Orange Glazed ‘Grownup’ Cinnamon Rolls: A Not Too Sweet Pastry

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Photo by Gaana Srinivas on Unsplash

I love a good cinnamon roll, but I do not love an overly sweet one. Yet nearly every recipe I find has at least twice as much sugar as necessary- in the dough, in the filling, and smeared over the top as icing.

The recipes that emulate famous mall brand rolls are the worst offenders, huge and dripping with a thick glop of icing. It seems the criteria for a good American pastry is how much sugar you can pack in. It doesn’t seem to occur to the food bloggers promoting these things that sugar is highly addictive and there is a business benefit in creating addictive food. Not to mention that sugar is really unhealthy. Does that mean we can’t enjoy a version with a lot less sugar without sacrificing flavor?

I set out to make what I like to think of as a grownup pastry, one that is more subtle, much like the gorgeous things you see in French patisseries. Fragrant with a hint of orange in the dough, a thin layer of really good cinnamon, butter, and, yes, sugar, and topped off with a light orange glaze that lends a shine. I’m pretty happy with the result and, unlike those Parisian beauties, you do not need to be a pastry chef to make them.

I start with a basic sweet yeast dough, cutting the sugar in half and adding the grated zest of an orange. It’s rolled out after the first rise and brushed with melted butter that is sprinkled with a light layer of cinnamon sugar, rolled up, and cut. The rolls are grouped into a baking pan and proofed until doubled, creating a pull apart pastry.

After baking, while still hot, they are glazed with an orange simple syrup made with the juice of the orange simmered with sugar until it starts to thicken. This translucent orange glaze is brushed or dribbled over the top of the rolls. The result is a sweet but not cloying version with a lovely orange flavor and fragrance. Perfect with an espresso on a fall morning.

Recipe: ‘Grownup’ Orange Cinnamon Rolls

In spite of the name, kids will love these, and they won’t be quite as hyper after eating them!

Makes eight rolls

1/2c lukewarm milk

1 tsp active dry yeast

1 egg

1/2c butter, melted in microwave and cooled (preferably unsalted*)

Mix these liquid ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached.


2 and 1/4c all purpose flour

1/2tsp salt

1/4c white granulated sugar

Finely grated zest of one orange

Mix five minutes or until it clings to the dough hook and is glossy and firm. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled and puffy, one hour or so.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, stir together until it forms a dough and knead on a floured surface for five to seven minutes, until glossy and firm.

Mix together 1/4c white sugar

And 2tsp cinnamon in a small bowl.

Roll out risen dough on a floured surface until it is a quarter inch thick and formed into an approximately 9”x 14” rectangle. Brush with 1/4c melted butter and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over entire surface. Starting with a long side, roll up and seal seam by pinching. Cut into eight rolls and place in a buttered baking pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a floured towel.

Let rise until doubled.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 18–20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, make your orange glaze: heat the juice of the orange you used for zest with 2TB sugar over low heat until it bubbles and is slightly thickened, being careful not to let it start to carmelize.

Brush warm rolls with all the glaze and cool before eating.

Note: each roll has approximately 10g of sugar.

* Why unsalted butter? First, there is always salt in baked goods, but you seldom taste it. It enhances the other flavors when used in small quantities. When you use salted butter in sweet baked goods you will taste the salt. There is a noticeable taste difference and my preference, if I have it, is to use unsalted. If you are using salted butter, the general rule is to reduce the added salt by 50%.

Written by

Novelist, Tech Marketing Writer, Growth Consultant. I have been a professional writer for over 20 years- 8 non-fiction books and 1 novel, many articles, etc.

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