These fluffy, pillowy-soft sweet rolls are made with a buttery brioche dough, and swirled with a combination of tangy-sweet cranberries and rich dark chocolate. Think of them as cinnamon rolls for chocolate lovers, but with some fruit sprinkled in to make them fair game for breakfast or dessert. Whenever you choose to serve them, these chocolate sweet rolls are a true treat. They're perfect for the holiday season, Valentine's Day, or any other special occasion!
I love a cinnamon roll (and I mean truly, who doesn't?!), but the day I first made these cranberry chocolate rolls was the day they officially became the superior sweet roll in my mind. They're just as buttery-soft and tender as the best of them, but with the most decadent cranberry chocolate filling swirled between each layer of fluffy bread. Serve them with coffee and call them breakfast/brunch, or pair them with a cold glass of milk and call them dessert. Any which way you do it, these chocolate sweet rolls are an absolute must-make.
Tips for success with homemade sweet rolls
Unlike the majority of my recipes, these chocolate rolls are made with a yeast dough - a rich brioche dough to be exact. That might seem intimidating, especially if you're new to baking bread from scratch, but it really isn't as difficult as it may seem! Here are a few guidelines that'll help ensure your success with this recipe:
- Set aside enough time: Yeast breads are much more suited to weekend baking projects than quick weeknight endeavors. You'll only need about 45 minutes of hands-on time to make these chocolate rolls, but there's a good bit of down time involved, mostly while waiting for the dough to rise. With that in mind, it's best not to be in a rush while making them.
- Read before you bake: Recipe posts can be long, I get it. But the details are there for a reason! With this chocolate roll recipe in particular, I highly suggest that you read through the step-by-step instructions below before you get started. They're filled with all the little tips that I'd give you if we were baking together in real life.
- Knead your dough by hand: It's tempting to want your kitchen appliances to do all the work for you, but I've always felt that kneading dough by hand is the way to go. Not only is it surprisingly therapeutic, but it's the best way to get a sense of what your dough needs. Is it impossibly sticky? Add a little more flour. A little too stiff? Keep kneading - it's not ready yet!
- Watch your temperatures: Yeast doughs are all about temperature. To avoid killing the yeast, it's important that your ingredients aren't too hot or too cold. Additionally, the temperature of your kitchen will play a big role in how quickly (or slowly) your dough rises.
- Use visual cues: This process is just as much intuitive as it is formulaic. With every step of this recipe, I highly recommend that you use visual cues to guide you, more so than the time estimations. Don't worry, I'll tell you what to look for!
Ingredients you'll need
Everything you'll need to make these cranberry chocolate sweet rolls is labeled in the photo above, but here's the fine print:
- I recommend whole milk, but would suggest nothing less than 2%. The higher fat content in this brioche dough is key to making extra-soft, extra-tender chocolate rolls.
- I typically use active dry yeast for these swirl buns, but instant yeast will work as well. Just take note that your dough will likely rise faster with instant yeast, so again, pay attention to those visual cues.
- As with my chocolate chip cookies, I prefer salted butter in this recipe. Unsalted isn't a deal-breaker though!
- You'll need one large egg for this recipe; make sure it's at room temperature! If you're anything like me and hate having to plan ahead, just place the egg in a cup filled with warm water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, until it's reached room temperature.
- I'd suggest using bread flour in this recipe. It has a higher protein content which yields higher gluten formation, for a more elastic dough, a better rise, and chewier sweet rolls. All-purpose flour would likely work in a pinch, but - full disclosure! - I haven't tested it.
- For the filling, I've always used frozen cranberries. Fresh cranberries would probably be just fine, but again, I haven't tested it to say for sure.
- Dark chocolate - whether semisweet or bittersweet - will pair best with the cranberries in the filling for these swirl buns. That being said, I wouldn't go any higher than about 75% cocoa in your chocolate. You can use a chopped chocolate bar, or opt for some good-quality chocolate chips/feves (also chopped if they're on the large side).
Prep the dough:
We'll start by prepping the brioche dough - a rich and buttery dough that'll make chocolate sweet rolls so pillowy-soft you can sink your teeth into them.
Step one - Proof the yeast: Pour 2 ⅛ ounces (or ¼ cup) of milk into a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave it until it's warm but not hot. You're looking for a temperature between 105-110ºF, which should take about 10-20 seconds depending on your microwave.
Stir in one tablespoon of sugar, and then sprinkle your yeast on top. Stir it in and let the mixture sit until a foamy layer forms on the surface (about 15-20 minutes). This process is called proofing your yeast, and it ensures that your yeast is alive and active before using it to bake bread.
Step two - Warm the butter and milk: While the yeast is proofing, combine cubed butter and another 6 ⅜ ounces (¾ cup) of milk in a second microwave-safe bowl. Microwave the mixture just until the butter melts (usually 40-50 seconds). Give it a stir and let it cool until lukewarm before moving on to the next step.
Step three - Combine into dough: Add the (now lukewarm) butter mixture to your proofed yeast, along with a single (room temperature) egg. Mix it all together with a large spoon, breaking up the egg in the process. Then, add 17 ounces (4 cups) of bread flour, another 3 tablespoons of sugar, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients in until you have a shaggy dough, like so:
Step four - Knead: Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface (a clean, solid countertop will work just fine!) and begin to knead it. The dough should be very soft, but shouldn't stick to your hands or the kneading surface; if it does, add more flour a bit at a time. (I usually need to add no more than an additional 1 ⅛ ounces, or ¼ cup).
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it's tender and elastic. Then, shape it into a ball, making sure the top surface is nice and smooth. I like to use my palms to cup the sides of the dough and gently pull the edges underneath in order to achieve this.
Step five - Rise: Find a bowl about twice the size of your ball of dough, and grease it lightly with cooking oil. Transfer the ball of dough to the bowl, turning it over once to coat the top surface with oil. Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise at warm room temperature until it has doubled in size.
If your bowl was indeed twice the size of the dough to begin with, the dough should fill the bowl once it's done rising. For me, this typically takes around 90-105 minutes, but this will largely depend on the type of yeast you used and the temperature of your kitchen.
Prep the cranberry chocolate filling:
This homemade filling is made with just three simple ingredients: cranberries, chocolate, and sugar. It's perfectly tart-sweet and decadently chocolatey!
To make it, combine cranberries and granulated sugar in a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment. Pulse the two together until the cranberries are finely chopped. Place them back in the freezer to keep them cold while you roll out your dough. This is also a good time to chop your chocolate if you haven't done so already.
Assemble and bake the chocolate rolls:
Step one - Prep your pan and rolling surface: Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Lightly flour a surface for rolling out the dough. Keep in mind that you'll likely get cranberry juice (which can stain!) on whatever surface you use; I like to roll my dough out on a large sheet of parchment.
Step two - Roll out the dough. Transfer the risen dough to your rolling surface and roll out to a 12" x 16" rectangle, keeping the thickness of the dough even throughout.
Step three - Add the filling: Brush the dough lightly with milk, leaving about a 1" clear border along the longer sides. Sprinkle the cranberry mixture evenly on top, followed by the chopped chocolate.
Step four - Roll and slice: Starting with one of the 16" sides, roll the dough up as tightly as possible, doing your best to keep the filling in place as you go. It helps to gently pull the dough towards you as your roll, to avoid it going slack and creating gaps in your chocolate swirls.
Once it's completely rolled into a log, use your fingertips to seal the dough at the opposite end. Then, roll the dough so that the seam is at the bottom, no longer visible. Use a sharp chef's knife or serrated knife to cut the log into twelve equal pieces.
Step five - Second rise: Carefully transfer the individual chocolate rolls into your prepared muffin pan, being cautious not to force them in. If they seem too large, you can opt for a jumbo muffin pan or a 9"x 13" baking dish instead. If any filling leaks out in the process, spoon it over the tops of the rolls once they're in the pan.
Lightly cover the rolls with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let them rise again until they're very puffy. If you're using instant yeast this may not take very long at all; once the rolls are starting to rise above the top of the muffin pan, they're ready to bake. (Note that even after rising, the end pieces will always be a little smaller than the rest.)
Step six - Bake: Once the chocolate rolls are about ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350ºF. Bake rolls in the fully preheated oven for 20-23 minutes, or just until the rolls around the outer edges of the pan are starting to turn golden.
Always be careful to avoid over-baking; if in doubt, a toothpick inserted into a section of the "bread" - not the filling - should come out free of dough. Let them cool briefly before serving.
Recipe tips and FAQ
While I prefer making yeast dough by hand, you could mix the dough in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (starting with step 3 of the recipe) and knead it with the dough hook for step four.
While I've always made them that way - almost like a popover! - a 9 inch by 13 inch pan should also work fine. A jumbo muffin pan is another option. Just keep in mind that your sweet rolls may not quite rise to the top of a jumbo muffin pan in the second rise.
If you only want a small batch of sweet rolls, it should be fairly straightforward to halve this recipe. Since a full batch only uses 1 egg, my recommendation is to whisk the egg first and then measure out half of the liquid to use.
Any rolls that you're not serving immediately can be cooled to room temperature on a wire rack and then stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator. I like to reheat individual rolls in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to bring them back to warm, soft, fluffy perfection.
More breakfast and brunch treats
Who doesn't love a splurge-y weekend breakfast treat? In addition to these chocolate rolls, here are a few of my other all-time favorites:
Cranberry Chocolate Sweet Rolls
These fluffy, pillowy-soft sweet rolls are made with a buttery brioche dough, and swirled with a combination of tangy-sweet cranberries and rich dark chocolate. Think of them as cinnamon rolls for chocolate lovers, perfect for a weekend or holiday breakfast!
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Rising Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours 35 minutes
- Yield: 12 sweet rolls 1x
- Category: pastries and sweet rolls
- Method: baking
- Cuisine: American
- 8 ½ ounces (1 cup) whole milk, divided
- 1 ¾ ounces (¼ cup) granulated sugar, divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 ½ ounces (5 tablespoons) butter, cubed
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 lb 2 ⅛ ounces (4 ¼ cups) bread flour, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
Cranberry Chocolate Filling
- 7 ¼ ounces (2 cups) frozen cranberries
- 3 ½ ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 6 ounces (1 cup) good-quality chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
- milk, for brushing
- Proof the yeast: Pour 2 ⅛ ounces (or ¼ cup) of milk into a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 10-20 seconds, or until warm but not hot (between 105-110ºF). Stir in one tablespoon of sugar. Sprinkle yeast on top and stir in. Let mixture sit until a foamy layer forms on the surface (about 15-20 minutes).
- Warm butter and milk: While the yeast is proofing, combine cubed butter and remaining 6 ⅜ ounces (¾ cup) of milk in a second microwave-safe bowl, microwaving the mixture just until the butter melts (usually 40-50 seconds). Stir and let cool until lukewarm before moving on to step 3.
- Combine into dough: Add lukewarm butter mixture to proofed yeast along with the egg. Mix together with a large spoon, breaking up the egg in the process. Add 17 ounces (4 cups) bread flour, remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients in until a shaggy dough forms.
- Knead: Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and begin to knead. It should be very soft, but shouldn't stick to your hands or the kneading surface; if it does, add more flour a bit at a time. (I usually need to add no more than an additional 1 ⅛ ounces (¼ cup)). Knead until tender and elastic, about 10 minutes. Then, shape into a smooth ball.
- Rise: Lightly grease a bowl about twice the size of the dough. Transfer dough to bowl, turning over once to coat the top surface with oil. Cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size (typically around 90-105 minutes).
Cranberry Chocolate Filling:
- Prep the filling: Combine cranberries and granulated sugar in a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment. Pulse together until cranberries are finely chopped. Place back in the freezer to keep cold while rolling out dough. Chop chocolate for filling if you have not already done so (standard size chocolate chips don't need to be chopped).
Assembling and Baking the Chocolate Rolls:
- Prep pan and rolling surface: Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Lightly flour a surface for rolling; a large sheet of parchment works well.
- Roll out dough: Transfer dough to rolling surface and roll out to a 12" x 16" rectangle, keeping the thickness of the dough even throughout.
- Add filling: Brush dough lightly with milk, leaving about a 1" clear border along the longer sides. Sprinkle cranberry mixture evenly on top, followed by chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.
- Roll and slice: Starting with one of the 16" sides, roll dough up as tightly as possible, doing your best to keep the filling in place as you go. Once rolled into a log, use fingertips to seal dough at the opposite end, and roll the dough so that the seam is at the bottom. Use a sharp chef's knife or serrated knife to cut the log into twelve equal pieces.
- Second rise: Carefully transfer individual rolls to prepared muffin pan. If any filling leaks out in the process, spoon over tops of rolls in pan. Lightly cover rolls with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let rise until very puffy. Once the rolls are starting to rise above the top of the pan, they're ready to bake.
- Bake: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake rolls in preheated oven for 20-23 minutes, just until the rolls around the outer edges of the pan are starting to turn golden. Let cool briefly before serving.
- When rolling this dough out, keep in mind that the cranberry filling could potentially stain any porous surface.
- Don't force the rolls into the muffin pan if they seem too large; instead, try using a jumbo muffin pan or 9"x 13" baking dish.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions:
- I recommend whole milk, but would suggest nothing less than 2%.
- Instant yeast will also work for this recipe; note that your dough will likely rise faster if using it.
- I prefer salted butter in this recipe, but unsalted will work too.
- To quickly bring an egg to room temperature, place it in a cup filled with warm water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
- Although I highly recommend using bread flour for these sweet rolls, all-purpose flour would likely work in a pinch. No matter what you use, weigh it if possible, or use the spoon and level method if measuring by volume. Only use as much flour as you need to form a soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands.
- Frozen cranberries can most likely be substituted with fresh, but I haven't tested it.
- I recommend a good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate for this recipe; I'd suggest using one with no higher than 75% cocoa.
Storing and Reheating:
- If not serving immediately, cool rolls to room temperature on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator. Individual rolls can be reheated in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.
Keywords: chocolate rolls, chocolate sweet rolls, cranberry rolls, sweet rolls, chocolate bread rolls,