Fluffy and tart-sweet, these swirly cranberry rolls get topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting after they are removed from the oven. A tray of 12 makes a cozy breakfast or brunch on cold mornings.
The dough recipe is based on brioche, so it’s enriched with eggs, but instead of butter, a generous amount of cream cheese gets kneaded into it. Silky and soft, it rises into a supremely fluffy dough.
Mix the dough the night before, and while you let it rise, make the cranberry filling. It couldn’t be easier: Puree 3 cups of cranberries in a blender with confectioners’ sugar and orange zest until it’s smooth. Want to add a touch of warmth? Mix in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and/or ginger.
The dough gets rolled out into a large rectangle, and then the ruby-red filling is spread across it before it’s rolled into a long log. Cut the log into 12 equal pieces and place them, evenly spaced, into a buttered casserole dish or 9-by-13-inch pan. Cover the rolls, and let them rise overnight in your refrigerator (or just about an hour more at room temperature).
By the next morning, they’ll be puffed and ready to bake. While they’re in the oven, whip up a simple cream cheese frosting. A small splash of orange blossom water adds a lovely floral note, but it’s optional.
Let the rolls cool for a little while before covering them with the rich frosting. Some of it will seep down in between the crevices, making the buns extra gooey and just the right amount of sweet.
Cranberry Swirl Rolls With Cream Cheese Frosting
For the dough:
¼ cup granulated sugar
One ¼-ounce packet or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
¾ cup whole milk, slightly warm to the touch
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
4 ounces plain cream cheese, cold and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, for greasing pan
For the filling:
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
For the frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened but still cool to the touch
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or orange blossom water (optional)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and yeast. Add the warm milk and leave the bowl uncovered in a warm place until the mixture looks thick and foamy, about 10 minutes.
(If the mixture doesn’t become foamy within 15 minutes, the yeast is probably dead, and you should start over with fresh yeast.)
Add the flour, eggs and salt. Attach the dough hook and mix on medium speed until a shaggy dough forms, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and knead until the dough is smooth and starts climbing up the dough hook, 5 to 10 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
With the mixer running, add the cream cheese, a few cubes at a time. Continue mixing, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
The dough will initially fall apart, but after another 5 to 10 minutes of kneading, it will finish into a smooth, glossy ball. (To make this dough by hand, see note.) Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Make the filling: While the dough rises, in the jar of a blender, combine the cranberries, sugar and orange zest. Blend until a smooth, deep red puree forms, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed.
Assemble the rolls: Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with 1 tablespoon of butter.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. (If your kitchen is very warm, or the dough seems very soft, chill the dough in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to roll and shape.) Using a spoon or offset spatula, spread the cranberry filling evenly across the surface of the dough. Starting on one long side, gently roll the rectangle up until it meets the other side. Tightly pinch the loose side to close the roll.
Transfer the roll to a cutting board, and cut it into 12 equal pieces. Transfer the rolls to the buttered baking pan, cut side down. Cover with a damp tea cloth or plastic wrap, and let the rolls rise until they’re doubled in size. This will take 1 to 2 hours at room temperature, but you also can allow the rolls to rise in the refrigerator overnight – no longer than 10 hours – and bake them in the morning.
Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and add the confectioners’ sugar, extract, if using, and salt. Beat on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
If baking rolls in the morning, refrigerate the frosting overnight. When ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Uncover the rolls and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Cool until just barely warm before frosting and serving.
Yield: 12 buns
Note: To make the cream cheese dough by hand: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, yeast and warm milk. Allow the mixture to sit in a warm place until thick and foamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in 2 cups of flour, the eggs and salt.
Using your hands, knead the rest of the flour into the dough and continue kneading until the dough is smooth. Add the cream cheese, kneading until it’s fully incorporated, then continue to knead until the dough is very smooth and pliant, 10 to 15 minutes. Continue with the rest of the recipe.
Make ahead: Unbaked rolls can be assembled and allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight before baking. Frosting and cranberry filling can be made up to 3 days in advance.
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