What's better than cinnamon rolls? Probably these pretty little cranberry rolls. These easy cranberry sweet rolls are made with the same dough as cinnamon rolls and spread with homemade cranberry sauce. You only need about a cup so this a great recipe for using up your leftover cranberry sauce. Ice these sweet rolls with an easy, 4 ingredient orange cream cheese icing.
soft pillowy cinnamon roll dough with a cranberry orange twist
These cranberry sweet rolls are sophisticated and beautiful, with the contrasting red of the cranberries and the white cream cheese frosting. These would be so nice for a Christmas morning breakfast. They scream December to me with the beautiful berry red and creamy white with specks of orange zest.
They're like the older, city-living, party-going, cool cousin to a cinnamon roll which in my eyes is rustic, homey, dependable, and comforting. Is that a weird way to describe these desserts? Sure, but I don't feel bad about it and I'm not taking it back.
But anyway, these sweet cranberry rolls really are amazing. They're a certain amount of tart from the cranberry sauce. I use my homemade cranberry sauce. The sweetness of the cream cheese frosting really balances the sauce in my opinion. This is one of my favorite dessert recipes ever.
The dough I use is the same one I use in my Cinnamon Twists!
About the ingredients for this recipe. See the recipe card below for exact amounts.
- baking basics: for the dough, you'll need the same common baking ingredients as you would use for cinnamon rolls like all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, oil, milk, eggs, as well as yeast. I use instant yeast for this dough recipe because it's kind of easier to use in that you can just mix it in with the dry ingredients and don't need to proof it first in warm water.
- cranberry jelly/cranberry sauce: Instead of using butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling, we'll use cranberry sauce. I have my own recipe for cranberry sauce but you can use whatever your favorite one is.
- cream cheese icing: To go with the cranberry flavor in the rolls, we'll make orange cream cheese icing. You'll need some room-temperature cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and orange zest because I love citrus with cream cheese. This cranberry-orange combo is a winner.
Start off by making your cranberry sauce. I make mine a day or two before I make these rolls because I've been using it for another meal first and then putting half of the recipe away for this dessert recipe. The cranberry sauce recipe makes 2 ¼ cups - so save about a cup or so. (Or just use store-bought cranberry jelly if you want to!)
Now make the dough. I use my stand mixer for this recipe, although you can make it by hand as well.
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the warm milk, sugar, oil, and yeast.
- If you're using instant yeast, move on with the recipe immediately.
- If you're using active dry yeast, let everything sit for about 10 minutes or so, or until the top is foamy.
Next, add the egg and mix it well. Then add the flour and salt. Mix everything to combine and then let the dough knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
This would be about 8-10 minutes by hand. If you are kneading the dough by hand place the dough on a countertop and push the dough into the counter with the heel of your hand and then pull and roll the dough back towards you. I alternate hands when I do this to make it a bit easier.
You'll end up with a very smooth, soft dough.
With the dough in the bowl, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit and rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size. I like to do this in my oven, with the temperature OFF and the light on. This makes a nice environment for rising dough.
How to shape cranberry sweet rolls like cinnamon rolls
Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out into a large rectangle, about 12 inches by 36 inches.
Spread the surface with cranberry sauce. Leave a half-inch along the long side empty of sauce. Start rolling the dough into a log, starting with the side opposite the side that you left free of sauce.
Once the dough is rolled, pinch the edge of the dough into the log to keep it sealed shut.
Cut the dough into 12 portions. To make this easy, cut the log in half and then in half again to get 4 portions. Then cut each of those portions into 3 more portions. You'll end up with 12 fairly even buns. I made the marks on my dough log using this method, and then I cut them one by one.
Place the buns into a baking pan. I used a 7 x 11 brownie pan similar to this one by Wilton. A 9 x 13 baking dish should work fine as well.
Once the buns are all loaded into the pan, cover with plastic wrap or a towel you don't mind getting cranberry sauce on, and let rise for about 30-45 minutes or until puffed up pretty good.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) while the rolls are rising.
Once the rolls have risen, bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the dough is cooked through.
Let the rolls cool while you put together the glaze.
How to make orange cream cheese icing
Combine one brick (8 ounces) of cream cheese, at room temperature, with half a cup of powdered sugar. Alternatively, you could use brown sugar, which I prefer the taste of in this recipe, but then the icing doesn't stay bright white, so do what you prefer here.
Add the orange juice and the grated orange zest. I use a Cara Cara orange. Add a splash of vanilla extract too. Whip together into a smooth icing.
Once the rolls have cooled a bit, spoon or pour the icing over top. Serve. Keeps for a few days at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.
> Don't have homemade cranberry sauce? Try my cranberry sauce recipe, or make another recipe that you like. Use store-bought cranberry jelly if you want to! I haven't tried this with store-bought cranberry jelly because it's just not an item I buy (I like to make everything from scratch, that's what my website is all about), but if you use it and try it, please leave me a comment and let me know how it went!
> Just want cinnamon buns? Skip the cranberry jelly and use melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon instead.
Tips and Tricks
- Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature when making the icing so you get a really smooth icing without lumps.
- For the dough to rise nicely, it needs a warm draft-free area. There are two really good ways to rise dough in your kitchen. You can use your oven, with the temperature off but the light on. You can also use your microwave - just don't turn it on.
I store my baked cranberry sweet rolls at room temperature, usually in the dish I baked them in, and cover them with plastic wrap. They last a few days but are best on the first day.
Instant yeast does not need to be proofed before use. It can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients. Active dry yeast needs to be proofed in warm water to activate it before moving on with a recipe. If you're using active dry yeast in this recipe, you may need to add 10-15 minutes to your rise times as it's slower to rise.
More Sweet Breakfast Recipes
- Cinnamon Twists
- Orange Ricotta Pancakes
- Peanut Butter Banana French Toast Rollups
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread
- Banana Bread
- Stuffed Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast
Recipes using leftover Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Sweet Rolls with Orange Cream Cheese Icing
For the Rolls
- 1 cup milk (warm)
- ¼ cup granulated white sugar
- ¼ cup oil
- 2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast (or active dry, see notes)
- 1 large egg (at room temperature)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ recipe
cranberry sauce(1 cup)
For the Icing
- 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature (1 brick/package)
- ½ cup powdered sugar (sifted)
- 1 large orange (zest and juice*)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Rolls
- Mix the dough by adding the milk, oil, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. If using instant yeast, move on immediately. If using active dry yeast, let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy on top.
- Add the egg and mix it in.
- Add the flour and salt and mix to bring together. Knead for about 5 minutes or so.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set somewhere to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. (I use the inside of my oven with the temperature turned OFF and the light turned on).
- Roll the dough into a large rectangle (approximately 12 x 36 inches)
- Leaving half an each on a long side, spread the rest of the dough with the cranberry sauce.
- Roll the dough up into a log, starting with the long edge opposite of the bare edge. Pinch the seams into the roll.
- Cut the log into 12 equal portions. you can do this by cutting the dough in half and then each of those halves in half again to get 4 portions. Cut each of those 4 portions into 3 more portions to get 12 total portions. Place rolls into baking pan.
- Cover and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Let rolls cool.
For the Icing
- Make the icing by combining the cream cheese, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and the vanilla extract. Whip into smooth icing.
- Once rolls have cooled a bit, spread or spoon the icing on.
- Use your oven, with the temperature turned OFF and the light turned on for rising dough.
- When measuring flour, I go by 120 grams per cup. If you’d like to use cup measurement for the flour, then measure lightly by scooping your flour into the measuring cup, and not digging your cup into the flour. You’ll get the best results by using a scale though. Start with about 75% of the flour and add more as needed.
- I used a Cara Cara orange.
- If using active dry yeast, make sure to proof it first and add about 10-15 minutes to rise times.
Nutritional information is an estimate. Values vary based on products used.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.
This post was first posted on December 4, 2020, and updated on December 27, 2022, to add a video and clearer recipe + nutrition information.
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