Soft and fluffy Cranberry Orange Rolls filled with sweet cinnamon cranberry filling to keep the rolls gooey and delicious. Add on a slather of tangy orange cream cheese frosting for the perfect twist on a breakfast classic!
Posted: 12/6/2020; Republished 11/24/2021
These are the most soft and fluffy sweet breakfast rolls you could imagine. Lightly flavored with orange zest, the dough gets filled with a sweet and lightly tart cranberry puree that keeps the rolls extra moist.
The cream cheese frosting is mixed with orange zest and a touch of orange juice, which pairs perfectly with the cranberry. It's a unique take on a classic fluffy cinnamon roll!
Ingredients & Tools
- Yeast. This recipe uses active dry yeast, which needs to be activated via the warm milk and sugar. If you only have instant yeast (also known ask rapid-rise yeast), see the FAQ section at the end of the post on how to make the swap.
- Milk. Whole milk - it needs to be heated to 110℉ on a digital kitchen thermometer in order to activate the yeast.
- All-purpose flour. The recipe calls for 4.5-5 cups. You'll need 4.5 to add to the dough while it's mixing, then potentially up to another ½ cup during the final kneading process.
- Sugars. Granulated for the dough, light brown for the cranberry filling, and powdered sugar for the cream cheese frosting.
- Eggs. Two of them will get whisked and added to the the dough.
- Butter. Unsalted. Melted for the dough, softened for the frosting.
- Fresh cranberries. Only use fresh cranberries for this (not dried or canned). We need to be able to control the amount of sugar going into the filling as well as the consistency.
- Ground cinnamon. Gets added into the cranberry filling and helps to create a nice, warm-spiced filling.
- Oranges. You'll need two large oranges for this recipe. You will use the zest and juice from both.
- Cream cheese. At room temperature for easy mixing of the frosting! I like to buy Philadelphia brand, as I think it has the best texture and flavor.
While you don't need a stand mixer for this recipe, it's much easier if you do have it. You'll need the dough hook attachment for the dough, and the paddle attachment for the cream cheese frosting. You'll also need an immersion blender (or food processor or blender) to puree the cranberry filling, and a rolling pin to roll out the dough.
Finally, you can either put all of the rolls in a 13x9" casserole dish, or split them up into other dishes like a cast iron skillet and 9" cake pan. Just be sure your rolls will have a bit of room to spread during the second rise.
Making the Orange Cranberry Rolls
It's important to measure your flour correctly when making the dough. Too much flour can make the rolls stogy and dense. If you don't have a digital kitchen scale, watch how I measure my flour with cups.
STEP 1: Start by activating the active dry yeast. Add 110℉/43℃ milk, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and the yeast to the bowl of your stand mixer. Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast has become foamy all over the top.
If this does not occur, your yeast may be dead or your milk was not at the correct temperature to activate the yeast. At this point, you'll need to start again with a fresh pack.
STEP 2: Add the whisked eggs, melted butter, remaining sugar, vanilla, and orange zest to the milk and yeast and mix on low to combine (you're using the dough hook right now). Then, add in the 4.5 cups (540g) of flour and start by mixing on low to bring it together.
Raise the mixer speed to medium and allow the dough to work. It will be very sticky and loose at first, but after about 5 minutes, it will start to pull off the sides and become more smooth. It's ok if some of the dough still sticks to the bottom, but it should no longer stick to the sides when it's ready.
If after 5 minutes the dough is still sticking to the sides, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until it releases itself.
Kneading & Rise #1
STEP 3: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for another 3-5 minutes. If it starts to stick to the counter, add another light dusting of flour. You may need to use up to ½ cup (30g) more flour.
By this point, the dough will be smooth and supple. If you poke your finger into it, it will leave an indent that very slowly starts to fill back in.
Grease a large bowl and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and move to a warm place to rise and double in size. This will be different in every kitchen, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours.
Pro tip: Take a picture of the dough as soon as you start the resting process. That way, you can refer back to figure out how much your dough has actually risen.
STEP 4: While the dough rises, make the cranberry filling by adding the fresh cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon and a juiced orange to a medium saucepan and turn to medium heat.
Once the mixture starts bubbling, use the back of a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to help break down the cranberries.
Once mostly broken down, use an immersion blender (or transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor) to puree completely. Add the ¼ cup water, stir, and allow to simmer for another one to two minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl and transfer to the fridge to cool completely (I like to stir mine every 5 minutes or so to help it along).
Sweet Roll Assembly
STEP 5: Once the dough has doubled in size, punch down the dough (yes, actually) to remove the air, and turn it out onto a very lightly floured counter.
Use your hands to press the dough down into a rectangle shape, then use a floured rolling pin to roll out the dough into a 12" x 20" rectangle. It will be about ¼" thick. You'll want the long end to be facing your body.
STEP 6: Add the fully cooled cranberry puree to the top of the dough and spread it around. I like to use an offset spatula for this. Leave the last inch on the long side (side away from your body) bare to aid in sealing, but go almost to the edges on the other 3 sides.
Starting from the long end closest to your body, start rolling in the middle, and move to the right side, then left side. Continue rolling as tightly and evenly as possible. Sometimes I even have to use my forearms to keep an even roll going!
Once you get to the end, pinch the edges into the dough to seal, and roll the entire log over so the seam side is down. At this point, use your hands to gently massage from the center outwards, then push in both sides - this helps to create an even log.
Cutting the rolls
STEP 7: Using unflavored dental floss, slide it under one end of the roll, bring the string up, cross them over, and pull down to slice. Slice off a skinny piece on each edge and discard.
If you don't have dental floss, use a serrated knife to carefully saw back and forth through the dough, careful not to squish the dough down and squeeze the filling out.
Next, go to the middle of the roll and cut in half. Cut the halves in half, then cut those haves into thirds. This will leave you with 12 even rolls. Throughout the process, wipe your floss off with a paper towel to keep it clean. Transfer each slice to your baking dish as you go.
The cutting and transfer to the pan can get messy with the soft dough and filling. I suggest using a spatula to transfer the cut rolls to the baking pan.
STEP 8: Cover the rolls and pan lightly with plastic wrap (I like to reuse the wrap from the first round) and place in a warm area to rise for another 30 minutes or so. The rolls will have expanded and become puffy.
As the cranberry rolls rise, preheat the oven to 350℉/177℃. Once the rolls are ready, bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops of the cranberry orange rolls are golden brown.
Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
STEP 9: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), cream the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, then add in the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time until combined.
Add the orange zest and 1 tablespoon of squeezed orange juice and mix until incorporated and soft. If the frosting seems too thick, add an additional tablespoon of orange juice until it's a nice, spreadable consistency.
Spread the frosting evenly over the warm rolls and serve.
Only frost the rolls you plan to eat. This way, you're able to easily reheat the unfrosted rolls and spread on the remaining frosting. Heating the already frosted rolls runs the risk of all of the frosting melting!
If you'd like to make the rolls ahead of time, you have two options:
1. After cutting the rolls, cover them tightly with plastic wrap and place them into the fridge. The next morning, remove the pan from the fridge and allow the rolls to rise in a warm area for 30 minutes, then remove the plastic and bake following the recipe instructions.
2. Go through with the whole recipe, but cut the bake time to 15 minutes to par bake the rolls. Allow the rolls to cool, then cover with foil and store at room temperature. Before serving, bake the rolls, uncovered until golden brown and completely warmed and cooked through.
Storing and Freezing
If frosted, store covered in the fridge for 2 days. If unfrosted, store the rolls at room temperature for 2 days and frosting in the fridge for up to a week.
To freeze, do so right after they've been cut and wrap them tightly in a pan. Before baking, allow them to thaw completely in the fridge, then place in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes before baking.
To reheat the baked rolls, lightly tent with foil and bake until warmed through. Spread on the cream cheese frosting while still hot or warm - especially if using the frosting straight from the fridge.
FAQs & Tips
Yes. Reduce the amount to ¾ tablespoon and skip the step of activating the yeast in milk. Instead, add all of the ingredients together at once to the mixer. If using instant yeast, keep in mind your dough will rise more quickly, so keep an eye on it and move on to the next step once doubled in size.
Yes, definitely. Simply cut all ingredients quantities in half and follow the same instructions. Keep in mind when you roll out the dough, those dimensions will also be halved.
Yes, you definitely can. Just be prepared for the dough process to take a bit longer and you'll have to use some elbow grease!
Follow the same recipe steps through adding all of the ingredients to the bowl up until the mixing starts. Rather than using a mixer to bring everything together, use a wooden spoon until it becomes too tough to mix.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour as needed until the dough becomes a smooth and supple ball. The dough will be sticky for quite some time as you knead, but be patient. As the gluten forms, the stickiness will reduce.
Other recipes to try
- Coffee Toffee Baked Donuts
- Banana Nut Muffins
- Fruit and Cream Cheese Puff Pastry Danish
- Chocolate Espresso Babka
Pin for Later
Cranberry Orange Rolls
- Stand mixer with dough hook and paddle attachment
- Digital thermometer
- Rolling Pin
- Immersion blender, blender, or food processor
- 13x9 inch pan or two smaller pans
- Dental floss or serrated knife
- 1 cup whole milk at 110℉ 8oz
- ½ cup granulated sugar 100g
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 10g
- 2 large eggs room temperature, whisked
- ½ cup unsalted butter melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 4 ½-5 cups all-purpose flour 540-600g
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 12 oz fresh cranberries
- 1 medium orange juiced
- ½ cup light brown sugar 100g
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup water 2oz
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz cream cheese room temperature
- ¼ cup unsalted butter room temperature (57g)
- 2 ½ cups powdered sugar 300g
- 2 tablespoons orange zest
- 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Making the dough
- Heat the milk until it reaches 110℉ on a digital thermometer. Add the milk, 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and the yeast to the bowl of the stand mixer and gently mix. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy on the surface of the milk.
- Add the eggs, butter, remaining sugar, vanilla, and orange zest and mix with the dough hook until combined.
- Add 4 ½ cups (540g) flour and salt, and mix over medium speed until a ball forms. It will be mostly smooth, but still a bit tacky. If it is too wet, add an additional tablespoon of flour at a time. The dough should be pulled off the sides, but may still slightly stick to the bottom.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes until it’s smooth and springs back when you touch it. If it starts sticking to your surface, dust the counter with a bit more flour. You may need to use up to ½ cup more flour.
- Grease a large bowl with olive oil, place the dough inside, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
- While the dough is rising, make the cranberry filling. Add the cranberries, orange juice, brown sugar and cinnamon to a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Use a wooden spoon to mash down your cranberries as they start to break down. It will take about 10 minutes to get them totally broken down. At this point, add the water, then use an immersion blender (or blender/food processor) to puree the cranberries. You can also omit this step, you will just have chunkier filling!
- After you puree the cranberries, return them to medium heat for about 1-2 minutes while stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool completely, stirring occasionally to help cool.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, prepare a 13x9" baking pan. If using parchment, line the pan. If not, spray or butter the bottom of the pan.
- Punch down the dough, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and press it down it into a rectangle with your hands. Then, roll out the dough using a rolling pin into roughly a 12”x20” rectangle - the dough will be about ¼” thick. You want the long end on the side of your body, and the short ends perpendicular to your body.
- Spread the cooled cranberry puree evenly over dough using an offset spatula or butter knife. Leave the last inch on the long side (side away from your body) bare to aid in sealing, but go almost to the edges on the other 3 sides.
- Starting from the long end closest to your body, start rolling in the middle, and move to the right side, then left side. Continue rolling as tight and evenly as possible. Sometimes I even have to use my forearms to keep an even roll going!
- Once you get to the end, pinch the edges into the dough to seal, and roll so the seam side is down. Using unflavored dental floss (or a serrated knife), slide it under one end of the roll, bring the string up, cross them over, and pull down to slice. Slice off a skinny piece on each edge and discard.
- Next, go to the middle of the roll and cut in half. Cut the halves in half, then cut those halves into thirds. This will leave you with 12 even rolls. Throughout the process, wipe your floss off with a paper towel to keep it clean.
- Transfer the rolls to the prepared 13x9 pan, then cover lightly with plastic wrap and and place in a warm area to rise again for 30 minutes. At this point, preheat the oven to 350℉/177℃.
- After 30 minutes, bake the rolls, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven to cool for about 20 minutes on a wire rack.
Orange Cream Cheese Icing
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth, then add in the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time until combined.
- Add the orange zest and 1 tablespoon of squeezed orange juice and mix until incorporated and soft. If the icing seems too thick, add an additional tablespoon of orange juice until it's a nice spreadable consistency.
- Spread the icing evenly over the rolls and serve warm.