For our winter trip during my senior year of high school, our band director signed us up to participate in a marching band field show competition hosted by a smaller town in the Santa Barbara area. For the first night, he booked us rooms at a sprawling hotel right on the coast near one of his favorite golf courses.
Before we left, he mentioned how a little family-owned bakery just a mile down the road from our hotel sold the best cinnamon rolls he had ever tasted in his life. At over sixty years old, we completely trusted his judgment, so even though we returned to the hotel close to midnight after the competition, my friends and I still set our alarms to ring bright and early on Sunday morning.
After pulling on clothes and packing our suitcases, we headed down to the beach right outside the hotel’s back steps and walked a mile south, the warm sand squishing underneath our bare feet and between our toes. When we spotted the swing set and alley that led out to the beach next to the bakery, the two landmarks our band director told us to watch for, we turned left, slipped our sandals back on, and joined the queue of people snaking out through the front door and partway down the sidewalk.
Once we entered the shop, we scanned the rows and rows of cinnamon rolls displayed in the glass cases, watching as bakers pulled oversized pans of fresh ones out of the ovens in the back to replenish the dwindling supply. Those pastries sold faster than any breakfast treats I’ve ever seen!
The menu boasted their award-winning plain and cream cheese glazed cinnamon rolls as their most popular options, but they also offered ones topped with chocolate glaze, maple glaze, coffee glaze, blueberry glaze, and even orange-flavored cinnamon rolls with orange or cream cheese glaze. So many options!
I ended up selecting a plain one with no glaze (I’m actually not a big glaze or frosting fan!), and I held the white paper bag tightly in my hand as we dashed back up the beach to load our luggage onto the buses before driving back home. When I peered inside to take my first bite, I gasped…
That cinnamon roll was almost as big as my face!
And our band director was right… It was the best cinnamon roll I had ever eaten! (Well, at least up to that point in my life!)
Warm, gooey, almost caramel-like swirls of spiced filling surrounded by light, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth dough… Supremely tender, supremely buttery, supremely sweet, and supremely satisfying!
When I stopped by the grocery store last week, I spotted cans of refrigerated cinnamon roll dough as I browsed through the dairy aisles, and as I glanced over, I noticed one set of cans prominently displayed and labeled as orange-flavored cinnamon rolls with orange icing, just like the ones at that little family-owner shop many years before. I left the store-bought cans untouched, but I headed straight for the produce section…
And after picking out a few oranges, I baked my own homemade batch instead: these Healthy Orange Cinnamon Rolls! With their mesmerizing gooey cinnamon swirls and tender citrus-flavored dough, they taste just as delicious as the ones from that small coastal bakery.
Yet unlike those original ones (and store-bought canned cinnamon rolls!), these homemade orange cinnamon rolls contain no refined flour or sugar (and no eggs either!). They’re also easier to make than you might think — I promise!
HOW TO MAKE HEALTHY ORANGE CINNAMON ROLLS
So let’s go over how to make these healthy orange cinnamon rolls!
Unlike most cinnamon roll recipes that start with milk, you’ll actually begin with freshly squeezed orange juice that you’ve warmed up a little bit. It’s nearly impossible to make orange cinnamon rolls without the fruit, right?? You’ll also mix in a teensy bit of melted butter (just 1 ½ teaspoons!), salt, and coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is exactly what it sounds like: an unrefined sweetener that comes from coconuts! However, it does not actually taste like coconuts. It has a rich caramel-like flavor, just like brown sugar, but it has the same granular pourable consistency as granulated sugar. You can usually find it right next to the granulated and brown sugar at the grocery store!
Now it’s time to sprinkle in the yeast! I swear by this particular yeast. It rises so much better than other brands that I’ve tried, and it always creates the most fluffy and tender cinnamon rolls. Because I can’t always find it in grocery stores near me, I actually buy it online here. It’s worth every single penny!
I know some people are a little intimidated by baking with yeast. Perhaps you’re one of them? But I promise it’s not hard to do! I learned how to bake with yeast as an eight-year-old. If my younger childhood self could handle it, then I know you can too!
If your orange juice mixture is warm but not hot, right around 100-110°F, then your yeast should start to turn bubbly and frothy. It should almost look like you’ve trapped a tan-colored cloud in your bowl, and that’s a good thing! That means your yeast is alive, active, and ready to make deliciously fluffy healthy orange cinnamon rolls.
Tip: I use the pinky test when making cinnamon rolls! When I dip my pinky into the orange juice mixture right before sprinkling in the yeast, it should feel like the same temperature as a hot tub: really warm but not scalding.
Once your yeast has turned bubbly (or “proofed,” if you want to use the official baking term!), then it’s time to stir in orange zest and whole wheat flour. The zest is one of the most important ingredients in these healthy orange cinnamon rolls! It adds the majority of the fruit flavor because that citrus taste is much more concentrated in the orange peel compared to the juicy fruit inside. So don’t skimp on or skip the zest!
As for the whole wheat flour, I’ve found that not all brands and varieties work equally well. This is my all-time favorite whole wheat flour for healthy cinnamon rolls. It seems to have a higher gluten content, which means your healthy orange cinnamon rolls will rise more and have a better tender, fluffy texture!
Next comes kneading! I actually knead the dough by hand. I don’t use a bread machine or the dough hook of a stand mixer! I’ve found that I get a better light and fluffy texture in these healthy orange cinnamon rolls when I knead by hand, and I also think kneading is pretty therapeutic. (That’s one of the reasons cinnamon rolls are one of my all-time favorite things to bake!)
If you watch my video here for a similar recipe, then you’ll see exactly how I knead by hand. In a nutshell, you’ll cover your hands, dough, and work surface with flour. Fold the dough in half. Push down with the palm of one hand. Rotate the dough a quarter turn or so. Fold the dough in half again, and push down with your palm again. Keep going, adding more flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands or work surface.
You’re done kneading when you can gently press your index finger into the dough and it springs back most of the way!
While you let your dough briefly rest, you can make the filling! It’s super simple: just cinnamon and more coconut sugar. This is my favorite cinnamon because it tastes stronger, richer, and sweeter. I buy it online here, and it’s really cheap and affordable!
Once you’ve rolled out the dough into a large rectangle, you’ll brush it with a teensy bit of melted butter. Just 1 ½ teaspoons again! That small amount helps keep your healthy orange cinnamon rolls low calorie and low fat, but it also creates a lovely tender texture and indulgent flavor. Yum!
After sprinkling the cinnamon sugar on top, you’ll roll up the dough and slice it into rounds. I have a special trick for slicing your healthy orange cinnamon rolls! If you’ve looked through my other cinnamon roll recipes before, then you probably know what it is…
You’ll use dental floss! Watch my video here to see exactly how I do that.
I’ve found that using a knife, even if it’s exceptionally sharp, will squash your cinnamon rolls into oblong or lopsided shapes. However, using the dental floss slices through the dough and filling quite cleanly, and it keeps the round shape of your healthy orange cinnamon rolls intact.
Such a nifty trick, right?
Now it’s time to let your cinnamon rolls rise! Yup, that’s right. Only one rise required in this recipe! Which means your healthy orange cinnamon rolls will be ready in about half the time. Definitely a good thing in my book!
To let them rise, briefly preheat your oven. (I typically turn mine on for just a couple of minutes, until it reaches around 110°F, then immediately turn it off.) Place a clean and dry towel over the top of your pan, and slide that into your warm (but not hot!) oven. Close the oven door, and set a timer. When you return…
Your healthy orange cinnamon rolls should have magically risen and grown to double their original size. Then all that’s left to do is bake!
And eat one, of course! (Or maybe two… Or three… No judgments here!) Then when you make your own, remember to snap a picture and share it on Instagram using #amyshealthybaking and tagging @amyshealthybaking IN the photo itself! (That guarantees I’ll see your picture! 🙂 ) I’d love to see your healthy orange cinnamon rolls!
Healthy Orange Cinnamon Rolls
FOR THE DOUGH
- ¾ cup (210mL) warm freshly squeezed orange juice (around 100-110°F – and about 2 extra large oranges)
- 1 tbsp (12g) coconut sugar
- ½ tbsp (7g) unsalted butter, melted
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 ¼ tsp (7g or one ¼-oz package) dry yeast (see Notes!)
- 2 ½ tbsp (18g) orange zest (about 2 extra large)
- 2 – 2 ½ cups (240-300g) whole wheat flour (see Notes!)
- Lightly coat a 9”-round pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. (See Notes!)
- To prepare the dough, stir together the orange juice, coconut sugar, butter, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top, and wait 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns frothy. Stir in the orange zest. Mix in 1 ½ cups of flour. If the dough is still wet, continue stirring in flour 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead for 3-5 minutes or until the dough springs back most of the way when you gently press your index finger into it. Let the dough rest while preparing the filling.
- To prepare the filling, stir together the coconut sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
- On a clean, well-floured surface, roll the dough out into a 16x10” rectangle. Brush with the melted butter, leaving a 1” border on the two longer sides. Sprinkle with the spiced coconut sugar, leaving a 1” border on the two longer sides again. Carefully roll up the dough into a log, starting at one long edge and rolling towards the other one. Pinch the ends to seal. If the dough won’t stick together, gently brush the second longer edge with water before pinching to seal.
- Slice the log into 12 pieces using dental floss (recommended) or a sharp serrated knife. Place the rolls into the prepared pan, and cover the pan with a clean dry towel. Set the pan in a warm, draft-free spot, and let the rolls rise for 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 17-21 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the sides feel firm. Cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before serving.
View Nutrition Information + Weight Watchers Points
You may also like Amy’s other recipes…
♡ The Ultimate Healthy Cinnamon Rolls
♡ Healthy Chai Spice Cinnamon Rolls
♡ Healthy Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls
♡ Healthy Apple Pie Spice Cinnamon Rolls
♡ Healthy Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls
♡ Healthy Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls
♡ …and the rest of Amy’s healthy cinnamon roll recipes!