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  • Writer's pictureJoey Campanella

Sweet Invention Alert: Pumpernickel Cinnamon Rolls

This is a story about the modern American Dream. A boy from the city dreams of creating something new, a sweet and savory treat that will revolutionize breakfast, brunch and dessert across the land. The world throws at him a pandemic, flour and yeast shortages and a myriad of #HealthyLiving posts. Yet against the odds, he is able to finally bring his vision to reality with game changing results! (Ok - so maybe I've been watching a few too many Marvel movies during lockdown.) That boy's dream is Pumpernickel Cinnamon Rolls.

Long story short - I thought up this combination in the shower one day after binging the Great British Baking Show. Everyone was putting their twist on morning buns or some other English breakfast sweet. And I got to thinking... what would my personal twist be?

If you're like me, you love pumpernickel bread because of all of the bold flavors - deep dark earthy molasses, savory smokey rye flour and toasty warm caraway seeds. And if you're a living breathing human person, you like cinnamon rolls. They are a nostalgic sticky comfort food that feels like a special treat no matter when you have one.

WHAT IF.... I put them all together for smokey, sweet, sticky pumpernickel cinnamon perfection?!!

As most people in my inner circle can testify, I've been talking about this idea for the last year. Pumpernickel Cinnamon Buns was what the world needed (even if the world didn't know it yet.)

So why have I waited so long to make them you ask? Well honestly it seemed like a lot of skills to master - make delicious pumpernickel bread, make amazing cinnamon rolls and then put them together in a way that lifted both to new heights. If this #quarantine has has been good for anything, it's for nullifying all excuses. I really have no good reason NOT to try this now.

And so, after much tasty toil, I can report that dreams do, in fact, come true!

Step 1: Prepare the ingredients. Your eggs, butter, and cream cheese need to all be at room temperature so that means you have to plan ahead. Pull the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge the night before. Pull the eggs out 1/2 hour before you start baking. Yes, it makes a difference. This is science, people!

Step 2: Make the dough. This is easy. In my Bagel Recipe, I encourage kneading by hand. However, for this dough, I'm suggesting the stand mixer because it's pretty sticky and heavy. You could risk adding too much flour getting the dough not to stick to your board.

So what exactly is pumpernickel? Well it's a rich dark bread made with part (or all) rye flour, molasses, unsweetened cocoa and caraway seeds. Some recipes also call for instant coffee but I don't find that necessary here. Though it sounds like a lot of sweet things, pumpernickel is not a sweet bread at all, but rather savory, earthy and even a little bitter (from the unsweetened chocolate.) We are going to pumpernickel-ize our cinnamon roll dough.

Step 3: Fill the rolls. Once the dough has risen, you will roll it out into a 14" x 9" rectangle (give or take.) Now it's time to butter those buns! You are literally just spreading soft butter over the whole top surface of the dough like a giant sandwich. Don't be shy! Butter is good! After that, sprinkle the filling mixture over the whole surface. Use all of the mixture, even if it seems like a lot. Make sure to press down the filling into the dough. You want as much of the filling to stay IN the rolls and not melt out during baking. Also, since there is no cinnamon in the dough, this is where all of that classic cinnamon flavor comes from.

Step 4: Roll the Rolls (yes, I said that.) Once your sheet of dough is thoroughly covered in filling, start the rolling process at the short end. Gently roll and press. We have all eaten cinnamon rolls so we know the idea. This is basic and not scary. (It should, in fact, be fun1)

When you get your final log, use a serrated knife to trim the ends off so you are starting with a clean cut on both sides. This will just make everything even and better. Mark out where you will slice each roll. For this recipe, there are about 9 full size rolls. You want them to be as evenly-sized as possible so that they cook uniformly. If there is extra baby rolls, just bake them in a separate pan for snacking.

Step 5: Proof and bake. After you've nestled these little buddies into the pan, cover them and let them proof for 45 minutes before baking. If you want to make your dough the night before, put them in the fridge after you've rolled and sliced them. The next day, pull them out, put them in the pan and let them proof for an hour before baking.

We are baking the rolls at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Since the dough is a rich dark color, you won't really be able to see when they are golden brown. The key is not to bake them too much because you want them gooey. Too long and they will be more like salad bar rolls.

Step 6: Frosting. Let's face it. No matter how delicious the cinnamon rolls are, for many people they are simply a delivery vehicle for cream cheese icing. If that is you, just own it. It's okay. Everyone has a different way that they would prefer to have their cinnamon rolls frosted. Well good news, when you bake them yourself, you get to decide how they get frosted. Do it up!

My recommendation is to let them cool for 10 minutes before frosting so that icing doesn't completely melt and slide off. But if you can't wait that long, I understand.

See below for recipe and method. Happy baking and share your results!


Pumpernickel Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9 Rolls

3 hours (including rising time)


Pumpernickel Dough

2 1/4 tsp quick rise/instant yeast

3/4 cup warm whole milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk (room temperature)

6 Tbs butter melted

1 Tbs blackstrap molasses

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbs ground caraway seeds

1 cup dark rye flour (usually available at whole foods)

2 cups + 1 Tbs bread flour (you can also use all purpose flour but it's not quite as good)

1 Tbs fine salt

Flaky sea salt for finishing

Cinnamon Filling

1/2 stick of softened butter

2/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 1/2 Tbs ground cinnamon (try different kinds of cinnamon to see what you like best, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc.)

1 Tbs whole caraway seeds

Cream Cheese Icing

6 oz softened cream cheese

4 Tbs softened butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or if you're daring, substitute almond extract)


1. Warm the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds. You are looking for around 110 degrees or hot tub temp. Add to the bowl of your stand mixer. We will put it on the mixer soon to knead, but for the initial steps you will just use a spoon or rubber spatula.

2. Add sugar, yeast, molasses, melted butter, and eggs to the milk and stir until well combined.

3. In a medium bowl, combine rye flour and bread flour, cocoa powder, fine salt and ground caraway. Whisk to combine well.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients little by little until combined. Put the bowl onto the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Knead the dough for 8 minutes on medium speed.

5. If the dough is really sticking to the sides of the bowl, you may need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of bread flour while it's kneading. The dough will stick to the bottom. Also, if you are in doubt, stop the mixer, scape the ball together and feel it with your hands. It's usually a lot less sticky to your fingers than to the dough hook. Try to resist adding too much extra flour.

6. After 8 minutes, the dough should be very smooth, shiny and stiff (and still a little sticky.) Turn/scrape it out into a large bowl that you have lightly coated with cooking spray and flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area for 1.5 hours until doubled in volume.

7. While the dough is rising, make the filling mixture by combining the brown sugar, cinnamon and caraway seeds. You can take this opportunity to put your own creative twist on the filling by adding things like cardamom, star anise, or black pepper. I encourage experimentation.

8. Flour your counter top and rolling pin with bread flour to prevent the risen dough from sticking. Turn it out and roll into a large rectangle at least 14" x 9" The goal here is uniform thickness over perfectly even edges. They can always be trimmed.

9. Use the softened 1/4 cup of butter to slather the top of that dough like a piece of toast. Spread butter thickly and evenly over the entire top surface. No special tools needed. I recommend a butter knife.

10. Sprinkle (with your fingers) the cinnamon mixture over the buttered surface and PRESS the filling down into the butter to combine. Remember, you want the filling to stay in the rolls.

11. Roll the filled dough into a log starting from the short end. Try with gentle pressure to make the log as uniform as possible. This will help the rolls bake evenly.

12. Using a serrated knife, slice off each raggedy end of the log so that you are starting with a clean cut on both sides. Mark out and cut 9 even cinnamon rolls. If you have a few wonky-sized rolls left, you can bake them separately in a second pan.

13. Place the sliced rolls, cut sides up, in a 10" cast iron skillet that has been lined with parchment paper and sprayed with cooking spray. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let proof for 45 minutes.

14. While the rolls are proofing, preheat the oven to 350 F and put the rack in the middle of the oven.

15. Before baking, sprinkle the flaky sea salt lightly on top of the rolls. This occasional crunchy salty surprise hiding under the frosting makes the rolls even more delicious.

16. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. You will not be able to see the rolls get golden because the dough is already dark. You want them to be slightly under baked so that they remain gooey in the interior. Again, you will figure out what you like best in terms of texture.

17. When the rolls come out of the oven, make the frosting. Combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla (or almond) in your stand mixer bowl and whisk on medium speed til light and fluffy - about 1 minute.

18. After the rolls have cooled for 10 minutes, frost to your heart's content. Serve immediately. They can also be warmed up the next day with 30 seconds in the microwave.

Please enjoy my latest invention and share your stories!


Travel. Capture. Taste.


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