Orange Rolls: Sweet yeast dough twirled around a warm brown sugar and sunny citrus filling, topped with tangy cream cheese frosting.
Today’s recipe is like a cinnamon roll but with orange instead of cinnamon. Orange rolls!
In fact, they’re actually filled with orange and brown sugar.
And slathered with cream cheese icing! Yum!
These are a great breakfast recipe and really a special treat.
If you’re planning to host a brunch think about serving this orange rolls recipe on your buffet. It would be a great offering, alongside my all-in-one breakfast casserole or my favorite quiche Lorraine, and maybe a simple fruit salad and a big carafe of white chocolate mochas to drink.
Table of Contents
- What are orange rolls?
- Why this is the best orange roll recipe
- What do orange rolls taste like?
- Special equipment
- How to make this orange roll recipe
- How to serve orange rolls
- Expert tips
- Frequently asked questions
- A few more of my favorite breakfast recipes
What are orange rolls?
This is a sweet roll recipe, similar to a cinnamon bun but with the sunny citrus flavor of tropical orange.
Instead of a brown sugar and cinnamon filling, these are spiraled around warm brown sugar and orange zest. There’s also a subtle orange flavor in the yeast dough, and in that mouthwatering cream cheese icing on top.
It’s a celebration of orange!
Why this is the best orange roll recipe
- Tastes amazing: The orange flavor is off the charts!
- Moist: These bake up so incredibly moist and soft. They’ll give cinnabons a run for their money!
- Fluffy: The yeast dough bakes up light as a feather and so fluffy!
What do orange rolls taste like?
The orange flavor is very prominent here!
Orange zest gives a bright, sunny flavor with a pleasant hint of bitterness, similar to what you’d get from orange marmalade.
This is tempered by warm brown sugar. Together, these flavors blend with the slightly sweet, yeasty bread and the decadent cream cheese icing to create a real flavor sensation!
Warm water will activate the yeast in the dough. Aim for around 105 degrees F, or the temperature of a baby’s bath. If the water is too hot, it could kill the yeast.
I prefer active dry yeast. The slower rise allows some fermentation to occur, which results in a really nice flavor.
If you’d rather use instant yeast, you’ll only need 0.75x the amount, and you can cut the rise times down by 15 to 20 minutes.
Either way, be sure to check the expiration date on the packet and make sure it hasn’t past. If it has, the yeast could be dead and your rolls won’t rise properly.
We are going to use the juice and the zest of fresh oranges.
A large chicken egg enriches the dough and provides structure. You could also use a plant-based product that subs 1:1.
Salt carries the flavors and intensifies them. The end result won’t taste salty, but it will make everything so much more flavorful!
I like kosher salt best because it doesn’t have any additives (table salt usually contains iodine which can leave a bitter taste), so the flavor is pure. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find in a regular grocery store.
Soft butter combines with brown sugar and orange zest for the filling. It’s also in that luscious cream cheese frosting.
I like to use unsalted butter because it lets me control the amount of salt in the dish. Different brands of butter can contain different amounts of salt, so this way you get a more consistent result.
For a vegan or dairy-free orange rolls recipe, use a plant-based product that can substitute for dairy butter 1:1.
This recipe works best if you allow the butter to come to room temperature first. You can set it out on the counter a few hours ahead of making your recipe, or you can microwave it for 10 seconds, turn it over, and microwave it again for another 8 seconds.
Cream cheese provides a slightly tangy flavor in the icing that compliments the orange and brown sugar in the most delicious way.
The kind of cream cheese that comes in a brick will work best, but tub cream cheese (not whipped) will work in a pinch.
- Mixing bowl: A large bowl in which to make the dough.
- Electric mixer: A handheld or stand mixer, or you can make everything by hand if you have strong arms.
- Microplane: To grate off the orange zest.
- Citrus reamer: Gets the juice out of the orange.
- Plastic wrap: Covers things as they rise, so they don’t get dried out.
- Rolling pin: To roll the dough out into a big sheet.
- Knife: I use my pastry scraper to cut the rolls.
- Baking dish: A 9×13 stoneware or glass pan in which to bake the rolls.
- Silicone spatula: Helps to get every last bit from the bowl!
How to make this orange roll recipe
There are several steps to making this recipe, but if you take them one at a time you should have no problem! While making sweet rolls can be a little time-consuming, it’s mostly downtime and the steps are easy.
Step 1: Dissolve the yeast
Place the granulated sugar in a large bowl, pour in warm water, and sprinkle the yeast on top.
After about 5 to 10 minutes, the yeast should dissolve and look kinda foamy.
Step 2: Add liquid ingredients
Next, stir in the orange juice, oil, egg, and salt. The mixture will be very thin and runny.
Step 3: Work in the flour
Start stirring in the flour, about a cup or so at a time.
Once all the flour has gone in, your dough should look like this:
Step 4: Knead
This step is really important to the texture of the rolls. You want to give this dough a really good knead, to work the glutens and create that satisfying, elastic texture.
You can do this step by hand or allow your stand mixer to do the work for you.
Here’s how my dough looked after 8 minutes of kneading:
Can you see the difference? It’s much smoother.
Step 5: Rest
Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl down with a silicone spatula, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
It needs to rest in a warm place for about an hour.
Because this dough is enriched with egg and oil, it won’t rise a ton. But it should get quite a bit bigger and full of air bubbles.
Step 6: Fill
Punch the air out of the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Then roll it out to the biggest rectangle you can manage.
It doesn’t really matter what the dimensions are. It will fit in the dish regardless. What really counts is how thin you make it.
The thinner the dough, the more surface area on which to spread your yummy filling. And the tighter that spiral will be, which is nice.
Spread soft butter all over, then top it with an even layer of brown sugar.
Then sprinkle generously with orange zest.
Step 7: Shape
Starting on one of the longer sides of the rectangle, roll the dough around the filling, creating a long, tight log.
Then mark the dough first at the halfway point, then into quarters, and then each quarter into thirds. This is an easy way to get a dozen consistently-sized buns out of your log.
Cut through the log at your marks and place each roll (cut side up) in the baking dish.
Step 7: Let rise
Cover the dish lightly and allow the rolls to rise a second time.
After about an hour, they should look like this:
Step 7: Bake & ice
Slide the sweet rolls into a hot oven and allow them to bake until puffy and slightly golden.
Then slather them with a mixture of butter, cream cheese, orange juice, and powdered sugar.
How to serve orange rolls
Allow the rolls to cool for about 30 minutes before serving. The icing will melt down all gooey into the crevices, and the bread will be fluffy and moist.
These are fantastic for breakfast, brunch, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. I especially love them with a hot cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
Use fresh oranges: Most of the orange flavor in this recipe comes from the zest, and you can really only get that with fresh oranges! I’ve used navel oranges but feel free to use another variety if you like. Mandarins, clementines, blood oranges, or satsumas would also be fantastic!
Knead well: When it comes to bread, kneading can make such a difference! Under-kneaded bread is often dry and crumbly, whereas a good, long knead gives it that satisfying elastic texture we all crave. Set a timer, and knead your dough for at least 8 to 10 full minutes.
Cut with floss: Unflavored dental floss works really well for cutting the rolls without flattening them. Just slide a length of floss under the log, draw up the ends, cross them, and pull from each side until cut through.
Overnight orange rolls: Breaking up the prep over the course of a couple of days makes this recipe even more approachable. Once the rolls are shaped, cover them with plastic wrap and stash them in the fridge. They can chill there for up to 48 hours. When you’re ready to bake them, first allow them to come to room temp and puff up. Then continue with the recipe instructions from there.
Don’t over-bake: If you bake your rolls too long, they could come out dry. The bake time given in the recipe card is just a guideline. Every oven is different, so rather than rely on that, turn on your oven light and start checking about 5 or 10 minutes before you expect the rolls to be done. When you see them starting to go golden brown, they’re done. Keep in mind they’ll continue to firm up as they cool.
Frequently asked questions
There are a number of reasons why yeast dough could fail to rise.
1) The expiration date on the yeast has passed and it’s no longer viable.
2) The water was too hot and it killed the yeast.
3) The conditions weren’t right. Yeast multiplies, eats and burps out air bubbles when it’s happy, and it’s happiest when it’s warm. Put the dough in the oven on the proof setting, or if you don’t have that just turn on the oven light for gentle warmth. Or, place it on a sunny windowsill.
You can replace the orange here with any type of citrus.
Think about using lemon, grapefruit, lime, or any other kind of citrus fruit you may have on hand!
You can also add spices to the filling such as cinnamon, cardamom, ground ginger, or cloves.
Orange rolls can sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours, but after that they should go into the fridge. They should keep there (covered) for around a week.
Or you can stash them in the freezer. Baked orange rolls will last in the freezer for a couple of months. Thaw them in the fridge and reheat them in the microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds, or (covered) in a 170-degree oven until heated through.
You can also freeze the rolls before baking. If you go this route, it’s a good idea to use a foil pan so your nice baking dish isn’t tied up in the freezer. The dough will last for about 2 weeks in the freezer before the yeast dies.
The serving size here is 1 roll.
The nutritional info in the recipe card below reflects a serving size of 1 roll, or 1/12th the whole batch.
A few more of my favorite breakfast recipes
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For the rolls
- 1/3 cup (66.67 g) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (177.44 g) warm water
- 1/4 ounce (7.09 g) dry active yeast, (1 packet or approx. 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup (62 g) orange juice
- 1/4 cup (56 g) oil
- 1 (44 g) egg, large
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
- 4 1/2 cups (562.5 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (56.75 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (220 g) light brown sugar, (loosely packed)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (9 g) orange zest, approx. (the zest of one orange)
For the icing
- 1/4 cup (56.75 g) unsalted butter
- 4 ounces (113.4 g) cream cheese
- 2 teaspoons (14 g) orange juice
- 1 1/4 cups (150 g) powdered sugar
To make the rolls
- Place the sugar and water in a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top, and allow it to dissolve and foam up (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- When the yeast has dissolved and looks foamy, stir in the orange juice, oil, egg, and salt.
- Stir in the flour, and knead the dough for a full 5 to 10 minutes.
- Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
- Punch the air out and place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
- Roll the dough out into a very large rectangle (about 1/8-inch thick), and spread soft butter all over the surface.
- Top the butter with an even layer of brown sugar, then sprinkle with orange zest.
- Starting at one of the longer sides of the rectangle, roll the dough into a tight log, then cut into 12 equal rolls and place them in a baking dish.
- Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.*
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake the rolls until puffed and golden (approx. 25 to 35 minutes).
- While still warm, top the orange rolls with cream cheese icing.
- Cool for about 30 minutes before serving.
To make the icing
- Beat the butter, cream cheese, and orange juice together until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar, and beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy.