These light, fluffy, flavorful, and gooey cinnamon rolls are the perfect treat to help you celebrate the holidays.
It is hard to believe it is already November. I was at Target recently and saw Christmas décor out, and thought to myself, “really Target, isn’t it a bit early.” But then I realized, it really isn’t that early. Only two weeks until Thanksgiving and a little over a month till Christmas. It is in fact time to start thinking about the holidays, especially, what food we will eat!
When I think of holiday breakfast, my mind automatically goes to orange cinnamon rolls. During the holiday season, my mom would always make the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls in the can with the orange flavored icing. It was a special treat that my brothers and I couldn’t resist. There was nothing better than waking up in the morning to the smell of cinnamon and oranges. On those mornings, we quickly got out of bed and raced downstairs to be the first to breakfast. If you have ever made the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, you know you only get one small container of icing (which in our house, was enough for about 2 cinnamon rolls…we like frosting!) Whoever made it downstairs first, would hog all the creamy, sweet goodness.
The pre-made cinnamon rolls were surprisingly delicious. But I wanted to try making cinnamon rolls from scratch. This is my first time doing so! I also wanted to attempt creating a healthier version of cinnamon rolls. And give them my own danilicious spin! But as a nod to my childhood, I wanted to incorporate that delicious orange flavor.
Enter these orange cranberry whole wheat cinnamon rolls.
Let’s get to cooking!
I decided to try a yeast based cinnamon roll recipe. Heads up – yeast based recipes are a little more involved. It takes patience for the yeast to rise and do its thing. But it leads to a super delicious, light, fluffy treat – so it is well worth the wait. Plus, there is something so enticing about the smell of yeast baked goods rising in the oven. If you have ever walked past a bakery in the morning, you know what I mean.
The first step in making these rolls is to prepare the dough. I added 2 cups of the whole wheat flour, the yeast, and salt to my stand mixer. Next, I slowly microwaved milk, orange juice, and butter until the mixture was very warm to the touch, but not hot. Yeast likes warm liquid; but if it is too hot, the yeast will die and fail to raise your baked good properly. What does very warm mean? You can still stick your finger in the liquid without burning it. If you say “ouch” and quickly recoil your finger after touching the liquid, it is too hot and you need to let it cool down slightly before adding it to the dry ingredients.
Next, add the very warm liquid, egg, and honey to the dry ingredients and mix it for about 2-3 minutes. The dough should be sticky. Switch to your dough hook. Add in the orange zest and dried cranberries. Then add ½ cup more flour at a time until the dough comes together and springs back when you touch it with your finger. Take the dough out of the mixer, place it on a floured surface, and knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Kneading the dough warms and stretches the gluten strands, creating a springy, elastic dough (and a light, airy finished product). To knead the dough, you use the heel of your hand to stretch the dough away from you, fold the dough over with your hand, then repeat. Do this 4-5 times. Let the dough rest for ten minutes.
This is your first baking break – I recommend having a show on the DVR you can watch during the breaks and pause again when it is time for the next step in the baking process. 🙂
After the first rest, it is time to assemble and make the cinnamon rolls. With a rolling pin, stretch the dough into about a 13 x 9 size rectangle. It does not have to be exact or perfect! Brush melted butter on the dough and then sprinkle with a coconut sugar and cinnamon mixture. Do not be afraid to use a lot of cinnamon/sugar – the more, the better! Then tightly roll the dough, beginning at the long end of the dough. Finally, cut the dough into equal sized pieces so they all bake evenly. Place in a greased baking dish.
Time for the second resting period. This one is a bit longer; about an hour and a half or until the rolls have doubled in size. So you likely have time to finish your first show and maybe start a second! 😊
After the dough is fully rested, it is time to bake! They take about 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. A quick tip for baking: take out when they look just about done. They will continue to cook when you take them out of the oven from the residual heat and they taste even better when slightly underdone as they will be gooey and delicious.
Last step: frost with the orange cream cheese frosting….aka creamy, sweet goodness!
Ok you are probably wondering how I healthified these rolls. It only takes a few, simple swaps to make them a little more guilt free: 1. I use whole wheat flour, which is packed with fiber; 2. The cinnamon rolls themselves are refined sugar free. I used honey and coconut sugar instead of white sugar; 4. I used unsweetened almond milk in the dough, which is dairy free and low in fat and calories; 3. The cream cheese frosting has minimal powdered sugar and I used light cream cheese.
This is the perfect recipe to make on a Sunday morning (which is exactly what I did), when you have no other obligations so can dedicate your morning to baking. Also, there is something therapeutic and satisfying about making yeast based teats: waiting (and hoping) for the dough to rise and seeing your efforts realized. Then you can indulge on the decadent, rich, fluffy goodness, stay in your comfy clothes, and watch movies (or binge watch shows on the DVR) on the couch while you drift into your food coma.
My family would be proud! They taste even better than the ones from childhood. The finished product is soft and pillowy from the perfectly risen dough and gooey and sticky from the coconut sugar cinnamon mixture. Extra bonus: they are filled with chunks of dark, juicy dried cranberries and pop with flavor from the addition of orange juice and zest. These are on my list of things to make for the holiday season. I hope you love them too!
Orange Cranberry Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
Orange Cranberry Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
- 3 ½ cups whole wheat flour
- 1 packet yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup butter
- ½ cup vanilla almond milk
- ½ cup real orange juice
- Zest of one orange
- 1 egg
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup coconut sugar
- 2 T cinnamon
- 2 T butter
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
- 4 oz light cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 T butter, room temperature
- 2 T orange juice
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Pinch sea salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- Combine 2 cups of flour, packet yeast, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl).
- Place milk, juice, and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH in 15 seconds increments, or until very warm and the butter is only slightly melted (about 130 degrees). You do not want it extremely hot or it will kill the yeast and the baked treat will not rise properly.
- Add warm liquid, honey, and egg to the flour mixture. Beat with paddle option for about 2 minutes or until ingredients are incorporated and you have a sticky dough. Add the orange zest and dried cranberries.
- Next, add the rest of the flour, half cup at a time, mixing with the dough hook. Let dough hook continue to mix the dough for 2-3 minutes.
- Take the dough mixture out of the bowl and knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic and dough springs back when touched (about 5 minutes).
- Cover with a towel and let stand for 10 minutes.
- For filling, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Melt butter in a seprate bowl. Set aside.
- Roll the rested dough into a rectangle shape using a rolling pin. Spread the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle on the coconut sugar/cinnamon mixture. Beginning at the long end of the dough, roll up tightly.
- Cut dough into equal size pieces with a pastry cutter or knife. Arrange individual cut pieces into a greased baking dish, leaving a little room between each piece. Let rise in warm place, covered with a towel, for about an hour. Dough should double in size.
- While the dough is resting, make the cream cheese frosting. Add the softened cream cheese and butter to a stand mixer and mix for 2-3 minutes or until whipped a lighter in color. Add in orange juice, salt, and vanilla and mix until well incorporated. Lastly, add 1 cup of sifted powered sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until rolls are golden brown.
- Let cool for 20 minutes. Frost with cream cheese orange frosting.
- Serve and enjoy!