that you "bake them in a traditional waffle maker for cinnamon roll waffles." We love this idea. Cooking your cinnamon rolls in a waffle maker creates the breakfast mash-up you didn't know you needed.

So, what can you expect from cinnamon roll waffles? You get a crispy exterior from the waffle iron that you wouldn't usually achieve from just baking your rolls. So, if you like some crunch to the outside rather than a soft, gooey finish, this might be the perfect cooking method for you. However, inside you still get some pillowy softness — plus loads of cinnamon goodness.

If you want to try this method, you just need canned cinnamon rolls and a waffle maker. Preheat the waffle iron and coat it with a little nonstick spray. Place a single uncooked canned cinnamon roll in the center of the waffle maker and close the lid. They take around 2 to 3 minutes to cook – then they're great to eat. You can keep them warm in an oven on low while you cook the rest, if you're making breakfast for a crowd. They're great on their own, with syrup, or topped with the icing that came in the package.

Cut your cinnamon rolls thicker if they aren't pre-cut

Depending on the brand you get, canned cinnamon rolls can come pre-cut or they may come in a log that you cut into slices yourself. If you buy the latter type, a simple upgrade is to cut your cinnamon rolls thicker. "Cutting canned cinnamon rolls thicker can improve their texture," says blogger Grace Vallo. "Thicker rolls tend to be more pillowy and soft on the inside while maintaining a slightly crispier exterior."

If you do this, you'll need to make some adjustments to the cooking time. "Thicker rolls will take longer to cook through, so start by adding 5 to 10 minutes to the recommended baking time and check for doneness with a toothpick," Vallo suggests. It's a simple adjustment, though, and the results are well worth it. I regularly cut cinnamon rolls thicker than suggested and it makes them more like my favorite homemade or bakery versions.

There is a problem with this upgrade, though. "Most canned cinnamon rolls are pre-cut, so cutting them thicker isn't a great option," says pastry chef Jonathan Metcalf. Some brands sell jumbo cinnamon rolls, which are larger and thicker, so these are a good alternative when your favorite rolls come already sliced. Metcalf adds that when they come pre-cut "you can use a round cylinder mold or an oven-safe ramekin to get a thicker cinnamon roll."

Add nuts before baking

Adding nuts to your canned cinnamon rolls before baking them is a simple upgrade but one that can make a big difference. "Chopped pecans or walnuts add a crunchy texture and a nutty flavor," says Grace Vallo, who suggested this upgrade to us. Gocha Hawkins is also a fan of adding almonds or pecans to cinnamon rolls. Of course, you don't have to stop there. You could add any nuts of your choice, from creamy cashews to earthy walnuts. A mix of various nuts can also taste amazing.

Whole nuts are too big for this, so you should choose flaked or chopped nuts or chop them yourself. Then, just press them onto the surface of your rolls before you bake them. If you're having trouble getting them to stick, some melted butter or an egg wash under the nuts can help. The time in the oven will toast the nuts, making them taste even better than they do raw.

Cook canned cinnamon rolls monkey bread style

You've probably heard of monkey bread, a type of sweet pull-apart bread often made with cinnamon. It's a great breakfast food, but it's usually made with a yeasted dough, so it isn't the quickest or easiest recipe and is often reserved for special occasions. However, according to expert Jonathan Metcalf, canned cinnamon rolls are ideal for making this dish. He says you can "dice them into chunks and bake in a loaf pan for easy monkey bread."

There are plenty of existing recipes that use canned rolls for monkey bread — such as our cinnamon pear monkey bread recipe. This recipe uses chopped cinnamon rolls, diced pears, cinnamon sugar, and melted butter. All these ingredients go into a bundt pan to bake. However, it's a fairly forgiving cooking method, so you can probably wing it without a recipe if that's your style. Just add some melted butter, sugar, and more spices and you're on your way to delicious monkey bread.

Pour heavy cream into the baking dish before cooking

Did you know you can use heavy cream to upgrade canned cinnamon rolls? "This trick has been around for years, but it has recently seen a surge in popularity due to TikTok," Jonathan Metcalf remarks. While there are many cooking tips and so-called hacks on TikTok that aren't worth your time, he says this one "absolutely works and makes delicious, ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls."

Grace Vallo also rates this tip. "As they bake, they absorb the cream, resulting in a more custard-like texture at the bottom, adding extra moisture and richness," she says. And, rounding out our trio of experts, Gocha Hawkins adds that it "helps to keep the cinnamon rolls moist and fluffy." She notes that the cream steams the dough, which keeps it from drying out.

When you cook them this way, the resulting cinnamon rolls are significantly larger and puffier than those baked exactly the same way, but without the cream. It's so simple, but once you try it, you'll never go back to making cinnamon rolls the way that's directed on the packet. "I have been doing this for years, and it truly elevates them," says Metcalf. He likes to take things even further by mixing the cream with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla paste. He pours a third of the mixture into the bottom of the pan, then adds the rolls and pours the rest of it over the tops, covering each one well.

Sprinkle your cinnamon rolls with brown sugar

If you want some extra sweetness and a molasses-tinged richness to your cinnamon roll, you can try sprinkling your cinnamon rolls with some brown sugar before you put them in the oven. This is a tip for anyone in possession of a serious sweet tooth. Or, you could use it as an alternative to icing your rolls if you aren't a fan of the frosting that comes in the package. It melts slightly and hardens as they cool, which adds a little crunch.

There are a range of variations to this upgrade. For instance, you can pour melted butter into the bottom of a baking pan, sprinkle some brown sugar on top, and then add the cinnamon rolls before baking. When cooked, you tip the rolls out upside down so that the brown sugar glaze is on top.

Mashed writer Jennifer Mathews tried a variation on the TikTok-popular heavy cream hack but with an added topping of melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. She found the addition of the topping to be overly sweet and felt it made the buns dessert-like, but your mileage may vary.

Make a caramel sauce

Grace Vallo recommends making a caramel sauce to top your cinnamon rolls if you're looking for an upgrade. It "adds a luxurious, buttery sweetness with a slight saltiness that balances the rolls' sweetness," she says. Of course, this isn't an everyday addition. Not only does it take some time and effort to make a caramel sauce, but you probably aren't going to want to eat it for breakfast other than on a special occasion. But if you love sweet stuff or you're looking to make your rolls more dessert-like, it's a great call.

There are so many ways to make this decadent topping — you can find dry or wet methods for making caramel, or you can make the process faster by using condensed milk. Ultimately, it's up to you to find a caramel sauce recipe that you love, but it should be thick if you want to spread it on your cinnamon rolls, rather than drizzling it. Or, if you don't want to go to the effort of making it, you can buy ready made caramels. They might not be quite as tasty as homemade ones, but they do the trick.

Add chocolate chips to your cinnamon rolls

Chocolate and cinnamon is an under-appreciated pairing. You don't often find these flavors together, but it's arguably one of the tastiest combinations there is. That's why you should add chocolate to your cinnamon rolls. It brings a layer of richness and complexity to the bright spiciness of the cinnamon.

"Mini chocolate chips add a gooey, melty chocolate element that pairs wonderfully with the cinnamon," says Grace Vallo. And, while the chocolate chips are delicious when they're still melty, they also taste great when the buns are cooled and the chips have hardened. You could take things one step further and chop up your favorite chocolate bar to top your cinnamon rolls instead of using chips.

Want to add the flavor without melting chocolate? There are other options. You could add cocoa powder to the frosting that comes with your cinnamon rolls, drizzle over some chocolate ganache, or frost them with Nutella, or a similar chocolate spread. Whatever you choose, bring on the chocolate-cinnamon goodness.

Cook them in an air fryer

If you like a crisp exterior to your cinnamon rolls, rather than excessive gooiness, an air fryer might be the answer. Both Gocha Hawkins and Grace Vallo suggest cooking cinnamon rolls in an air fryer as a potential upgrade. Vallo notes that cooking them this way "yields a crispier exterior while keeping the inside soft, cooking them more evenly and quickly."

All you need to do is cook the cinnamon rolls in your air fryer basket at 360 F for around 8 minutes. They may be ready slightly faster, depending on your fryer, so it's a good idea to check them for doneness after 6 minutes. Or, if you like them extra-crispy, give them an extra minute or two of cooking time. What's great is that you don't even have to preheat your air fryer. This paired with the quicker cooking time means it's the perfect method when you're craving cinnamon rolls but you're short on time.

Top cinnamon rolls with fruit before baking

If you like fruity pastries, topping cinnamon rolls with fruit is a ridiculously simple way to upgrade them. Grace Vallo suggests using "fresh or dried fruit, like raisins, apple slices, or berries." She likes the way fruit can "introduce chewy sweetness or a burst of freshness."

What we love about using fruit is the range of options it gives you. Dried fruits, such as raisins, aren't usual on these kinds of breakfast pastries. If you're a fan of a pain au raisin, this is an obvious choice. Plus, you can branch out with dried fruits, using things such as dried cranberries or dried apricots, giving you some other flavors to work with.

Fresh fruits are also great, though you should use them relatively sparingly to avoid adding too much moisture and making your cinnamon rolls soggy. Apple cinnamon rolls are ideal for fall – and apple pairs beautifully with cinnamon. Berries are also a great addition, bringing little pops of fruitiness with each mouthful. You could also opt for tropical fruits, such as mango or papaya. After topping the rolls with your choice of fruit, you can bake them as normal.

Cook cinnamon rolls in a cast iron skillet

Most people cook their cinnamon rolls in a cake pan or a baking dish, but if you have a cast iron pan, this is an alternative option that can give your rolls a boost. It's a favorite method of Grace Vallo, who says it "provides a crisp, caramelized bottom crust while keeping the tops soft and fluffy." She advises that you "preheat the skillet before placing the rolls in." This helps to achieve that crunchy bottom.

If you choose to cook your rolls in a cast iron skillet, make sure that it's well-seasoned. Cinnamon rolls will likely stick to skillets with insufficient seasoning and the last thing you want is to leave the crispy bottom behind while you try to scrape them out of the pan. It doesn't hurt to melt a little butter into the pan before adding the rolls to help prevent sticking.

Bake them kouign-amann style

Another option for upgrading your cinnamon rolls into something slightly different is to cook them kouign-amann style. But, before you can do this, you need to have a good idea of what this is. A kouign-amann is a traditional pastry from Brittany, France. The pastry is made from laminated dough, a bit like the croissant variety but with more butter and sugar.

The process of making these pastries involves folding layers of butter and sugar into the dough. The relevant part, however, is how they're baked. Traditionally, they're baked in pastry rings but most people cook them in muffin pans and that is what we're suggesting here. The pans are greased with butter before adding the dough, which is then baked until the sugar caramelizes. This gives the outside a crispy, caramelized crust, which is what you want to recreate by cooking your cinnamon rolls kouign-amann style.

To give this a try, first grease your muffin pan with a decent amount of butter. You only need to grease as many holes as the number of cinnamon rolls you're making. Add around half a teaspoon of sugar to each greased hole and swirl the pan around so that it sticks to the side. Alternatively, you could roll each uncooked cinnamon roll in sugar. Next, put a cinnamon roll in each hole — you'll need to squish them a bit to get them to fit. Finally, bake until the sugar has caramelized, leaving you with a crisp exterior.