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Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls [Soft + Gooey]

April 10, 2023
Shanika | Orchids + Sweet Tea
These Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls are fluffy as a cloud and melt in your mouth with every bite.

Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls [Soft + Gooey]

These Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls are the perfect addition to your baking list. Fluffy cloud-like cinnamon rolls meet the classic deliciously Southern spiced carrot cake, a match made in oven-heaven. They are most certainly not your traditional cinnamon rolls and the bold carrot cake flavor won't disappoint.

Super fluffy, thick, sweetly filled with tender shreds of carrot, infused pineapple and citrus flavors, warm spices, and topped with a light citrus cream cheese glaze; these dreamy cinnamon rolls will have you feeling like you've cut into a nice, moist slice of carrot cake with a rolly textured twist. Overnight, Vegan, + Gluten-free options available.

Fork grabbing a piece of a Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links via Amazon for products that I wholeheartedly love.

If you've followed Orchards + Sweet Tea for a while you will know I LOVE cinnamon rolls (especially these Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls) and cannot resist them. While I do enjoy the traditional recipe, I always enjoy taking things a bit further, especially when it comes to the festive season. It's all about eating these cinnamon rolls for breakfast or brunch. Trust me, there won't be a moment of disappointment.

And I KNOW! You might be thinking that aren't cinnamon rolls too dessert-like for breakfast, BUT I say no. You can totally eat something light for breakfast as the first thing in the morning and then enjoy a roll as an additional touch. Haha. Plus, it you're a fan of these cinnamon rolls then you're sure to thoroughly enjoy these Homemade Classic Cinnamon Rolls and Banana Bread Cinnamon Rolls! Need some food inspiration? Look no further than our lineup of 21 Soul-Satisfying Southern Comfort Food Recipes.

Trust me, once you taste just one of these rolls, you'll be so glad that you did! They're so brioche-like, soft, fluffy, and tender. Ugh---just glorious. While they do take a little time to perfect (especially the rising phase), I just love the finishing of these thick, tender rolls! Oh and I do have a secret ingredient to mine------bread flour! Yup. I love the brioche-like, fluffiness of using bread flour, so it's become my new cinnamon roll ingredient staple. That's my secret!

Ingredients for Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

Here's what you need for the fluffy Southern-Style Carrot Cake brioche-style dough:

  • All-purpose flour. I use organic flour from Bob's Red Mill.
  • Bread flour. You can find this from King Author or Bob's Red Mill.
  • Milk. You can totally use regular milk or plant-based milk. Choose unsweetened. Feel free to use a different plant-based milk if you like. I recommend making easy homemade almond milk (my recipe doesn’t require soaking!)
  • Carrots. I always use organic carrots. You'll need about 3-4 medium carrots for about 2 cups of grated carrots.
  • Brown sugar. I like to use organic to ensure that it's vegan-friendly. This adds nice color and caramelization to the flavor of the rolls. You could also use cane sugar or coconut sugar.
  • Eggs. You'll need them to be at room temp.
  • Pineapple juice. This gives these rolls a nice Southern Carrot Cake feel minus the actual pineapple chunks. Plus, it totally enhances the carrot flavor.
  • Orange zest. Again, I love adding citrus flavors with carrot cake to add a nice bold touch to things!
  • Maple syrup. The best sweetener that I enjoy using. I like to use pure maple syrup that’s premium and organic.
  • Ground spices. In this recipe, I use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves, and ground ginger.
  • Instant yeast. Also called Rapid Rise Yeast.
  • Butter. Use warm, melted unsalted butter.
  • WARM water. This is important to help activate the yeast at the beginning.
  • Vanilla extract. The pure vanilla is the best flavor.

Cinnamon Roll Filling

Here's what you need to make the spiced filling for your cinnamon rolls:

  • Brown sugar. Ensure that it's organic so that it's vegan-friendly.
  • Butter. Again, unsalted butter. Soften the butter to room temperature for an easy spread.
  • Cinnamon + nutmeg. Adds additional warm flavor to rolls.

Citrus Cream Cheese Glaze

Top your cinnamon rolls with a delicious citrus-infused glaze made with:

  • Powdered sugar. If you use granulated sugar, your frosting will have a gritty texture, so I highly recommend organic powdered sugar.
  • Cream cheese. Soften the butter to room temperature for an easy whip together for the glaze.
  • Orange juice. You'll only need ½ of an orange for a fresh squeeze.
  • Vanilla extract. The pure vanilla is the best flavor.
  • Pinch of cinnamon.
  • Milk. You can use heavy cream, regular, or plant-based milk to add a bit of moisture to create a velvety glaze.

Closeup of Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

Sweet Rolls or Cinnamon buns?

No matter what you call them—cinnamon buns, cinnamon rolls, sweet rolls, sticky buns, sticky rolls, cinnamon swirl, cinnamon danish—everyone has a favorite. I've never met someone who didn't like them.

A cinnamon bun or sweet roll is a sweeter, fluffier bread dough with a filling, usually cinnamon-based, in the middle. They are usually served around the holidays. When the filling is cooked, it makes an iconic swirl of deliciousness.

Why You'll Love These Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are an American pastry staple. Many breakfast restaurants and diners across the country make them, and they make them BIG! It's funny how cinnamon rolls are associated with breakfast when they are as sweet as a dessert, but they work for either meal. Or both meals! They are also a perfect kid-friendly lunchbox-friendly treat!

I've always had a fascination and love for cinnamon rolls. You can roll up pretty much anything into a fluffy homemade dough and it would be delicious, hence why I have so many types of cinnamon rolls on my site!

Ingredients for Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls including pineapple chunks, yeast, eggs, and vanilla extract

These Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls are Soft + Gooey...

This recipe is for Southern-style cinnamon rolls that you can really sink your teeth into. I definitely wanted you to feel like your were eating a classic slice of Southern Carrot cake, therefore, I chose to highlight flavors like pineapple, heavy spices, nuttiness, and of course, bold carrot flavor.

The glaze is super simple and ties everything together, especially with the citrus notes. You really can't go wrong! We have options for our plant-based friends that want to enjoy all the goodness without the dairy too! Enjoy Vegan + Gluten-Free + Dairy-free options that meet everyone's dietary needs while remaining just as delicious as the classic version.

Shredded carrots in a wooden bowl

Anyway, this Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll recipe is the perfect sweet treat for fall and the festive season and especially if you LOVE Carrot Cake as much as I do.

With these cinnamon rolls, I wanted to convey the FULL idea of eating Carrot Cake, therefore, I added a ton of carrots to the dough, added chopped pecans in between each roll and spices, as well as created a nice cream cheese glaze for the tops of each roll.

Together, everything felt like the closest thing to a good slice of carrot cake. Now thinking things through, I've realized that I could have added some raisins and maybe even some walnuts to the dough to bring my idea completely to life, but that's the best thing about this recipe its adaptable so feel free o make it your own.

Moving on to the actual recipe, the bake time was a short 35-40 minutes, but the longest time was in the prep, due to the dough rising a few times.

Once the prep stage is over, you'll go through the remainder of this recipe in a breeze.

Melted butter in a pan

Grating The Carrots Is Key!

Using freshly grated carrots is super important and really makes this recipe, the rolls will come out extra moist and sweet with the tender carrots. I recommend grating your carrots extra finely as its ALOT easier to incorporate them into the dough.

You can use a regular old cheese grated on the finer setting or if you're feeling a little lazy (Trust me I get it..Haha) then pop the carrots into your food processor some food processors even have a grater attachment. But no worries if you don't have one the old-school cheese grater does the trick and will earn you some muscles...

What You'll Love About these Rolls.

OK, so if you’re still not entirely sold on these Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls, then let me tell you what’s so AMAZING about them.

  • They are SOFT, FLUFFY, + BRIOCHE-LIKE in texture
  • Carrot cake in the form of fluffy hypnotic swirls
  • Absolutely DELICIOUS
  • Full of warming cozy fall spices
  • Kid-friendly
  • Fun to eat! Pillow-y spirals of buttery dough filled!

Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll dough in a bowl

How to Toast the Chopped Pecans + Walnuts

To toast pecans + walnuts is super easy and it works for any type of nuts! Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the chopped nuts unto the baking sheet, ensuring that they are evenly spread out and toast them for 10 minutes, tossing them halfway to prevent browning on just one side.

Hands and rolling pin rolling out Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll dough

The SECRET to My Fluffy Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls!

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I love adding Bob’s Red Mill Organic Bread Flour to my carrot cake cinnamon rolls as a secret ingredient because it creates such fluffy rolls.

This bread flour is made with premium high-protein flour milled from America’s highest quality wheat. While using all-purpose flour can achieve soft cinnamon rolls, there’s just something special about the rolls when this type of flour mixes in. I don’t know how to explain it, but mixing in this bread type allows for the rolls to be thicker, airy, fluffy, soft, and just GOOD!

Knife spreading butter on flattened dough

RAPID (INSTANT) RISE YEAST VS. ACTIVE DRY YEAST

If you’re not using the Rapid Rise Yeast for this recipe, please know that the rise time will be twice as long (about 3 hours) since regular Active Yeast doesn’t work as quickly.

Uncooked Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls in a pan

Tips and Tricks for Making The PERFECT Cinnamon Rolls

Due to many delicious attempts at perfecting this recipe, I have come across some very helpful tips that will ensure a perfectly baked cinnamon roll, especially these Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls:

NEVER OVERHEAT THE MILK!

It is so important that your milk is warm, but NOT hot! It should be warm to the touch. If you find that your milk has overheated, allow it to cool before adding the yeast. Milk that is too hot will kill the yeast and you won't get the big, fluffy rise in the dough. We want these rolls super fluffy, and that's only possible when the yeast is bloomed properly.

 USE VERY SOFT BUTTER AT ROOM TEMPERATURE

Like in most baking, room temperature ingredients mix better than cold ingredients. However, in the case of cinnamon rolls, I like to use very soft butter for the filling instead of melted butter, because I find that it creates a tender center and allows for a nice texture.

DO NOT WORRY ABOUT OVER-MIXING

I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. With cakes and cookies, you never want to overwork a dough because working develops the gluten in the flour. Gluten development leads to a chewy, unpleasant texture in cakes and cookies, making them dense and heavy. Because cinnamon rolls use a yeast dough, it is required to develop the gluten in the dough. The yeast brings elasticity that lightens and fluffs the dough, much like bread dough. When making these rolls, keep on mixing even after you think you've mixed enough!

RISE THE DOUGH OVERNIGHT

While I developed this recipe as a quick-bake cinnamon roll, more flavor develops in the dough if you allow it to rise overnight. The dough has more time to rise, leading to a more developed, yeast-bread flavor. This yeast flavor is a perfect pairing with the sweet filling and frosting.

Knife spreading frosting on Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

USE A BREAD FLOUR MIX

After much trial and tribulation, I have found that a mix of bread flour and all-purpose flour is the perfect combination for cinnamon rolls. The bread flour gives a tender, thick, brioche-like texture that I think is perfect for this dish.

ROLL THEM UP TIGHT!

A loose roll will fall apart upon slicing and bake unevenly. Instead, begin with a very tight roll and keep that momentum throughout the roll. The dough is sturdy and can handle being rolled tightly due to its elasticity.

Pan of Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls with a roll missing

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls Q + A's

Why Won't My Cinnamon Rolls Rise?

Basically, the main reason why your rolls aren't rising is because the yeast didn't fully activate as it should. All in all, your ingredients were TOO HOT or TOO COLD for the yeast to create a warm enough environment to do it's thing and "activate". However, when using Rapid-rise or quick-rise yeast, it's usually easier to maneuver since it doesn't necessarily need to be "bloomed" before using. It's not dormant as regular active dry yeast, which makes it more convenient!

Can I Make Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls Overnight?

Not only are overnight cinnamon rolls super easy and convenient to make, but they also come out to be incredibly soft and fluffy in addition to my secret ingredient! Honestly, making these cinnamon rolls fully overnight was the best decision ever!

If you don’t want to make your Cinnamon Rolls on the same day, you can simply follow all steps (including the initial 1+ hour rise) and after cutting rolls and placing them into your baking pan, just cover them tightly (using foil paper of plastic wrap) and refrigerate them overnight or for 8-12 hours instead. The following day, remove from refrigerator and keeping them covered, let cinnamon rolls rise at room temp 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Can I Make These Cinnamon Rolls Without a Long Rise?

Absolutely! When it comes to these cinnamon rolls or any for that matter, you always have the option of making them the traditional way which requires a 1-2 hours initial rise and then another 20-25 minute rise before baking OR an overnight option.

However, if you're in a rush to make these or don't want to deal with a long rise time, you can simply create your dough and do a quick rise (20-25 minutes) and placing them straight in the oven to bake. Either way, cinnamon rolls are AMAZING and worth whatever wait time you choose!

How Do I Add Moisture to these Cinnamon Rolls?

OK, so the great debate has been the idea of needing to add heavy cream or yogurt to your cinnamon rolls in order to add moisture. Now, I've seen many people top their cinnamon rolls with a few cups of heavy cream right before baking after it rises to create a soft, tender roll, BUT I've found a better trick.

Simply, make your glaze a few minutes before your rolls are out of the oven, then once you take them out, allow them to SLIGHTLY COOL for 10 minutes before topping half of your glaze atop the warm rolls. This way, it'll melt and seep through your rolls and add moisture. Then after 5-10 minutes, add the remaining glaze as your "final layer" and wallah! PERFECTLY MOIST ROLLS!

Closeup of Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls after being frosted

Can I Make These Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls Vegan + Gluten-Free?

Absolutely! If you're looking to make these GF, I recommend substituting both flours with Bob's 1:1 Baking flour and slightly reducing the amount by 1 cup, slowing adding more if the dough is too sticky.

To make these carrot cake cinnamon rolls vegan, simply omit the eggs and substitute with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Also, substitute the butter with vegan butter and omit the cream cheese and add ¼ cup of softened vegan butter instead.

How Long Can I Store Leftover Cinnamon Rolls?

Leftover Cinnamon Rolls can be kept fresh at room temperature when tightly wrapped or sealed for up to 3 days. Fresh for up to 1 week in the Refrigerator. Baked rolls (unfrosted) can be frozen up to 2 months and reheated once ready to serve.

Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll on a plate with a fork

More Delicious Cinnamon Roll Recipes You Need to Try!

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If you tried this Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls [Soft + Gooey] recipe or any other recipe on my website, please please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how you go in the 📝 comments below. I love hearing from you.

Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll on a plate with a fork

Closeup of Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls [Soft + Gooey]

April 10, 2023
5 from 4 votes
These Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls are fluffy as a cloud and melt in your mouth with every bite.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: 12 servings

Ingredients

DOUGH:

  • 2 cups freshly-grated organic carrots
  • 3 ¼ cups organic All-purpose flour (See Notes!)
  • 2 cups Artisan Bread flour
  • cup organic brown sugar + 1 Tbsp
  • 1 packet Rapid Rise Yeast (That's 2 ¼ tsps!)
  • ¼ cup WARM water (See Notes!)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • teaspoon ground ginger
  • teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs, room temp.
  • 1 cup Almond milk, room temp.  (You can also use regular dairy milk or your fave plant-based milk, if preferred!)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup organic pineapple juice (I like to use the juice from canned pineapple)
  • 6 Tbsps unsalted butter, melted + cooled until warm (Make sure that it's WARM, not hot!)
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract

FILLING:

  • ½ cup organic brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

CITRUS CREAM CHEESE GLAZE:

  • 4 oz. organic cream cheese, softened at room temp. (That's ½ a pack!)
  • 4-5 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 Tbsps organic heavy cream or milk (You can also use regular dairy milk or your fave plant-based milk, if preferred!)
  • ½ orange, freshly-squeezed

GARNISH (OPTIONAL):

  • Your fave nuts, toasted (I like to use a mix of pecans + walnuts)
  • Coconut flakes
  • Grated carrots

Instructions

TO MAKE THE DOUGH:

  • Combine yeast and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and slowly pour in warm water while stirring frequently. Allow 5-10 minutes for the mixture to sit and for the yeast to activate and become "foamy".
  • Add in the room temperature milk and warm melted butter to the yeast mixture and whisk until well combined. Add in the eggs (one at a time), maple syrup, grated carrots, pineapple juice, and vanilla, whisking to incorporate.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, bread flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, orange zest, and sea salt and add them to the wet ingredients and mix on low-speed until well combined and everything begins to form into a dough-like consistency, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Change “Mixer head” to kneading accessory and knead dough for 5-10 minutes on high speed until dough ball becomes smooth and elastic and dough springs back when lightly pressed together with 2 fingers. NOTE: If dough is still too sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until texture is achieved!
  • Lightly grease a large bowl with a small amount of olive oil and place the dough ball in the bowl, tossing it around until coated. Cover with plastic wrap (or a towel) and let sit for 1 hour, allowing the dough to rise and double in size. 
  • In the meantime, you can work on the filling!

FOR THE FILLING:

  • Add the softened the butter (best if done at room temp. so that it's more "paste-like" in texture once smeared) in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar, mixing them together. Set aside.

ASSEMBLY + BAKE:

  • Once the dough has risen fully, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper, allowing excess to hang from the sides.
  • Add a bit of flour to a surface and place the dough onto it, lightly adding a bit of flour to the top. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough into a rectangular shape (approximately 9″x14 and ½-inch thick), trimming the edges if needed. NOTE: Try not to make the dough too thin or else rolling it up will be hard to do!
  • Then, generously add ¾ of the softened butter atop dough (spreading it out evenly with a spoon or knife), followed by the brown sugar-spice mixture, ensuring that the top is coated evenly. NOTE: I also use a 'pastry brush' to sweep sugar mixture evenly across the dough to ensure that every bite is sweet!
  • Tightly roll dough (long-ways) and using a pastry cutter, cut dough into 1.5" rolls, placing each roll (cut side down) into a large baking dish (lined with parchment paper!).
  • Then place plastic wrap over the baking dish with rolls, smear the tops with remaining softened butter and let them rise again (for another 20 minutes).
  • Once the rolls have doubled in size (once again!) or have gotten significantly larger, bake them for approximately 35-40 minutes in the preheated oven.
  • While all the baking magic is happening, make the Cream Cheese Glaze.

FOR THE CITRUS CREAM CHEESE GLAZE:

  • In a large bowl, beat (using a hand-mixer) the softened cream cheese until creamy and smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, orange juice, cinnamon, orange juice, and heavy cream/milk, beating everything together until the glaze becomes smooth and velvety. NOTE: Add additional heavy cream (1 tablespoon at a time) if the glaze is too thick or powdered sugar (1 tablespoon at a time) if too thin.
  • Remove the rolls from oven and wait 10 minutes before spreading HALF of the glaze atop the rolls using a rubber spatula. This adds moisture to your rolls. Then after another 5 minutes, add the REMAINING glaze atop the rolls as a "final layer", evenly spreading it until fully covered. Top with toasted pecans, coconut flakes, and/or grated carrots, if desired.
  • To serve, cut out each roll desired and enjoy.
  • Bon Appetit!

Tips & Tricks

  • TO STORE: Cinnamon Rolls can be kept fresh at room temperature when tightly wrapped or sealed for up to 3 days. Fresh for up to 1 week in the Refrigerator. Baked rolls can be frozen up to 2 months.
  • RAPID (INSTANT) RISE YEAST VS. ACTIVE DRY YEAST: If you’re not using the Rapid Rise Yeast for this recipe, please know that the rise time will be twice as long (about 3 hours) since regular Active Yeast doesn’t work as quickly.
  • FLOUR: If you don’t have bread flour, you can always just use all-purpose flour entirely instead. 
  • GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: If you're looking to make these GF, I recommend substituting both flours with Bob's 1:1 Baking flour and slightly reducing the amount by 1 cup, slowing adding more if the dough is too sticky. 
  • OVERNIGHT OPTION: If you don’t want to make your Cinnamon Rolls on the same day, you can simply follow all steps (including the initial 1+ hour rise) and after cutting rolls and placing them into your baking pan, just cover them tightly (using foil paper of plastic wrap) and refrigerate them overnight or for 8-12 hours instead. The following day, remove from refrigerator and keeping them covered, let cinnamon rolls rise at room temp 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  • VEGAN OPTION: To make these carrot cake cinnamon rolls vegan, simply omit the eggs and substitute with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Also, substitute the butter with vegan butter and omit the cream cheese and add ¼ cup of softened vegan butter instead. 

Nutrition

Calories: 438kcal | Carbohydrates: 107g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 68mg | Sodium: 225mg | Potassium: 229mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 4041IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 110mg | Iron: 2mg

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Southern-Style Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls [Soft + Gooey].

Script text: Xx, Shanika

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  1. This is a good recipe! I’ll be making it again since it combines my two favorite desserts.

    I have a few suggestions and alterations: after heating the milk and butter, no other mention of that piece is made. I added it when I added the yeast to the dry ingredients. Then, to make these instructions more accessible, I recommend including kneading instructions if you don’t have a mixer (I don’t, so I kneaded the dough lightly for about 8 minutes). Lastly, my dough rolled out to closer to 16x24 inches, so I recommend almost doubling the filling.

    • Hi Renren! I'm so glad that you enjoyed these! It's one of my favorites! I truly appreciate your recommendations---I'll definitely make tweaks to the recipe to cover those points! 🙂