Easter weekend is right around the corner and I wanted to make something special for the holiday. Of course, if you miss making these Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls for Easter brunch, they would be welcome on any brunch table (or frankly for dessert).
It turns out it has been a while since I’ve made full-fledged cinnamon rolls… so long in fact that my kids didn’t realize I could make them from scratch. So, they thought these were pretty magical compared to the out-of-the-can cinnamon rolls.
These are super-soft on the inside with a crackly browned top. The dough is spiced and the filling is spiced so you get a great flavor punch that isn’t too sweet. The cream cheese icing just puts them over the top. I dollop it on thick, of course.
Are these work? YES. But, sometimes there’s nothing better than a homemade baked breakfast item and these are worth every minute of work!
What dough to use for cinnamon rolls?
Any time I’m making a cinnamon roll or something similar like monkey bread, I always start with an enriched, yeasted dough. The rising agent is yeast, so it takes time to rise, but it also has eggs and milk in it which give it a softer, more dense texture than just a flour-water-yeast dough.
The dough doesn’t have any crazy ingredients in it and, if I’m being honest, I’ve made it without all the spices if I’m missing one or two and it works just fine. Don’t skip the cinnamon and vanilla extract though!
When this dough is done, you might think that it’s too sticky to work, but after it rises, you can roll it out on a floured surface and it holds its shape just perfectly.
- Want a different take on cinnamon rolls? Try these date cinnamon rolls or this giant sweet potato cinnamon roll!
Why add carrots to dough?
I’ve never found that carrots add much flavor to carrot cake or, in this case, cinnamon rolls, but they do work to keep the dough moist as it bakes. It also just looks cool!
You don’t need a ton of carrots for these rolls and adding too much will cause the dough to fall apart as you’re rolling it. About a cup of grated carrots is more than enough for the dough.
Making the dough with and without a stand mixer
I use a stand mixer to make my cinnamon roll dough, which makes it a breeze to make, but cinnamon rolls existed before stand mixers and you this dough is one of the easier ones to make without a stand mixer as well.
If you have a stand mixer, once you have all the ingredients combined (the butter and carrots should be last), then use the dough hook attachment to pull the dough for 8-10 minutes until it’s soft and slightly tacky. Slowly add in the softened butter and grated carrots.If the dough is very sticky (like sticking completely to the sides and bottom of the bowl) then add another 1/4 cup of flour.
If you are making this by hand, just add the ingredients in the same order to a large bowl and use your hand or a wooden spoon to knead the bread until it’s soft. If the dough is sticking to your hand, you can wet your hand slightly and it won’t stick to it.
When the dough is combined and soft, add it to a bowl and sprinkle with flour and let it rise until it doubles in size.
OVERNIGHT NOTE: You can make this dough in advance and stick it in the fridge overnight to rise. Just pull it out about an hour before making the rolls to take the chill off the dough.
How to shape and cut these carrot cake cinnamon rolls
This dough is very easy to work with. Roll it out into a large rectangle (12×24 inch is a good guide) on a floured surface with a rolling pin. In a small bowl, mix together the filling ingredients and spread the paste over the surface of the dough.
Then roll the dough up starting at the shorter end to maximize layers. Cut the roll into eight even pieces with a sharp knife and add them to a buttered baking dish.
Baking the cinnamon rolls
Once you have these in the baking dish, for best results, let them rise a second time in a warm environment if possible for 45-60 minutes. This will ensure they puff up beautifully while baking.
Then bake them at 375˚F for 35-40 minutes until the center roll is completely set. Use a pastry tester or toothpick to make sure it’s cooked through. Slightly underbaked cinnamon rolls aren’t the worst thing in the world!
Icing and serving the cinnamon rolls
Once these come out of the oven, you can ice them. Make the icing by beating together softened cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla. Then dollop the icing on each cinnamon roll.
You’ll have a little icing leftover which I like to serve on top of each roll once I plate them up.
Tips and tricks for the best carrot cake cinnamon rolls
Here are some tips I use to perfect my cinnamon rolls!
- If your dough is dry, then your cinnamon rolls will be dry. A slightly tacky or sticky dough is best. You can always add more flour to make it workable.
- When cutting the cinnamon rolls, use a sharp serrated knife to get a really clean cut. I’ve also seen you can use dental floss to cut the rolls cleanly but I haven’t personally tried that method.
- Always test your cinnamon rolls with a tester. They will look baked before the center is completely set and if you pull them too soon, they will deflate and be raw in the middle.
- Leftover cinnamon roll actually reheat okay. Zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds on high heat.
Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls
- ¼ oz instant dry yeast
- ¼ cup sugar , + 1/2 teaspoon
- ¼ cup warm water
- ½ cup milk, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup grated carrots
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Cream cheese icing:
- 4 oz. cream cheese
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Stir yeast, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and water into a mixing bowl. Let sit for ten minutes until it’s foamy and all the yeast is dissolved.
- In the mixing bowl, stir in milk, brown sugar, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. In a smaller separate bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Add flour to the mixing bowl slowly and mix with dough hook for 4-5 minutes until dough is soft and well-combined.
- Add softened butter and let the dough hook beat it into the dough. If they dough is very sticky, add another 1/4-1/2 cup flour. It’s okay if the dough is a bit sticky though. Beat with dough hook for another 4-5 minutes. Finally mix in grated carrots right at the end.You can make this dough without a stand mixer. Just combine the dough ingredients in the same order as above in a large mixing bowl and mix the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon. Then switch to your hands. If your hand is slightly wet it won't stick to the dough.
- 4) When dough is soft (it is okay if it's a bit sticky) Add dough to a clean metal bowl and dust with flour. Cover and let rise for two hours until it doubles in size.
Filling and shaping Cinnamon Rolls:
- Mix filling ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle. It should be about twice as long as it is wide so 12×24 is a good goal. Sprinkle filling over the surface of the dough. Spread the paste around until it is evenly distributed.
- Roll dough starting from the short end so you are creating as many layers as possible. Roll tightly and once rolled, try to even out the roll so each part is the same thickness.
- Cut rolls into 8 even pieces and add to a large, lightly buttered baking dish.Cover and let rise for an hour.
Baking and Icing Rolls
- Bake rolls in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes until they are nicely browned around the edges and the center roll is cooked through. You can test this with a toothpick or tester.
- Let rolls cool for about 30 minutes and then drizzle with icing.These are best served warm. If you are serving them the next day, it’s not a bad idea to microwave them for 10-15 seconds just to warm them up.