Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze

I’m not exaggerating when I write that I have been thinking about making these cinnamon rolls for five months. After posting my Sweet Potato Pecan Cinnamon Rolls last November, I started brainstorming other varieties and carrot cake immediately came to mind.

I waited all of these months to make these cinnamon rolls because for some reason I associate carrot cake with Spring. Is it the bunnies? Easter? I’m not sure what the connection is, but I stuck to my guns and held off until now to create these Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze.

Indisputably a healthier recipe than that of most cinnamon rolls, this one calls for whole wheat pastry flour, applesauce, and a low amount of sugar. That might not sound like the makings for a tasty cinnamon roll, but when you add warm carrot cake spices, golden raisins, walnuts, and a decadent-tasting but light cream cheese glaze, you get a delicious & healthy result!

I know the directions list looks a bit intimidating, but I assure you none of the steps are too difficult. I find the whole process to be rather meditative: hand mixing and kneading the dough, rolling it out and scattering the filling over top…

… rolling the dough up nice & snug and nestling the cut pieces into a cake pan.

It’s so rewarding to peek at the rolls an hour later and behold them in their puffed-up risen glory.

Then they emerge golden and warm from the oven, perfuming the air with their intoxicating aroma.

You can’t really see the flecks of grated carrot in the baked dough, but I assure you they’re in there ;).

Then comes the cream cheese glaze. Because let’s be honest, what is carrot cake without cream cheese? What are cinnamon rolls without glaze?

Boring, that’s what.

I opted for a consistency thinner than frosting, thus I’m calling this silky smooth, partly sweet partly tangy, and absolutely delicious concoction a glaze.

The following photo looks like a gargantuan cinnamon roll with a huge bite taken out of it.

Don’t think I didn’t consider doing just that.

Yet, I held back and served myself a more reasonably sized portion.

Given the modest amount of sugar in the carrot cake dough, it is more akin to bread than the typical cinnamon roll.

But once you cut into the roll, the sweet, cinnamon-heavy, walnut- & raisin- studded filling is revealed.

Keep on unraveling the soft but hearty swirls of bread, and you’ll finally reach the absolute best part of the cinnamon roll:

If you’ve been searching for a slightly indulgent sweet treat for Easter brunch, (or for any day of the week), I’ve got you covered!

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze

Printer-Friendly Recipe

makes 8 rolls

Ingredients for Dough:

  • 1 cup milk, (I recommend organic 1%, 2%, or unsweetened vanilla almond milk), heated in the microwave for 1 minute or until it reaches around 100°F
  • 2 1/4 tsp (or 1 – 0.25 oz packet) active dry yeast, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup finely grated carrots, about 2 large carrots (I used a microplane grater)
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour (plus up to 1/4 cup for kneading and rolling)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • *2-6 Tbsp evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar (I used 2 Tbsp, but I suggest using more if you’re looking for a sweeter dough)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 1/2 packed cup brown sugar or Sucanat
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Glaze:

  • 4 oz neufchatel (1/3-less-fat) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp 1% milk
  • 2 Tbsp powdered evaporated cane juice or powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Set aside.
  2. Scatter yeast over warmed milk and allow to activate for about 10-15 minutes, or until frothy.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together both kinds of flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice, spices, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, and melted butter. Set aside.
  5. When yeast and milk mixture is bubbly, stir in the applesauce and grated carrots. Add wet ingredients into the dry and mix just until incorporated. Transfer dough onto a clean lightly floured surface and knead until soft and smooth, adding enough extra all-purpose flour (up to 3 Tbsp) to keep dough from sticking, about 2 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Lightly flour work surface again and roll dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness, about a 12-inch x 9-inch rectangle.
  7. Sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter mixture evenly over the rolled-out dough, leaving about a 1-inch border around the perimeter.
  8. Scatter raisins & nuts evenly over the top and gently push into dough.
  9. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  10. Starting at a short end, carefully & tightly roll the dough jelly roll-style, making sure the filling doesn’t come out at the sides. Gently pinch seam closed. Cut the roll into 8 even pieces and place in prepared pan. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (I like to place it on top of the preheating oven) until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Either refrigerate, covered, overnight or proceed immediately to step 11.
  11. Remove the towel and brush the 1/2 Tbsp melted butter over the tops of the rolls.  Bake rolls at 350°degrees for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden on top.
  12. While cinnamon rolls are baking, prepare the cream cheese glaze. In a medium mixing bowl, beat all glaze ingredients together with an electric mixer until well-combined and smooth.
  13. Remove rolls from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. The easiest way to do this is to run a knife around the outside of the rolls, place a large place over top, and invert the cake pan so that the rolls fall out into the plate. Place the rack on top of the rolls and invert the plate so that the rolls are right side up on the rack.
  14. **Drizzle with glaze and serve warm.

*NOTE I: I made the rolls with only 2 Tbsp sugar, which resulted in a dough more akin to bread that a sweet roll. If you’d prefer a more classically sweet roll, use 4-6 Tbsp.

**NOTE II: These cinnamon rolls are best when eaten warm from the oven. The lack of butter in the actual dough renders the outside of the rolls a bit crumbly and dry if refrigerated or frozen.

Sweet Potato Pecan Cinnamon Rolls [Vegan]

If October was the month for pumpkin recipes, then November is undoubtedly the month to feature that other orange-hued autumn vegetable: the sweet potato!

I adapted my Blueberry Cinnamon Rolls recipe by subbing in sweet potato puree for the applesauce, and toasted pecans for the blueberries. I also tossed a bit of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves in with the dough ingredients in order to achieve a flavor reminiscent of sweet potato pie. The finishing touch was to add a bit of sweet potato puree into the glaze for an extra punch of orange color and gloss.

How about some progress shots?

After rolling out the sweet potato dough, a delectable filling of cinnamon, brown sugar, melted margarine, and chopped pecans is sprinkled on:

The filling is rolled up into the dough, which is then cut into 8 pieces like so:

The rolls are nestled into a cake pan until…

… they double in size and rise to the top of the pan:

The cinnamon rolls are baked until golden brown – and extremely fragrant:

Now, you can’t have cinnamon rolls without a sweet glaze. How about adding in a bit of sweet potato puree for a vibrant orange hue?

The finishing touch:

Yes, the glaze makes a mess.

It’s worth it, trust me.

The center roll has my name aaaall over it.

These cinnamon rolls are made without any animal products, but vegans and omnivores alike are sure to love them. Serve the rolls as part of a special Thanksgiving brunch, or for breakfast on just about any day of the week.

Sweet Potato Pecan Cinnamon Rolls [Vegan]

loosely adapted from Mama Pea’s Blackberry Cinnamon Rolls

makes 8 rolls

Ingredients:

Sweet Potato Dough-

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk, (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk), heated in the microwave for 45 seconds or until it reaches around 100 degrees F
  • 2 1/4 tsp (or 1 0.25 oz packet) active dry yeast, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sweet potato puree (preferably homemade, but canned will work in a pinch)
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour (plus up to 1/4 cup for kneading and rolling)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp Sucanat or packed brown sugar (or 1/4 cup for a sweeter dough)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Cinnamon-Pecan Filling-

  • 1/2 cup Sucanat or packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Sweet Potato Glaze-

  • 1/2 cup powdered evaporated cane juice, sifted to remove any clumps (usually labeled “organic powdered sugar” or “unrefined powdered sugar”)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 2 Tbsp sweet potato puree
  • splash pure vanilla extract, about 1/4 tsp

Directions:

  1. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan (an 8×8 inch square baking pan will also work) with canola oil baking spray. Set aside.
  2. Scatter yeast over warmed non-dairy milk and allow to activate for about 10 minutes, or until frothy (you may need to help out the yeast a bit by gently pushing it into the milk, but don’t stir the mixture quite yet).
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together both kinds of flour, baking powder, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, and melted margarine. Stir in chopped pecans until well-coated. Set aside.
  5. When yeast and milk mixture is bubbly, stir in the 1/4 cup sweet potato puree. Add wet ingredients into the dry and mix just until incorporated. Transfer dough onto a clean lightly floured surface and knead until soft and smooth, adding enough extra all-purpose flour (up to 3 Tbsp) to keep dough from sticking, about 2 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Lightly flour work surface again and roll dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness, about a 12-inch x 9-inch rectangle.
  7. Sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon, margarine, and pecan mixture evenly over the rolled-out dough, leaving about a 1-inch border around the perimeter.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  9. Starting at a short end, carefully & tightly roll the dough jelly roll-style, making sure the filling doesn’t come out at the sides. Gently pinch seam closed. Cut the roll into 8 even pieces and place in prepared pan. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (I like to place it on top of the preheating oven) until doubled in size, about 30-60 minutes. Either refrigerate, covered, overnight or proceed immediately to the next step.
  10. Remove the towel and bake rolls at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
  11. While cinnamon rolls are baking, prepare the sweet potato glaze by whisking together until smooth the powdered sugar, 1 1/2 Tbsp non-dairy milk, 2 Tbsp sweet potato puree, and vanilla extract.
  12. Remove rolls from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the outside of the rolls. Transfer rolls to a wire rack, glaze, and let sit for an additional 10 minutes before serving.

*NOTE: These cinnamon rolls are best when eaten warm from the oven. The lack of butter in the actual dough renders the outside of the rolls a bit crumbly and dry if refrigerated or frozen. That being said, they are still delicious gently reheated in the microwave or toaster oven – you just might need some extra glaze to moisten them up again :).

The following succession of photos happened in the blink of an eye: