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Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

These carrot cake cinnamon rolls are soft, pillowy and filled with warm spices and fresh grated carrot. I honestly can’t imagine a better springtime breakfast.

carrot cake cinnamon rolls

I love carrot cake. The sweetness of the carrots, the warm blend of spices and the tang of cream cheese. So why wouldn’t we want to bring the flavor of carrot cake into another objectively excellent baked good: pillowy on the outside, gooey on the inside cinnamon rolls?

These carrot cake cinnamon rolls take my favorite classic cinnamon roll recipe and add fresh grated carrot to the dough and all the go-to carrot cake spices to the filling. They’re topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting and a cute as heck carrot made from carrot puree and your leftover carrot tops.

This is the first spring I’ve made these carrot cake cinnamon rolls, and they are already a springtime breakfast favorite and an Easter morning non-negotiable. And I’m thinking of hosting a spring brunch party to have just another excuse to make these carrot cake cinnamon rolls – they’re that delicious and fun.

Get ready for the BEST carrot cake cinnamon rolls.

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

What makes these cinnamon rolls so great

Sometimes cinnamon rolls are too bready or have barely any filling. That’s not the case here. These cinnamon rolls are fluffy without being bready and have the perfect filling to dough ratio.

The cinnamon rolls are adapted from a traditional cinnamon roll recipe by King Arthur Flour. The recipe earned King Arthur’s 2021 Recipe of the Year and has 4.8 stars on more than 750 reviews. Needless to say it’s one of the best cinnamon rolls recipes out there. Starting from this awesome recipe as a base, you know these rolls are going to be a crowd pleaser.

These carrot cake cinnamon rolls also stay soft for DAYS. You know how a day two cinnamon roll tastes dry and disappointing? These rolls could never. They use a Japanese technique called tangzhong, which is where you heat a portion of the flour and milk from the recipe on the stovetop until they form a paste, kind of like a roux. The tangzhong helps the rolls retain water while baking, keeping the rolls soft for up to a week (!!!). Although they never last that long in my house.

Lastly, what makes these carrot cake cinnamon rolls so great is the cream cheese frosting on top. Sometimes cream cheese frosting is too sugary and doesn’t taste enough like, well, cream cheese. This cream cheese frosting is for the people who love cream cheese frosting. It’s tangy and not too sugary – the perfect balance for sweet and soft cinnamon rolls. But if you like your frosting a little sweeter, you can certainly add more powdered sugar.

I’m a bit nervous to make cinnamon rolls, isn’t it hard?

Cinnamon rolls are one of the most empowering baked goods to make at home. If you’ve never made a recipe with yeast before, this is a great one to start with. The two skills that are important when going from making non-yeasted recipes (like cookies), to a yeasted recipe is understanding how to knead and having patience while the dough rises.

If you’ve ever seen movies or videos of bakers kneading dough, that’s the type of kneading method you’re using here. You want to press the heel of your hand into the dough, fold the dough over in half, rotate the dough a quarter turn, and press the heel of your hand in again. This is an old but great video showing kneading if you want to take a look. Alternately, if you have a stand mixer, you can use the dough hook attachment instead of kneading by hand.

One of the most important steps in carrot cake cinnamon rolls

When I was developing this recipe, I scoured the internet for existing carrot cake cinnamon roll recipes (there aren’t a ton) to see what common issues home bakers had in the comments. The number one problem is that carrots have a LOT of moisture, so they can make the dough sticky and give the buns an almost gluey mouthfeel.

I tested this recipe a lot so that it has as much carrot as possible without compromising the soft and pillowy cinnamon roll texture. The secret is grating your carrots super fine and then squeezing out as much moisture as possible. Make sure to follow this step in the recipe closely. I’ve also adjusted the milk to flour ratio to accomodate the moisture we just can’t get out from the carrots.

What Ingredients Do I Need?

Carrot cake cinnamon rolls use all the ingredients you need for regular cinnamon rolls, plus carrots and warm spices we normally find in carrot cake.

For the Rolls

For the Filling

For the frosting

I want these cinnamon rolls for breakfast (duh!), what time should I make them?

Because these rolls stay soft for days, it’s easiest to make them the day or night before serving them. I keep the frosting in the fridge and leave the rolls on the counter covered with plastic wrap until the next morning. When I’m ready to eat, I lighlty cover the dish with foil, heat them up in a 325°F oven and top with the frosting!

Tips for the Best Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

How to store carrot cake cinnamon rolls

These carrot cake cinnamon rolls can sit out at room temperature for four days. If they’re still around after that (how?!) I’d put them in the fridge. Eat within one week of baking.

If you’re a small household, you can always freeze the rolls in a well-sealed, freezer-safe bag. Pop one or two at a time into the oven covered in foil. Top them with a half-batch of cream cheese frosting or a simple powdered sugar, milk and vanilla glaze.

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe rating: 5.0 from 3 votes
Servings

8

large rolls
Prep time

45

minutes
Baking Time

25

minutes
Total time

2

hours 

40

minutes

Dough recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

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Ingredients

  • For the Tangzhong
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

  • 2 TBS (16 grams) bread flour

  • For the Dough
  • 4-6 carrots, washed and peeled

  • 1/3 cup whole milk, cold

  • 4 TBS. unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

  • 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) bread flour

  • 2 TBS. (25 grams) granulated sugar

  • 2 tsp. instant yeast (make sure it’s instant)

  • 1 tsp. (6 grams) salt

  • For the Filling
  • 5 TBS. (71 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 3/4 cup (160 grams) light brown sugar

  • 1 TBS. cinnamon

  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger

  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves or allspice

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • For the Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3 TBS. (43 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1 heaping cup (130 grams) powdered sugar

  • 1 TBS. milk

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • For the Carrot on Top (optional)
  • 1 large, or 2 skinny carrots

  • Reserved carrot juice from making the dough

  • (alternately you can buy carrot puree in the baby food aisle)

Directions

  • First prep the carrots. This is the most time consuming step, so it’s good to get it out of the way first. Grate four medium carrots as finely as possible, either on the really small part of a box grater, or using a microplane. Using a folded over paper towels, a kitchen towel or a cheesecloth, squeeze all the liquid out of the carrots and into a cup. You want to get to 3/4 cup packed grated and dried carrots (or 95 grams). If you’re short, grate and squeeze more carrots until you get to 3/4 cup/95 grams.

    Set the grated carrots aside. Save the juice and the carrot tops for the top of the rolls.
  • Now, make the tangzhong. Add the milk and flour in a saucepan and whisk until you have an even liquid with no lumps of flour. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring continuously with a small spatula. Somewhere beween 1 and 3 minutes, the mixture is going to thicken to a paste. When that happens, remove from the burner and scrape the tangzhong into a large mixing bowl.
  • To your large bowl, add the milk and then the rest of the dough ingredients (butter, flour, sugar, yeast, salt). The heat from the tangzhong will help warm the milk.

    Mix the ingredients together using the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer, or by stirring together with a spatula. The dough may look dry at first, but it should come together. If not all the dry ingredients are coming into the dough after two minutes of mixing, add one tablespoon of milk until it does.
  • Knead the dough until it is smooth and tacky to the touch. This should take either 15 minutes by hand or 10-12 minutes on the medium-low setting of a stand mixer. If kneading by hand, lightly flour your surface.

    If your carrots were a little too wet, you may need to add more flour. If you’re kneading by hand, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time if it’s wet. If you’re using a stand mixer, you can add 1 tablespoon at a time during or at the end of the kneading process.
  • Shape the dough into a ball in the bowl and cover the bowl wth plastic wrap or a reusable cover. Let the dough rise until it’s puffy and increased in size, about 60 to 90 minutes. If you have a warmer kitchen, the dough may be proofed earlier, and if you have a cooler kitchen it may take more time.
  • When the dough is almost done proofing, make the filling by thoroughly mixing all ingredients together in a small bowl. Grease a baking dish with butter or spray or line it with parchment paper. Set aside. Make sure your butter and cream cheese are sitting out to reach room temperature in order to make the frosting.
  • While the dough is proofing, you should also make the carrot puree. Cut one large carrot or two medium-sized carrots into half-inch rounds. Put into a pot and add enough water to cover the carrots. Bring them to a boil and then reduce, simmering until the carrots are soft when you stick a fork through them, about 15 minutes. Let cool and then add the carrots, reserved carrot juice, and 2 tablespoons of the water you cooked the carrots in to a blender or food processor. Blend until you get a thick puree, adding more cooking water as needed.
  • When the dough is puffy and increased in size, spread it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 12×10-inch rectangle (30.5x 25.5 cm), with the long side as the bottom. Use a ruler for reference and try to get real rectangle corners rather than shaping it like an oval in order to get evenly shaped cinnamon rolls.
  • Sprinkle the filling evenly across the dough, leaving a one-inch gap at the top. Use a spoon or offset spatula to spread the filling into an even layer.

    Roll the dough into a log from the bottom up. Using a knife, score out your cinnamon rolls into 8 large or 10 medium-sized rolls. Then cut the rolls using a sharp knife or a serrated bread knife.
  • Evenly space the cinnamon rolls into your baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let them proof a second time until they’re puffy and the dough doesn’t spring back immediately when you gently press a finger into it. This should take 30-60 minutes.
  • When the rolls are almost done with their second proof, move a rack into the top third of your oven and preheat it to 375°F. When the rolls are ready, put them into the oven, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. They’re done when all the tops of the buns are golden brown. Keep a close eye on them.
  • While they are baking, make the frosting. Whip together the room temperature cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract.
  • Let the rolls cool slightly, and then top the warm rolls with cream cheese frosting if you’re eating immediately.
  • Form mini carrots on top of the rolls by spooning a litte bit of carrot puree on top. Use a toothpick or spoon to shape the puree into a carrot. Stick a small piece of carrot top into the top of the puree and boom, you have the cutest little carrot!

    Eat and enjoy!

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