Recipe Showdown: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls!

Orange rectangle with the white MoFo fist logo. Text to the right says: "Recipe Showdown: pumpkin cinnamon rolls."

Welcome to the the first Recipe Showdown of VeganMoFo 2012! In my Recipe Showdowns, I pit three recipes for one food item against each other to see which recipe reigns supreme. For this challenge, I put three recipes for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls in the ring and let them fight it out for eternal glory and a special spot in my stomach. ;)

Before we get to the contestants (and the results!), let’s talk about pumpkin cinnamon rolls. More specifically, let’s talk about what makes an excellent pumpkin cinnamon roll. I went into this showdown with virgin taste buds – I’d never actually eaten a pumpkin cinnamon roll! I had some simple criteria for what I expected. I decided that a stellar pumpkin cinnamon roll should be:

  • Tender and fluffy. This goes for all cinnamon rolls, really. They should be light and airy, not heavy and dense.
  • Rich, but not sickeningly so. This is a tricky line to toe – I want my rolls to have a rich, gooey filling in their centers, but I don’t want to feel sick after eating a single roll.
  • Pumpkin-flavored! This is a no-brainer, but I want to taste the pumpkin! A healthy dose of pumpkin pie spice to round out the flavor profile is also a must.

All pretty reasonable, right? Of course, to make pumpkin cinnamon rolls, one needs pumpkin. After I used freshly roasted pumpkin puree for my first batch, I knew that I had to continue using it for consistency’s sake. My pumpkin puree was nowhere near as dark orange as the stuff you find in cans:

Clear Tupperware container of a bright orange pumpkin puree.


I love how vibrant homemade puree is, but it doesn’t make for noticeably orange baked goods. So if my pumpkin cinnamon rolls don’t look as orange as you’d expect, that’s why. I should also note that I don’t have a stand mixer, so I kneaded the dough for all my rolls by hand, even when the instructions said to use a mixer with a dough hook.

Now that we’ve got the technical details out of the way, on to the recipes! First, I tried a recipe from a chef who only occasionally cooks vegan.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls from Eat, Live, Run

Intrigued by Jenna’s use of chia seeds and entranced by the beautiful, deep orange hue of the rolls, I eagerly put together the dough for these rolls one Sunday morning. As it completed its first rise, I realized that I’d totally forgotten to add the sugar. After much swearing and despairing, I made the sugarless dough into savory biscuits and forged ahead with a second batch of the now properly sugared dough. Here’s what these rolls looked like just before heading into the oven:

Glass baking pan with unbaked rolls. They're not very orange; they're more of a light brown.

Can you spot the chia seeds?

And here they are all baked up and drizzled with icing:

Closer shot of baked cinnamon buns in a glass pan. They're set against a bright blue napkin and they're drizzled with thick white icing.

Just a hint of orange…

I love how uniformly rolled these are – the dough was very easy to work with, so I had no problems rolling it out and slicing it. But how did they taste? Let’s look at the pros and cons.


  • Not terribly unhealthy – just four TBSP of Earth Balance in the entire recipe!
  • Recipe was really easy to follow (as long as you don’t forget a key ingredient!)
  • S described them as “Really good!”


  • S said, “This doesn’t taste overwhelmingly pumpkin-y… there’s definitely a spicy tinge to it, but I expected it to be more pumpkin-y.”
  • Texture was just the slightest bit chewy – I blame the chia seeds.
  • Boring, overly sweet glaze – it’s just confectioner’s sugar, almond milk, and vanilla.

Spoiler – this isn’t the only time you’ll hear about a lack of an overwhelming pumpkin flavor! Overall, S and I enjoyed these rolls. They were easy to make and were not overly sweet or fatty – I never felt remotely sick after eating them. Still, I was disappointed that they only used 1/3 cup of pumpkin and that the filling had no traditional pumpkin pie spice – just cinnamon. Adding more of those spices would’ve helped differentiate these rolls from regular ol’ cinnamon rolls.


Next, I tried a recipe that’s been on my To Make list for ages, one that was debuted during a VeganMoFo of yore to the delight of pumpkin-lovers everywhere.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls from Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk

The recipe for these rolls is prefaced with the warning, “I hope you have your fat pants ready.” Sounds promising, right? These rolls were fluffy, puffy dreams before baking:

Pillows of pumpkin-y delight!

Just look at that gorgeous filling! These rolls were equally attractive after a brief stay in the oven:

In the foreground is a small white plate with a tall cinnamon roll dripping with white icing. In the middle background is a small glass jar filled with cinnamon sticks, and in the far background is another plate with another roll on it.

Fat pants = ready.

If the tops of these rolls look a little bit brown to you, you’re not seeing things. I accidentally broke my golden rule of baking and set my kitchen timer for the recommended minimum baking time of 20 minutes. Usually, I set the timer for at least three minutes before the minimum time to make sure I don’t overcook them. Alas, I broke my own rule and suffered the consequences. User error aside, how did these come out?


  • Absolutely perfect texture – fluffy and tender.
  • Yummy sweet filling.
  • Definitely a rich treat.


  • No real noticeable pumpkin flavor.
  • Dough itself wasn’t very sweet – could’ve used just a bit more sugar.
  • Same boring glaze as the ELR rolls.

These rolls are more in line with a traditional cinnamon roll than the ELR rolls, which means that they’re richer and more filling. I found the dough a little difficult to work with – it was very soft and droopy. But that definitely made for a truly perfect texture – I was delighted with the tender, fluffy crumb.

Overall grade: B+

The final contestant was from another baker who isn’t always vegan, but when I saw this recipe come up in my MoFo feed last week, I knew it was the perfect recipe to round out the trio.

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls and Maple Cream Cheese Icing from Baker Bettie

Let me tell you a little something about myself – I am a sucker for anything maple. I think that maple is the absolute most perfect flavor in existence. Those maple sugar candies? Heaven on earth. Maple syrup? Makes me weak in the knees. I had no power to resist this recipe.

The rolls were adorably soft and fluffy before baking:

Top-down view of a metal baking pan with uncooked cinnamon rolls.

Raw rolls.

When they were done, they got a drizzle of warm maple-Tofutti icing:

Top-down view of a single cinnamon roll. It's definitely orange and it's drizzled with a thick, light brown icing with noticeable flecks of spice.

Hey! It’s orange!

Look! Finally, a roll with a noticeably orange hue! So – how’d this recipe stack up?


  • Great texture in the sections that were fully baked.
  • Very prevalent pumpkin pie spice flavors – “the spiciest of the bunch,” according to S.
  • Yummy icing!


  • No noticeable pumpkin flavor.
  • Icing was nowhere near as thin as in the original recipe’s photos – it was chunky, thick, and a bit difficult to spread.
  • Rolls did not bake evenly – some were severely under-done in the centers.

What a mixed bag of responses for this one! Here’s the deal – I took the rolls out after about 16 minutes in the oven. Their tops were already golden brown and a bit hard; all my instincts told me that the rolls were done. Later, when I started cutting into them, I realized that they were still very doughy in places. But it was way too late to put them back in the oven (and I have a not-so-secret love of raw dough), so S and I just ate them as-is, doughy bits and all.

Beyond the dough issue, the icing was a bit of a nightmare. It looks okay in that photo, but the rest of the rolls didn’t get as much care from me and basically received large globs of thick, slightly chunky icing. I’m really not sure how Kristin (the recipe’s author) managed to get her icing so uniform in texture – all the whisking in the world wouldn’t have made mine as thin and glob-free as hers.

This is a tough recipe to grade. If they’d cooked through, these would’ve been amazing – the rolls that were fully cooked had a wonderful texture and flavor. If I’d let myself fiddle with the icing, I could’ve gotten it to a better state. But the integrity of a Recipe Showdown relies on me following recipes exactly, so I couldn’t do that. Therefore, I can’t grade these as highly as they probably deserve.

Overall grade: B

So, by a hair, the recipe from Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk takes the day!

Here’s what I think – pumpkin cinnamon rolls are all about the pumpkin-related spices, because you can’t really taste much actual pumpkin in them. Maybe canned pumpkin would add a more noticeable flavor, but I’m not so sure. So it’s all down to a judicious sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice to trick our easily-hoodwinked tongues into thinking we’re tasting pumpkin.

I think that my perfect pumpkin cinnamon rolls are a mix of the Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk rolls and the Baker Bettie rolls, with a modified version of the maple-cream cheese icing. S and I are hosting a harvest-themed party in a couple weeks, so who knows – you might just see my own pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe up here soon. ;)

What’s your favorite pumpkin cinnamon roll (or regular cinnamon roll!) recipe? What vegan food would you like to see in a Recipe Showdown!


12 thoughts on “Recipe Showdown: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls!

  1. The only way I have managed to make pumpkin cinnamon rolls actually taste like pumpkin is by replacing a significant amount of the fat in the part that goes in the middle with pumpkin. So i mix melted coconut oil, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice for the filling. This helps add a pumpkin flavor.


  2. Woo, I won! To be fair, that is (as mentioned) a veganized recipe from Cooking Light. Since i’ve posted that people have told me that they’ve successfully upped the pumpkin and reduced the liquid and that helps a little with the pumpkin flavor. I also like to add cinammon to the glaze to make it less boring. I should probably update the recipe!


  3. This is a great post for me – I have been looking at pumpkin roll recipes – I have wanted to make don’t eat off the sidewalk’s pumpkin rolls for ages so particularly enjoyed hearing your feedback on these – I am after pumpkin taste but also that lovely orange pumpkin colour


  4. wow, this is the most RADDEST ever idea for mofo posts … actually doing the work to make 3 different recipes and compare them all! I am amazed! I’ve found that using pureed butternut squash or kabocha or red kiri squash actually gives baked goods a much stronger “pumpkin” flavor. Actual pumpkins are not always actually very yummy. You rule for doing such an awesome post!


  5. Pingback: Spice Cake + Cream Cheese Icing = Perfection. « la vida vegga

  6. Pingback: Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pancakes « la vida vegga

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