Healthy Cinnamon Rolls! I’m all about creating healthy-ish alternatives to classic recipes, and these healthy cinnamon rolls are the ultimate upgrade.
Light and fluffy, these cinnamon rolls are naturally sweetened with coconut sugar (aka free of refined sugar), are partially made with whole-wheat flour, and use just a fraction of the butter that most recipes do.
The beautiful thing about these rolls—you’d never know they were healthier than the classic version. Everything you love about classic cinnamon rolls is still intact here! Want to make them even healthier? Check out some of the ingredient substitutions below.
This recipe is:
- Light and fluffy
How to make healthy (ish) cinnamon rolls
The thing about cinnamon rolls—they require patience, not hard work. Here’s how to make healthy cinnamon rolls.
- Combine the dry ingredients.
- Combine the wet ingredients and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until a dough comes together; increase speed and knead until a smooth, sticky dough forms.
- Transfer the dough ball to an oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let proof until doubled in size.
- Gently punch the dough down, then roll into a rectangle.
- Brush the dough with melted butter, then combine the remaining melted butter with coconut sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.
- Roll the dough into a log, then cut into 9 equal rolls; arrange the rolls in a cake pan, cover with a kitchen towel and let proof.
- Brush the top of the rolls with milk and bake.
- Grind some coconut sugar into a powder (or use confectioners’ sugar). Whip the sugar, cream cheese, vanilla and salt together in a stand mixer for the frosting.
- Spread the frosting over the slightly cooled cinnamon rolls and serve.
Like many of the recipes around here, these cinnamon rolls are free of any refined sugar. There are a few reasons why I prefer cooking and baking with natural sweeteners:
- They’re more flavorful (aka they offer more than just sweetness to a recipe)
- Natural sweeteners undergo very little processing compared to refined sugars, which leaves them with more essential nutrients.
- Natural sweeteners have a lower glycemic index compared to refined sugars.
Why is glycemic index important? Well, as a general overview, glycemic index refers to how much a particular food increases blood sugar levels (in correlation to the amount of carbohydrate it contains).
Understanding and choosing sweeteners with a lower glycemic index value is better for our digestive system and helps to maintain consistent blood sugar levels—important for people with diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Coconut sugar has a GI value of 35, honey has a GI of 50, and maple syrup has a GI of 54. On the flip side, corn syrup has a GI of 100, and cane sugar (white sugar and brown sugar) has a GI of 65.
All that to say, there are various reasons for choosing natural sweeteners. However, it’s important to remember that sugar is sugar. No matter what type of sugar you put in your body, it’s metabolized the same way. The difference is how it impacts our blood sugar levels.
Whole-wheat pastry flour
A combination of flours is key for creating a healthier cinnamon roll that doesn’t sacrifice any of the delicious texture we love about classic cinnamon rolls.
This recipe uses both whole-wheat pastry flour (my fav) and all-purpose flour. This combination achieves that light and fluffy texture.
However, if you want to make these 100% whole-wheat cinnamon rolls, go right ahead! Just make sure you use whole-wheat pastry flour. Rolls made with 100% whole-wheat pastry flour will still be nice and fluffy, but they’ll be a bit more dense compared to the recipe as-written.
Use a little bit of cornstarch
In order to create tender cakes, recipes often use cake flour instead of all purpose flour. Cake flour is simply a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch. The addition of cornstarch creates a tender baked good that holds its structure once baked.
I wondered if the same could be true for cinnamon rolls, especially when adding a heavier flour like whole wheat flour. Instead of calling for cake flour, I figured adding just a bit of cornstarch would have the tenderizing effect I was looking for.
Et voila! Adding just 1/4 cup of cornstarch to the three cups of flour in this recipe worked wonders. The result? Rolls that have wonderful structure, held their shape and were tender!
How to ensure these rolls rise
These cinnamon rolls rely on instant-rise or rapid-rise yeast to do the heavy lifting here. If you only have active dry yeast, you’ll need to activate it for a few minutes in the warm milk (110ºF) until it’s bubbly.
However, if you can, I recommend making these rolls with instant-rise yeast. It’s easier, reliable, and will work every time for you.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when working with yeast that will ensure success every time:
- Best by date: check the best by date printed or stamped on your yeast container/packet. If the date has past, throw the yeast away and buy new. No need to waste time and ingredients only to find your yeast isn’t working as it should.
- Use the right type of yeast: if a recipe calls for instant- or rapid-rise yeast use that. I like both Red Star and Fleischmann’s brands.
The only caveat—if you’re comfortable baking with yeast go ahead and adapt the recipe to use active dry yeast if that’s what you have on hand.
- Use warm water or milk: when working with yeast it’s important to use warm water or milk—not HOT and not COLD. The ideal temperature is 110ºF, so try to hit within a 5ºF range of that (I use my Instant-Read Thermometer from Thermoworks).
Healthy-ish cinnamon roll variations & ingredient substitutions:
- Sour cream frosting: whisk together ¼ cup sour cream, 3 tablespoons coconut sugar, ¼ teaspoon vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) and a pinch of salt. Drizzle over cinnamon rolls. You can also do this with whole-fat Greek yogurt, but I don’t recommend that.
- Swap oil in for butter: use olive oil or coconut oil in place of the melted butter.
- Make them 100% whole-wheat: use three cups whole-wheat pastry flour instead of a combination—just keep in mind that the buns will be a bit denser.
- Add more spice: add some ground nutmeg, cardamom, a pinch of cayenne, cocoa powder, or even espresso powder to the filling for an additional boost in flavor.
- Add dried fruit and/or nuts: finely chop dried fruit (raisins, dates, dried cranberries) or nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachios) and add to the cinnamon-sugar filling.
How to make these healthy cinnamon rolls vegan
- Use nut milk in place of the dairy milk (I recommend using a thick and creamy nut milk or canned coconut milk).
- Use vegan butter, coconut oil or even olive oil in place of the butter.
- Make a glaze with confectioners’ sugar or ground coconut sugar and a dash of nut milk or plant-based yogurt.
More healthy baking recipes you may like…
- Healthy Banana Bread
- Healthy Lemon Poppy Seed Bread
- Healthy Cornbread
- Black Bean Brownies
- Cherry Almond-Crisp
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Don’t forget, if you make these cinnamon rolls, leave a comment and rating below!
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Tender and fluffy, these whole-wheat cinnamon rolls are naturally sweetened with coconut sugar and much lower in fat than classic cinnamon rolls. The best part—you’d never know they were healthier!
- ¾ cup whole milk (185g), warmed (110ºF) + more for brushing
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant- or rapid-rise yeast (one ¼-ounce package)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (57g), melted
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 egg + 1 yolk (70g), beaten
- 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose (187g; 6.6oz.)
- 1 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour (164g; 5.7oz.)
- ¼ cup cornstarch (36g; 1.3oz)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
- ¾ cup coconut sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup coconut sugar (or confectioners’ sugar)
- 4 ounces (½ cup) cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- Pinch salt
For the buns: add warm milk to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment; sprinkle yeast over top. Whisk together 4 tablespoons melted butter, honey, egg, and egg yolk; add to bowl with milk and yeast and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
Whisk together flours, cornstarch and salt; add to bowl with wet ingredients and mix on low until a dough comes together, 1–2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until a smooth, sticky dough comes together, about 8 minutes.
(You can also use your hands by kneading the dough on a lightly-floured surface for 8–10 minutes.)
Transfer dough ball to an oiled bowl, cover bowl loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1–1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
Transfer dough to a floured surface and roll out into a 14×9 inch rectangle with the long side parallel to the counter’s edge.
Brush 1 tablespoon melted butter over dough, leaving ¼-inch border on farthest edge.
For the filling, combine remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter with ¾ cup coconut sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Evenly sprinkle filling mixture over dough, leaving a ¼-inch border on farthest side.
Using a bench scraper, loosen dough from counter and roll away from you into a tight log; pinch seam to seal. Roll log seam side down and cut into 9 equal; pieces using a serrated knife (or floss).
Reshape rolls as needed. Place one roll in the center of the prepared cake pan, then place remaining rolls around perimeter of center roll, seam side facing in (if using a round cake pan). For a square cake pan, arrange rolls in rows. Cover pan loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise until dough springs back when gently pressed, 30–45 minutes
Heat oven to 350ºF with rack set in middle position.
Brush rolls with milk and bake until buns are golden brown on the edges, 23–25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes.
Meanwhile for the frosting, grind ¼ cup coconut sugar in a spice grinder to a powder. Beat together cream cheese, vanilla and salt, in stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add ground sugar and continue to beat until light and smooth.
Spread frosting over buns and serve.
If you want to take out the all-purpose flour to create 100% whole-wheat cinnamon rolls, go right ahead! Just make sure you are using whole-wheat pastry flour. Rolls made with 100% whole-wheat pastry flour will still be nice and fluffy, but they will be a bit more dense compared to the recipe as-written.
Storage: wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days. Any longer, and store the cinnamon rolls in the refrigerator.
Reheat cinnamon rolls in the microwave for 30 seconds or in a 300ºF oven until warmed through.
- Serving Size: 1 roll
- Calories: 400
- Sugar: 26g
- Sodium: 312mg
- Fat: 15g
- Saturated Fat: 9g
- Carbohydrates: 59g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 7g
- Cholesterol: 81mg
Keywords: cinnamon rolls, healthy cinnamon rolls, whole wheat cinnamon rolls