Pumpkin isn’t just for pie, it’s the secret to making cinnamon rolls that are worth eating.
The problem with cinnamon buns is that the dough can become very dry. While the brown sugar filling helps with that, there’s a better solution. Pumpkin adds both flavor and moisture to the dough making these cinnabuns the ultimate seasonal indulgence.
Like a good ol’ classic cinnamon roll, you get mandatory gooey brown sugar swirls and vanilla cream cheese icing but the pumpkin really takes these to another category. I’m talking the Rolls-Royce of cinnamon rolls — everlastingly MOIST and exceptionally FLUFFY.
Yes, I am biased. So please weigh-in.
With this recipe, you will get 6 sky-high cinnamon rolls
You can make the dough by hand with a bowl and a few minutes of kneading or shortcut with a stand-mixer (with dough hook), whatever your mood. I’m not afraid to get messy when making cinnamon rolls, so I enjoy kneading by hand.
Frayed Apron Baking Tip: You don’t strictly need a baking dish either. A Dutch oven or cast iron skillet work, too, just be sure to leave plenty of room. You want lots of wiggle room for these rolls to puff up and out.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Recipe Overview
- Make & knead the dough. The dough will be very soft. Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn the dough around in the bowl so all sides of the dough are coated.
- 1st Rise. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place at room temperature.
- Make the pumpkin spice filling. Combine the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and butter.
- Roll dough into a rectangle. Spread the filling on top. Roll into a log. Use floss or a sharp knife to cut into 6 roughly evenly sized rolls.
- 2nd rise. Let the shaped rolls rise inside the pan they will be baked in. This rise is shorter than the 1st.
- Bake. Bake uncovered at 350℉ on the center rack.
- Make the icing and spread onto warm cinnamon rolls.
When serving, reheat your pumpkin cinnamon roll. It’s best enjoyed warm with your favorite cup of coffee.
P.S. If you are craving more Fall themed breakfast treats, make pumpkin French toast casserole, New Orleans-style beignets (with pumpkin pie spice), or my grandma’s pumpkin bread!
Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Ingredients
Pictured below are all the ingredients you need to make this recipe. Please note that I’ve separated the ingredients into sections for simplicity–(1) dough, (2) filling, and (3) Icing.
There are 8 ingredients required to make the dough:
- Milk: Liquid activates the yeast and gives bread a soft texture. Nondairy or low-fat milks are fine, but whole milk is best. Half-and-half will also work (I’ve tried it!).
- Granulated sugar: Provides “food” for the yeast and enhances the flavor, texture, and moisture of the dough.
- Pumpkin puree: Offers a sweet, savory flavor and ensures these rolls are soft and moist. You want 100% pure canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling).
- Butter: Salted or unsalted butter delivers a flavorful, pull-apart dough. You’ll need soft, pliable butter. See my tips below about butter texture.
- Salt: You can’t make flavorful cinnamon rolls without salt! For a clean taste, use sea salt or Kosher salt
- Egg: This recipe calls for 1 large egg (about 1/4 cup liquid) for structure and flavor.
- Quick rise “rapid” yeast: Reduces the overall time the dough needs to rise (about 20 minutes faster than active dry yeast).
- Flour: All-purpose flour is the structure of the dough. Bread flour would make the best substitute.
Ever hear the term “enriched dough?” That refers to a yeasted dough that contains fats like milk, butter, and egg. Rich doughs make for excellent soft breads like babka, challah, or cinnamon rolls. Unlike their yeasted-counterparts (pizza dough, artisan bread, etc) enriched doughs take longer to ferment because the fats act as a buffer for their food supply (sugar). For rolls that really puff out and up, I recommend instant yeast.
Did you know that cinnamon can inhibit yeast activity in dough? You’ll notice with this recipe that there’s no pumpkin pie spice in the dough. While it works (I tried it!), I ultimately decided to relegate the pumpkin pie spice to the brown sugar filling because even a small amount of cinnamon (the main ingredient in pumpkin pie spice) has antifungal properties. As yeast is a fungal organism, you won’t get the best results by slowing it’s growth.
Do you know what the baking term “room temperature butter” refers to? It means it should be soft and pliable. My favorite butter hack is to place a stick (inside the wrapper) in the hem of my pants. After 15 minutes, the butter will be the perfect texture for this recipe.
Brown Sugar Pumpkin Pie Spice Filling Ingredients
You need 3 ingredients to make this finger-licking good filling:
- Butter: Helps the brown sugar melt as it bakes and promises a great flavor.
- Brown sugar: Robust dark brown sugar adds rich flavor to the filling. Light brown sugar or coconut sugar works, too.
- Pumpkin pie spice: This is just a blend of spices you might already have. You can either buy pumpkin pie spice or use 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon each of allspice and ground cloves. If you just have cinnamon, that is a classic and will totally work! If you are not freshly grinding your nutmeg (you should!), taste it. If it tastes like nothing, it’s time to replace it. Nutmeg has a short shelf-life.
Some recipes tell you to spread the butter over the dough and then sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. This works well if you have soft, pliable butter. You can also combine the butter-brown sugar-spice mixture first and then smear in one-go. Your choice. It makes no difference to the outcome.
Cinnamon Roll Icing Ingredients
All you need is 4 ingredients to make one lip-smacking icing:
- Cream cheese: adds flavor, creaminess, and stability so that the icing stays thick even when warmed
- Butter (salted or unsalted): adds a rich flavor
- Powdered sugar: for sweetness and stability
- Vanilla extract: compliments the pumpkin flavor. Don’t hesitate to replace the vanilla 1:1 with your favorite liqueur or even some espresso.
Bottom line, you want a sturdy icing for cinnamon buns because we serve them warm. To prevent too much melting, there’s a higher proportion of cream cheese to butter. For a creamy lump-free consistency, it’s best to warm the butter and cream cheese until soft and stir until smooth and glossy. You can do this in a microwave-safe bowl.
Substitution Tip: If you want to introduce a new liquid flavor, you would swap 1:1 for the vanilla extract part only. For example, replace vanilla with 1 teaspoon espresso or strongly brewed coffee, maple syrup, or your favorite liqueur (eggnog liqueur would be fun). You can also add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla bean seeds.
Step-by-Step Cinnamon Bun Recipe
First, gather your ingredients.
Step 1: Make the dough.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the milk on high for 90 seconds to scald it. Transfer the milk to a large bowl and stir in the sugar, butter, salt, pumpkin puree, yeast, and egg (small butter lumps are ok). With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Dust a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Cover the dough and let rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, until doubled in size (see dough pictured below).
Step 2: Roll and cut the rolls and make the filling.
Flatten the dough with your palms to form a large, ½-inch-thick rectangle. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, soft butter, and pumpkin pie spice to form a grainy paste. Evenly spread the sugar mixture across the dough. Starting from a long edge, roll the dough into a log, pinching together the edges to seal. Cut the log into 6 roughly equal-size pieces (see steps below).
Step 3: Rise, then bake.
Arrange the cinnamon buns in a Dutch oven or baking dish with room to expand; they will spread out and up when baked. Cover the baking dish and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes at room temperature. Bake, uncovered, for about 35 minutes or until the rolls are lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Step 4: Make the icing.
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Warm in the microwave on high power for 50 seconds. Cut the butter with a fork, then stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Add the vanilla and stir in the powdered sugar, a bit at a time, to form a thick frosting. Spread the frosting over the slightly cooled rolls, and serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days, or freeze them in an airtight bag for up to 2 months.
Cinnamon Roll FAQs
I’m a whole foods trained chef and welcome your questions about dietary needs and love your technical baking questions!
I forgot to add the egg? You can add an egg to this dough after it’s mixed (but before the first rise) but it will be greasy. Your rolls will still be delicious (I tested it!).
I don’t have pumpkin spice but I do have cinnamon? Go with the cinnamon. It’s the predominant spice in pumpkin spice and the rolls will be delicious.
I put pumpkin spice in the dough? Your rolls will still rise plenty (I tested it!).
My dough didn’t rise at all? Does the yeast say “rapid rise instant” anywhere on the label? Is your house cold? How long have you had the yeast? If you used the right yeast and there’s no rise whatsoever, I’d say your yeast is dead. To be extra sure, you could turn the heat on the lowest setting of your oven for 5 minutes. Turn it off, put your rolls inside and see if there’s any change before tossing the dough.
I have “dry active yeast”? You have 1 more step then. You can activate or proof the yeast in the 1/2 cup milk by warming the milk to about 110 degrees (about 15 seconds in the microwave) and waiting to observe bubbles (this can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes). When proofing in milk, you don’t need to include the sugar because milk contains lactose which is sugar to the yeast.
Can I make dairy free cinnamon rolls? – Dairy milk plays a specific roll in making the texture soft. I love how tender half and half or whole milk rolls are but if you have a dairy allergy, by all means, swap the milk for canned coconut milk. In place of the butter, you could use ghee if you can tolerate it or refined or unrefined coconut oil. The flavor won’t be the same, but there are enough elements providing savory flavor, that I say go for it! For the cream cheese element, there are a few whole food options made from cashews you could use.
Can I replace the egg? – Since these cinnamon rolls have pumpkin, if you have an egg allergy, these are the best cinnamon roll to experiment with leaving the egg out…pumpkin acts like an egg in providing flavor and moisture in the dough. Yeast is going to give the dough a good amount of rise (there’s no chemical leaving agent in these rolls). If you leave the egg out, try your best not to alter anything else in the recipe and report your experience in the comments below. I think the rolls would still be quite good.
Can I make these low-glycemic? – If you’d like to replace the brown sugar filling with a less refined sugar, this is exactly the sort of recipe you could do that with! I would highly recommend date sugar or coconut sugar 1:1 because the flavor is remarkable and it will behave in much the same way as refined brown sugar. For the dough, you could replace the white sugar with applesauce. For the icing, you can turn coconut sugar or maple crystals into a fine powder in the blender. You’ll get a richer flavor, but I think it would perfectly compliment the Fall flavors. Another option, albeit more expensive, is to finely grind maple sugar into a powder. Of course, leaving the icing off entirely is an option and simply drizzling with maple syrup would be divine.
Can I make gluten-free cinnamon rolls? – You can replace the flour with an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend but you should choose a pan with a snugger fit; your rolls aren’t as likely to expand out and you want to give them something to climb up (gluten-free baked goods need help achieving height). This Gluten-Free King Arthur Bread flour would be ideal for these yeasted rolls. Please report back if you try it!
I’m about to set you free, but before I do, just know that I’m so glad you’re here. I love developing recipes for you and yours!
More Fall Inspired Recipes
- Grandma’s Pumpkin Bread with Mascarpone
- Fresh Cranberry Muffins
- Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
- 20-Minute Spicy Black Bean Soup
- Sea Salted Caramel Apple Bars
- Sweet Potato Casserole with Coconut Whipped Cream
Recipe adapted from my classic cinnamon rolls from Easy Dutch Oven Cooking.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing
For the dough:
- ½ cup milk whole milk is best but reduced fat works, too
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup unsalted butter soft and pliable (not liquid)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 0.25 ounce packet rapid rise instant yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
For the filling:
- ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 8 tablespoons 1 stick unsalted butter, soft and pliable (not liquid)
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
For the cinnamon roll icing:
- 6 ounces cream cheese
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350℉.
- Make the dough. In a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the milk on high for 90 seconds to scald it. Transfer the milk to a large bowl and stir in the sugar, butter, salt, pumpkin puree, yeast, and egg (small butter lumps are ok). With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Dust a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Cover the dough and let rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
- Roll and cut the rolls and make the filling. Flatten the dough with your palms to form a large, ½-inch-thick rectangle. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, soft butter, and pumpkin pie spice to form a grainy paste. Evenly spread the sugar mixture across the dough. Starting from a long edge, roll the dough into a log, pinching together the edges to seal. Cut the log into 6 roughly equal-size pieces.
- Rise, then bake. Arrange the cinnamon buns in a Dutch oven or baking dish (8"x 8" x 3") with room to expand; they will spread out and up when baked. Cover the baking dish and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes at room temperature. Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the rolls are lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Make the icing. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Warm in the microwave on high power for 50 seconds. Cut the butter with a fork, then stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Add the vanilla and stir in the powdered sugar, a bit at a time, to form a thick frosting. Spread the frosting over the slightly cooled rolls, and serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days, or freeze them in an airtight bag for up to 2 months.
Photography by Adam Rahman