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These Orange Carrot Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing are a marriage of classic carrot cake flavors and ever so complimentary, sweet-tart citrus. Perfect for Easter brunch, but you’ll want to eat them all year round!
Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with a Punch of Orange
Making a carrot cake sweet roll has been on my to-do list ever since I made Spiced Cranberry Orange Sweet Rolls for the holidays. But, I wanted this recipe to be something of its own, to stand apart from the cranberry rolls.
In my testing, I failed miserably the first few of times!
- I used all-purpose instead of bread flour (I was out and too lazy to get more) — the crumb just didn’t have that chewy, stretchy, airiness.
- I tried making a colossal sized roll, in a round pan so you could cut into it like cake. It came out in a bee hive shape. Cool to look at, but it took so long to cook through, the edges were dry and bland.
- I tried smaller rolls with the all-purpose dough, separated on a cookie sheet. Those cooked too quickly.
- I tried incorporating ALL the shredded carrot into the dough — too wet.
- And, each attempt, while using carrots, cinnamon and sugar (the usual suspects), just lacked a balance of flavor.
This kept me up all night! So at 3 o’clock in the morning, I asked myself “What do you love about carrot cake?” And, “What’s your favorite way to cook and eat carrots?”
I love a spiced carrot cake — ya know, a spice cake that just happens to have carrots shot through. Its warming, moist and just sweet enough topped with cream cheese icing.
Honey glazed roasted carrots are one of my favorites, but the sweet orange glazed carrots in Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Sticky Lamb Chops with Carrots are the best ever!
OK…follow your gut, girl!
My Formula for Soft, Flavorful, Balanced Carrot Cinnamon Rolls
Bread Flour — I’m a believer. I can’t explain all the sciency stuff that happens here, but I do know that bread flour has more protein than all-purpose, so it produces more gluten. As long as it’s not overworked, you’ll get that texture that I adore with these rolls.
Spices — Why stop at cinnamon? Nutmeg, clove and ginger want to play, too! It just works.
Orange — Carrots and oranges are kind of a classic combo. Using the zest and juice adds a sweet, tartness that balances the sugars and adds a beautiful bright flavor.
Sweeteners — Instead of the classic cinnamon and white sugar blend, use this as an opportunity to add more flavor. I used a combo of honey and brown sugar (they both love carrots) with the spices, shredded carrot and nuts to create the filling.
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Helpful Tips for Making Orange Carrot Cinnamon Rolls
Remember to read through the entire recipe before you begin and take the following steps to remove the stress out of baking:
- A couple hours ahead of time, measure out the cream cheese into a medium-large bowl and set it aside. Set out a stick of butter on your counter. Allow both of these to soften to room temperature.
- Add the honey, brown sugar and spices to a bowl large enough to accept the carrots and nuts, too.
- Shred the carrots using the fine side of a box grater. The delicate texture of a finer grate is perfect for mixing some into the dough for flecks of color and for dispersing into the filling. Place 1-1/2 cups into the bowl of spices, reserving 1/2 cup for the dough.
- Zest an entire orange. Juice at least half the orange.
Doing this prep will keep you organized and on track as you follow through the recipe.
It’s Sticky Dough, But It’ll be OK
Adding carrots to the dough adds moisture. The dough will be sticky after mixing, almost wet. The final step happens on your work surface. You’ll dust it liberally with 2 tablespoons of flour before turning the dough out. You’ll need a good spatula to scrape it out of the mixing bowl.
Dust your hands with just a bit of flour and knead the dough by hand for 3 to 5 minutes. It will slowly pick up all the flour from the work surface and the result will now be a slightly sticky, but smooth surfaced dough.
Roll With It
When it’s time to roll out the dough, dust your work surface and a rolling pin with flour. Punch down the dough and turn it out on the flour. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 14 x 16 inches, or use a half sheet or jelly roll pan to gauge the size.
Spread the filling all over and roll it into a log. Cut into 16 equal pieces. I use a serrated knife and eye ball the cuts. First, in half, then each half gets cut in half, etc. Transfer to a greased 9×13” cake pan or casserole and allow to rest for 30 to 40 minutes before baking.
Enjoy your sweet rolls iced with orange scented cream cheese icing. As part of a brunch spread or just tucking in with a cup of coffee, these are a gooey and delicious breakfast treat!
More Breakfast Recipes…
- Breakfast Roundup for Busy Days
- Mushroom + Swiss Egg White Muffin Tin Omelets
- Healthy Greek Yogurt Biscuits
- Red Velvet Pop Tarts
Orange Carrot Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing
- Stand mixer
- Small sauce pan
- Rolling Pin
- Mixing bowls
- 9"x13" baking dish
- 4 cups (+ 2 tbsp) bread flour plus more for rolling
- 2¼ tsp active dry yeast or 1 packet
- 2 cups carrots, finely grated 1/2 cup for dough, 1-1/2 cups for filling
- 1 orange zested for dough, juiced for icing
- 1 cup 2% milk
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, divided 1/3 cup for dough, remainder for icing
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 eggs room temperature
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground clove
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ cup pecan pieces
- 2 oz low fat cream cheese softened
- 1½ cups confectioner's sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Into the bowl of stand mixer, pour 2 cups of flour, yeast, 1/2 cup grated carrot + orange zest. Use a fork or whisk to evenly disperse the ingredients throughout the flour.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm milk, sugar, 1/3 cup of butter, and salt until it reaches 120-130 degrees. Add this to the bowl of flour. Using the dough hook attachment, mix it on low speed for 15-20 seconds.
- Add the 2 eggs. Beat on low for 30 seconds, scrape down the sides and beat on medium for about 3 minutes.
- Add the remaining 2 cups of flour, 1 cup at time. Beat just until each cup is incorporated and scrape down the sides in between. The dough may still appear sticky and a little on the wet side. The carrots have released some juices into the dough.
- Dust a work surface with the remaining 2 Tbsp of flour and turn your dough out. Sprinkle a little more flour on your hands. Knead by hand for 3 to 5 minutes, incorporating all the flour.
- Shape it into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Turn it over once to coat, cover and set in a warm, dry spot for about 1 hour. It will double in size. (I like to proof mine in the oven with just the oven light on.)
- Meanwhile, make the spice filling by combining brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger in a small bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup of grated carrot and pecan pieces and stir.
- Punch down the dough. Dust your work surface and roll the dough into a large rectangle about 14" x 16".
- Spread the filling all over the dough, nearly to the edges. Starting on the longer side, roll the dough then cut into 16 equal rolls.
- Place the giant rolls into a 9"x13" cake pan, lightly greased. Cover them and allow to rest for another 30-45 minutes. They will expand to fill the pan.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After the rolls have rested, bake them for 20 minutes. Check them for doneness. The dough around the edges of the pan may turn a very light golden brown. If they are still pale, bake them for up to 5 minutes longer. Remove them to cooling racks.
- Prepare the icing by combining what's left of the stick of butter with the cream cheese. Beat them with a hand mixer or with a whisk until it is smooth. Add 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and mix carefully. Add the vanilla, 2 Tbsp of orange juice and remaining cup of confectioner's sugar and mix. Add 1 to 2 more Tbsp of orange juice until the icing reaches your desired consistency. Mix until smooth.
- Drizzle icing over the rolls and use an offset spatula or back of a spoon to spread.