Can you believe we’re less than two weeks out from Christmas? Each year I feel like the holiday season passes by so quickly and that I barely get to scratch the surface on my list of holiday recipes to experiment with. We’re not one of those families that usually does the Christmas Eve cookies in our PJs or Christmas morning waffles and presents, but this year since I’ve been getting to spend some extra time at home during the holiday’s for my grandmother’s first festive season in America, I really want to go all out and share the best time of year with her. (Hey, she already loved all the Thanksgiving traditions so I gotta keep the momentum going!) I’m instating the classic Christmas morning cocoa and cinnamon rolls as a new tradition in the house so I had to get going on finding and creating the perfect roll recipe, which is how I ended up with this date-paste situation.
So here’s how we get to my disclaimer on this recipe: I hate dates. I think they are the worst fruit ever and the recent rise in date-based bars and snacks has driven me up a wall. I’ll spare you my full rant, but with that said, you know that if I, a self-proclaimed hater of dates, am sharing a recipe with them as the star, it must be an AMAZING treat. What really gets me with this recipe is that you wouldn’t guess that there are dates in these rolls – I would be shocked if someone tried these without knowing the recipe and guessed that 1) there was no refined sugar in the filling and 2) that dates were the substitute. I love finding healthier versions of my favorite recipes and when you can’t even tell that something has been lightened up, you know you’ve got a winner on your hands. So if you’re looking to step up your Christmas morning cinnamon roll game, keep scrolling for this superfood upgrade on a holiday classic!
So we have to start with the dates here. Grown and produced mainly in the middle east, dates are an energy-dense and sugar-rich fruit. You can find dried versions but for this recipe you’re going to want to find tender medjool dates that you can find either in the bulk section, packaged in the international section, or at your local international store. When you pit the dates, you’ll see how sticky and sweet these fruits are and why they are perfect for a recipe like cinnamon rolls.
While dates are rich in natural sugar – which is why they are known as a great source of energy – dates also have a healthy dose of fiber and are rich in potassium. Dates also pack a portion of your daily supply of copper which helps your body absorb iron and helps in the formation of collagen, which if you’ve been following the collagen trend, know that it’s great for your skin and bones. And we’re putting these little superfoods into cinnamon rolls? YUP.
The date-paste is so easy to make, just toss some of the pitted dates into a bowl and pour over some hot, simmering water. Let that sit for a few minutes, drain, add the dates to the food processor, and blend until smooth. For this recipe I’m adding a ton of spices and a whole lot of orange zest for some extra flavor, but if you left those out you could just jar up the date-paste and use in other recipes like cookies, brownies, as a spread, or add some to a savory recipe for a delicious twist.
Obviously the cinnamon is the iconic part of any sweet roll, but after adding ginger and cardamom in addition to the orange, I don’t know that I can ever go back to just the one spice. These rolls are so rich in flavor and have that extra depth that just makes you go WOW, that hopefully you’ll love those extra spices too!
While I’m not much of a baker, I do have my go-to recipes. I slightly adapted Sarah Kieffer’s (from The Vanilla Bean Blog) Cinnamon Roll dough for these guys and if you didn’t think you could make dough from scratch, her recipe will have you changing your mind. You can always use your favorite dough recipe and prep as instructed and then follow the steps below for the filling!
I made the dough the night before, and the next morning finished rolling out and assembling everything. While the rolls are baking, you can whip up the frosting and voilà! My newfound trick is doing a little layer of the frosting when the rolls come out of the oven so it gets all sticky and melts into all the little nooks and crannies, and then another layer once the rolls have cooled so you get that distinctive frosting layer.
The filling on these rolls is so ooey and gooey and they come out perfectly sweet without any added sugar! Serve these rolls up on Christmas morning (or any morning!) and you’ll definitely have happy campers on your hand. Enjoy!
for the dough
- use your favorite Cinnamon Roll dough recipe! I used Sarah Kieffer's recipe!
for the filling
- 12 - 15 medjool dates, pitted
- about 2 cups of simmering water
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tbsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- pinch of salt
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 - 2 tbsp of orange juice
for the orange cream cheese frosting
- 8oz of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup of powdered sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- zest of 1/2 an orange
- Prep your favorite cinnamon roll dough and set aside!
- To make the date-paste, add about 2 cups of water to a stove top pot and bring up to a simmer. Add the pitted dates to a large bowl and pour over the hot water. Let the dates sit in the water for about 10 - 15 minutes until they are soft. Drain the water and set aside.
- In a food processor, add the softened dates, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, salt, and orange zest and juice. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Taste and adjust spices, if you like your mixture a little sweeter you can add a tablespoon of coconut sugar, but I think these come out sweet enough without.
- Roll out your dough into about a 12 x 16 inch rectangle and spread the date-paste into an even layer on the dough. Then starting with the long side, roll the dough into a tight log. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 - 2 inch thick rolls (depending on how big you like your cinnamon rolls).
- Place the rolls into a prepped pan and follow your dough instructions if the rolls need another rise and follow dough instructions for the baking directions.
- While the rolls are baking, prep the frosting. Add the cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, orange juice and zest into a bowl and using a hand mixer or whisk, mix until smooth. Taste and adjust sugar if needed.
- When the rolls are done baking, remove from oven and spread over about 1/2 cup of frosting on the warm roll. Set aside and let come to room temperature. When slightly cooler, spread over additional frosting. Enjoy!