These Orange Cinnamon Rolls mix up with ease and are so delicious for breakfast, brunch, snack or dessert. The orange zest and vanilla extract give the rolls a Creamsicle-type boost.
I’m not sure I could be more smitten with this easy cinnamon roll recipe than I already am. When I was a child I considered homemade cinnamon rolls an elusive thing. After all, my mom just made them from one of those magically sealed cans that you whacked on the side of the counter to open.
On the other end of the spectrum, my Aunt Sandy worked in a small town cafe in South Dakota where she baked rolls as big as a child’s head. They were ginormous.
Turns out homemade sweet rolls are not difficult to make. In fact, they are super easy. And delicious. And amazing, especially if you add an orange!
What are Orange Cinnamon Rolls or Orange Rolls?
To my knowledge, Orange Rolls were first popularized by the Pillsbury company in the 1970s. At least that’s when I remember eating them.
These Orange Cinnamon Rolls are a combination of two of my childhood loves: the sweet orangy flavor of the canned orange sweet rolls that are made with every number of red, yellow, and blue dyes AND the ginormous, homemade cinnamon rolls that Aunt Sandy used to make.
Cinnamon rolls are good any time of day, but they are particularly welcome at breakfast alongside your regular eggs, bacon, and coffee. They are delicious as a sweet treat on their own with a hot cuppa, in the morning, at coffee break, or in the afternoon.
These Orange Rolls are great served with brunch or at a festive breakfast.
I have a feeling that you and your family will love these Orange Cinnamon Rolls. Feel free to omit orange or cinnamon for a different flavor roll. I’ve also got these other cinnamon roll recipes for you to choose from:
These Orange Cinnamon Rolls are a perfect weekend treat, especially so since they call for regular baking staples, including:
yeast – You’ll want live, active yeast. I like to get a big brick of SAF Yeast from Costco. I store some in a small jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. You can use a packet of yeast if that’s what you normally buy.
butter – This recipe calls for butter which I love for the flavor, but you can use margarine or a plant-based butter if you prefer. You’ll need one stick for the dough and a second for the filling.
milk – I use dairy milk, the higher the fat, the richer the dough. You can use a plant-based milk as well.
eggs – Two large eggs add texture to the dough. You don’t really want to omit them. That said, I’ve made rolls without eggs. The dough won’t be as tender without them.
sugar – You’ll need granulated sugar in the dough, brown sugar in the filling, and powdered sugar in the glaze. If you run out, remember you can make your own brown sugar as well as you can make powdered sugar.
salt – Please don’t forget the salt in this dough. It makes a huge difference to the texture and flavor of the dough.
orange zest and orange juice – I use fresh, but you can use dried zest and bottled juice. Fresh is best, though. You can also substitute lime, lemon, or grapefruit if you prefer.
cinnamon – They won’t be cinnamon rolls without the cinnamon, however, you can also use pumpkin or apple pie spice, as well as a combination of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Plain ground cinnamon is classic, though.
Don’t be intimidated by the process of making yeast dough. It’s not as difficult as you fear. That said, if you’re a beginner, you might want to first try making a dough recipe in a bread machine and perfect your shaping skills. Then move on to making dough by hand.
If you choose to do that with this recipe, move the slider on the recipe card to make a smaller batch of dough, as this recipe won’t fit in a bread machine.
Making the dough
In a mixing bowl, place the warm water and yeast. Allow this to sit for five minutes to “proof”. The yeast will bubble and foam.
Add the other ingredients and stir. If you’re making the dough by hand, just use a wooden spatula until a shaggy dough forms. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the dough hook.
If you’re making the dough by hand, you’ll have to transfer that shaggy dough to a floured work surface and knead it a few times until it becomes smooth.
Once you’ve got a smooth dough, you’ll let it rise for about an hour or until doubled in bulk.
Shaping the rolls
At that point, flour your work surface, soften some butter, and mix up some brown sugar and cinnamon. Get the rolling pin, your baking sheet, and your unflavored dental floss. Yes, really.
Roll out the dough into a very large rectangle. Mine covered my cutting board and measured about 16×22-inches. Spread the softened butter all over the dough, leaving a one inch border on one of the long sides. Next spread the cinnamon-sugar mixture all over.
Starting on a long side, roll up the dough into a spiral; pinch the outer edge into the roll to seal.
Thanks to a brilliant tip from my friend Amy, I use unflavored dental floss to cut the rolls. This helps them retain their circle shape and prevents the rolls from squashing flat. I store the dental floss in a kitchen drawer just for this purpose.
Because I like to make each roll ginormous and about the same size as the others, I cut off the uneven ends and bake those separately. Then I cut the main section into twelve thick chunks.
Place the rolls evenly on a greased or lined baking baking sheet and let them rise for about 30 minutes. When they are done rising, they may look pretty puffy. This is good.
Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden.
Glazing the rolls
Meanwhile, you can prepare the glaze. Combine the powdered sugar, orange juice, and orange zest in a small bowl. I’ve found that a wooden spoon helps work out any lumps in the sugar. I have no idea why this works, but it does.
Once the rolls are baked, cool them on a rack but glaze them while they’re still a bit warm.
I’ve learned that some people like lots of glaze and others like a little. To please the masses, I often leave a bowl of icing next to the pan of baked rolls so that each person can do the glazing himself.
Freezing cinnamon rolls is best done prior to baking. Prepare the rolls but instead of letting the sliced rolls rise, place the tray of rolls in the freezer. Once they are frozen firm, remove them from the tray and bag them in a labeled, ziptop freezer bag and immediately stash the bag in the freezer.
To serve: remove as many rolls from the bag as you wish to bake and place them on a greased or lined baking sheet. Allow the rolls to thaw and rise until doubled in bulk. Then proceed with the baking instructions.
You can also freeze leftover baked rolls, however their texture is not as fluffy and luscious as freshly baked.
Knowing how much it costs you to prepare a recipe can help you decide if it’s the type of recipe to make regularly or one you might want to save for special occasions. Let’s crunch some numbers and see how this recipe pencils out.
- yeast – $0.50
- milk – $0.25
- butter – $1.99
- eggs – $0.30
- granulated sugar – $0.08
- salt – $0.01
- flour – $1.54
- orange – $0.50
- vanilla extract – $0.25
- brown sugar – $0.27
- cinnamon – $0.10
- powdered sugar – $0.12
Shopped at a mid-range grocery store at non-sale prices, the ingredients for this recipe for a dozen jumbo orange cinnamon rolls costs $5.91 or $0.49 each!
By contrast, canned, large cinnamon rolls at the same store cost $4.99 for five or $1.00 each. A baked cinnamon roll from Cinnabon will run you $6.49 for one! Clearly, homemade is the way to go.
How to save even more
There are ways to get the price of this recipe down even further:
Buy in bulk – Buying yeast and flour in bulk will reduce the cost of both these ingredients.
Shop the sales – Picking up butter, eggs, and oranges on sale will also bring down the cost.
Make your own – Making your own vanilla extract will help you save on many of your baking recipes.
This recipe really couldn’t be easier than it is, but having the right kitchen tools can really make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable. Over time, I’ve honed my collection so that they are perfect for my needs.
- stainless steel mixing bowls or stand mixer, depending on what method you’re going to use to make the dough
- glass measuring cup – good for measuring liquids
- dough scraper – scrape everything down well so as not to waste anything; also great for getting all the dough out of the bowl
- large plastic cutting board – for rolling out dough if you don’t have a built-in smooth surface
- unflavored dental floss – best for slicing rolls without squashing them
- sheet pans – I LOVE my set of steel sheet pans. They make such a difference in baking and meal prep.
- parchment paper – makes for easy cleanup
Orange Cinnamon Rolls
- 1/2 cup water , warmed
- 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cup milk , warmed
- 1/2 cup butter melted
- 2 egg beaten
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 7 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 orange juiced and zested
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup butter softened
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cup powdered sugar
To make the dough in a stand mixer:
- In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, place the water and the yeast. Stir to combine. Allow the yeast to proof for five minutes. It will start to foam and bubble.
- Add the milk, 1/2 cup melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and the flour to the bowl. Mix with the dough hook until the dough clears the sides of the pan and forms an elastic dough ball. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice.
To make the dough by hand:
- In a large mixing bowl, place the water and the yeast. Stir to combine. Allow the yeast to proof for five minutes. It will start to foam and bubble.
- Add the milk, 1/2 cup melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and the flour to the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for several minutes until a smooth dough forms.
Once the dough ball is formed:
- Place the dough in a greased bowl and allow it to rest in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
When the dough is ready:
- Lightly flour a large work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 16×22 inches. Spread the softened butter all over the dough, leaving a one inch border on one of the long sides. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread the cinnamon-sugar mixture all over the butter.
- Starting at a long edge, roll the dough into a tight spiral. Seal the outer edge by pinching it into the roll.
- Using unflavored dental floss or a sharp knife, cut off the uneven ends and bake those separately. Cut the main section into twelve thick chunks.
- Grease a large sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Place the rolls evenly in the pan. Let them rise for about 30 minutes.
- About ten minutes into the rise time, preheat the oven to 350°. After this second rise, bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.
- Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Combine the powdered sugar with 1 teaspoon orange zest and 2 tablespoons orange juice.
- When the rolls are done baking, place the pan on a rack to cool. Apply the glaze when the rolls are still warm.
This post was originally published on April 26, 2015. It has been updated for content and clarity.