Easy, Soft Apple Cinnamon Rolls

if you thought cinnamon rolls couldn’t get any better, you need to try these apple cinnamon rolls. This unique apple pie twist elevates this timeless dessert like you never could have imagined. you’ll never want to go back to regular old cinnamon rolls again!

Two of my favorite desserts in the world are cinnamon rolls and any dessert that follows the world apple – pies, strudel, cobbler, crisp, cake, you name it! So naturally, I figured why not combine the two. This one was the result of a hankering for soft, cushy cinnamon rolls and apples lying in my fridge.

These rolls will invariably leave everyone dying for more! They’re pillowy soft and so tender to bite into. The apple mix inside adds texture and elevates the flavor of a simple cinnamon mixture. So, without wasting anymore time, let’s get talking apple cinnamon rolls!

Dough Notes

After making this over a hundred times, I’ve simplified the process as much as possible. These will be the easiest cinnamon rolls you can will ever make, from scratch! There are a few important steps and pieces of information you should keep in mind before you proceed though.

What kind of yeast to use?

I used active dry yeast here, but instant yeast will work just fine. My yeast was newly bought so I knew it’s still alive. However, if you’ve had your yeast for a while, it’s worth checking to make sure.

To check if your yeast is alive, take half the water and a tablespoon of the sugar used to make the dough. Heat the water till it’s lukewarm and the sugar dissolves, then add your yeast to it. Wait 5-10 minutes, until you start seeing bubbles on the surface of the water. Then you know your yeast is alive. Don’t use hot water as it might kill the yeast, and cold water will not activate the yeast. So it’s important to make sure your water is lukewarm to touch. Then continue with the rest of the recipe using the remaining water and sugar.

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Which type of milk to use?

As for the milk, I use lactose-free whole milk. However, you can use the regular kind, part-skim or skim, or even non-dairy. Whole milk does yield a slightly richer flavor. However, in all honesty, the difference if you substitute with other milks is hardly noticable.

What should your dough feel and look like?

Cinnamon roll dough should be slightly sticky and soft. This will give you softer, fluffier rolls once you bake them. Once it roughly comes together after baking, it’s important to knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, till you see no unmixed flour and all the ingredients look very homogenously mixed. Don’t add too much flour because you want the dough to stay soft and slightly sticky. Watch the video below to get an idea of how to knead cinnamon roll dough.

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How to proof doughs?

You’ll often hear recipes call for proofing at room temperature. This is misleading because room temperature differs from place to place.

If you live in a hot country or during the summers, your room temperature will be warm. You can easily leave your dough to proof on the counter top, tightly covered so it’s not exposed to draft.

If you live in cold climates, or during the winter months, or if you’d just like to speed up the proofing process, a great place to proof your dough is inside a closed oven, with only the light turned on and the door shut. The light alone will heat up the oven to create the perfect temperature for an ideal rise. Turn the light on before you start making the dough so the oven is pre-warmed nicely.

This recipe calls for two rises. The first rise is a short rise in a warm environment for at least 30 minutes, but ideally an hour or longer. You can even push it down to 10 min if you manage to create a warm and humid environment. When I’m short on time, I usually place the dough in a closed oven with the light on. In the mean time, I can work on my filling and the dough should be proofed enough by the time I’m done.

The second rise is after you assemble the rolls and place them on your baking sheet. This is a longer rise for at least an hour in a warm environment, but ideally overnight in the fridge. Whenever proofing for a long time, like overnight, proof in the fridge as this controls how much the dough expands. Once, I let my rolls rise in a warm environment for half the day, and they had proofed so much that they had merged into one giant dough. So don’t make that mistake after all that hard work!

Second rise in action – watch the dough double in size!

Rolling your dough

The trick to getting good, uniform rolls is the way you roll your dough out. I like to pat and press my dough out into a square shape. Then, start making indentations for an easier roll. Start to roll side to side and up and down to try and get a rectangle shape. I roll mine out to a quarter of an inch thick, but you know what, you’re the boss of your own rolls so roll it a bit thicker if you wish.

Don’t be afraid to pull the dough gently from the edges to get a nice rectangle shape.

After placing your fillings onto the dough, it’s important to roll tightly. With each roll, gently pull back with your fingers to tighten each roll.

Can these be frozen?

Cinnamon rolls can be par-baked and frozen for up to 2 months. After you form the rolls, let them rise in a warm environment for an hour. Then, bake at 360F (180C) for 8-10 min or till they set, but not brown. Then let cool and cover tightly with plastic wrap, place in freezer for 2 months.

Whenever you’re craving a cinnamon roll, bake from frozen for up to 15 minutes or till they look golden brown. Or let them thaw overnight in the fridge and then bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Filling Notes

What kind of apples do I use?

You want apples to be the star of your apple cinnamon rolls! I opt for sweet, soft apples, like McIntosh or Gala. They break down easily as you cook them and get mushy so they can be spread easily on the dough.

Regardless, if you simply prefer tart apples in with your sweet cinnamon rolls, that’s a great contrast too and adds another flavor layer to these rolls. Opt for any apple you like, really! Just chop your apples very small if you’re using ones that are firmer and hold their shape while cooking. Otherwise, it will be difficult to roll your dough without tearing or piercing it.

The cinnamon roll filling

We don’t have as much cinnamon sugar filling as you’d find in regular cinnamon rolls. This is because we already get much of that sweet caramel coming in with the apple filling. You can choose to omit it completely if it’s feels too sweet to you. But in my experience, cinnamon rolls are best when they’re warm and sugary.

So, now that you know everything there is to know about these to-die-for apple cinnamon rolls, don’t waste a second more and get baking!

If you tried out this recipe, I’d love to know how it turned out! Post in the comments below or share a picture on instagram or twitter with the hashtag #hungrybyayesha

Apple Cinnamon Rolls

A fall classic with a unique apple pie twist.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Resting Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 40 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: apple, apple pie, baking, breakfast, cinnamon, cinnamon roll
Servings: 12
Calories: 398kcal
Author: Ayesha Bilal

Ingredients

THE DOUGH

  • cup all-purpose flour (345g)
  • ¼ cup sugar (50g)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ tbsp instant yeast (7g)
  • ½ cup milk (120ml)
  • ¼ cup water (60ml)
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter (42g)
  • 1 large egg

APPLE FILLING

  • 3 large apples
  • 2 tbsp butter (30g)
  • ½ cup brown sugar (100g)
  • ½ cup sugar (100g)
  • tbsp cinnamon

CINNAMON ROLL FILLING

  • ¼ cup butter (113g)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar (50g)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

ADDITIONAL

  • cup all-purpose flour (for dusting)

Instructions

THE DOUGH

  • In a bowl, add the flour, sugar, salt and yeast and mix till homogenous (make sure the yeast does not come into contact with the salt before mixing so as not to kill it).
  • Add milk, water and butter to a saucepan and heat on low till the liquid is lukewarm and the butter melts. You can also do this step in a microwave by heating in intervals of 10-15 seconds.
  • Make a well in the flour mixture and slowly pour your lukewarm milk mixture in. Give your egg a quick whisk and pur it in.
  • Using a wooden spoon (if working by hand) or the low speed on your stand mixer, start incorporating all the ingredients together till they form a rough dough. Then, lightly flour your work surface and drop your rough dough on to it. Knead it for about 10 minutes till the dough is smooth and the flour has been well-incorporated it.
  • Form into a smooth ball and place into a well-greased bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, but ideally for an hour (see article for more information about proofing your dough). In the meantime, work on your filling.

APPLE FILLING

  • Chop your apples into small sized cubes, slightly smaller than ½in2 (1cm2).
  • In a pan, melt butter and add the chopped apples. Cook till softened. Add a splash of water if needing to soften them more.
  • When apples have softened, add the brown and white sugars and cinnamon. Mix them together till well-incorporated then let it cook till sugars have caramelized and the mixture has thickened to a consistency of caramel.
  • Using a potato masher or fork, give the apples a light mashing to break down any large pieces to make it easier to spread later. Take off heat and let cool.

CINNAMON ROLL FILLING

  • In a small bowl, add the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and, using a spatula, mix it into a spreadable paste.

ASSEMBLING THE ROLLS

  • On a light floured surface, place your proofed dough and give it quick knead. Pat and press your dough into a roughly square shape. Roll your dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick, pull gently from the edges if you need to, to get a good rectangle shape. If dough is becoming too elastic to work with, let it rest for 5 minutes and then continue.
  • Smear your cinnamon roll filling evenly on the dough, leaving about half an inch empty on one of the long edges. Then place your cooled apple caramel filling and spread that evenly, again, leaving half an inch bare along the long-edge of the dough.
  • Start rolling from the long-side, using your fingers to gently pull back each time you roll to make sure your rolls are tight. Using a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss, cut into 11-12 uniform-sized rolls.
  • Place your rolls on a baking tray, making sure to leave plenty of space in between to let the rolls double in size. Cover and let rise in a warm environment for at least 1 hour, or over night in the fridge. See blog for more information about ideal proofing environments.
  • Preheat oven to 360°F (180°C). Bake for 20-25 minutes or till cinnamon rolls are turning golden brown on the top.

ICING

  • Mix together confectioners' sugar and vanilla with 1 tablespoon of milk. Mix well and add more milk till the desired consistency is reached. Add 4-5 drops of lemon juice or lemon extract optionally for extra flavor. Pour over hot cinnamon rolls and let it set will rolls cool.

Notes

  1. Milk mixture for dough should be lukewarm, that is, if you inset your finger, it should feel warm, not hot, otherwise it will kill your yeast. Any milk will do, I have used whole milk, lactose-free milk, skimmed milk, and non-dairy milk for these in the past and all have yielded similar results.
  2. Instant yeast is used in this recipe, but any quick acting yeast will work. You can check to make sure if your yeast is alive by warming half the water used to make the dough till it’s lukewarm then adding your yeast to it. Wait 10 minutes and if bubbles form, your yeast is still good. Pour it into the flour and mix the milk and butter with the rest of the water and proceed with the recipe as normal.
  3. Kneading the dough for 10 minutes is important to incorporate all the ingredients well and produce some gluten. Your dough should be slightly tacky, but still easy to work with. Do not add too much flour as the stickier you let the dough me, the softer the rolls will turn out.  
  4. Environment for proofing the dough should be warm and draft-free but since room temperature differs from place to place, here’s some tips to adjust: if room temp where you live is cool or cold, or if you’d just like to rise your dough faster, place your dough in a closed oven with the light on. If you live in a warm place, counter-top should be fine as long as the dough is covered tightly. If letting the rolls rest overnight, let them rise in the fridge. 
  5. Freezing this dough is entirely possible. Form the rolls then place onto a tray, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Once frozen, you can transfer to a container and keep in freezer for upto 2 months. 
  6. Sweet red apples are ideal for this recipe as they soften easily and break down, so they’re easier to spread compared to tart green apples. But if you prefer some tartness, you can use green apples but just chop them as small as possible so they can spread easily without peircing the dough. 
  7. Cutting the rolls should be done with a sharp knife using a sawing motion. Do not cut downwards as it will squish the rolls down and make them lopsided when you bake them. You can use unflavored dental floss which is a lot easier. Slide the dental floss under the rolls and then loop it over them, then tighten the loop to cut through neatly.
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Ayesha Bilal
Ayesha Bilal

A 25 year expat, living currently in Turkey, and living my happiest life exploring the world, bit by bit, with my favorite travel buddy, and my partner, Argun. Follow my travel across England on FellowPrimo, and check out delicious recipes and the best spots to grab a bite around the world.

Articles by Ayesha Bilal



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