If ever you decide to make cinnamon rolls (and you really should), do yourself a favour and don’t make them without stuffing them with a bunch of caramelised apples first. Pretty please. You will have no regrets. Slathering them with a cream cheese frosting is optional, but obviously, recommended.
These are easily the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever made, because the bread itself is softer and more tender and more flavourful than I expected. Those soft, cinnamony, buttery apples deserve most of the credit though. This is all you should make all winter long!
The dough is the same one I used for these orange rolls, minus the zest because I wanted the apples to shine. The orange juice in the dough is an amazing ingredient. It doesn’t make the rolls taste of orange, but adds a lot of moisture and tenderness, which is great when working without eggs.
Each bite of these super soft rolls with those tender juicy apples is pure heaven. It’s like apple pie, but without any fiddly panic-causing pie crusts. Win win. The cream cheese frosting isn’t something I would normally add, because I like my cinnamon rolls as is. But here, they complement the apples perfectly and since it’s not an overwhelmingly thick layer, I really think you should do it!
All of that tender bread!!! *insert heart-eyed emoji here*
Since the apples are cooked before layering them on the dough, so that they became nice and tender after baking, they do release some juices as you begin to roll the dough. This makes it a little messy, but nothing you can’t handle. The extra moisture is welcome here, for rolls that stay tender even straight out of the fridge. In a warm kitchen, the dough is likely to be a little sticky, so if you can’t roll it super tight, it’s ok, as long as the apples stay in.
Depending on the size of your oven, you may need to bake these rolls in two pans and two batches as they turn out quite large, especially after the second rise (pictured above). I found that even while the second batch sat outside, the extra rise time didn’t really affect the texture, which is great in warmer temperatures.
Despite the dough, the apples and the frosting, all containing some sugar, the rolls are not crazy sweet, I promise. All the flavours work just perfectly together and if you have a cup of hot coffee on hand, I’m not responsible if you eat the entire batch in one sitting. These rolls are also super fun to make, if you enjoy baking breads. The whole process feels really great and I think that’s the most important part 🙂 Get baking!
- For the dough
- 2 and ¼ tsp active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water (you should be able to comfortably dip in a finger)
- ½ cup orange juice (preferably fresh, but packaged is ok too)
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- 2 tbsps butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp salt if using unsalted butter
- ½ cup whole milk
- 3 and ½ cups all-purpose flour
- For the cinnamon layer
- 2 tbsps caster sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- ¼ cup butter, at room temperature
- For the apple layer
- 3 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 2 tbsps butter
- 2 tbsps brown sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon powder
- For the frosting
- ⅓ cup cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, mix the yeast and warm water. Cover and set aside for a few minutes till dissolved and slightly frothy.
- To make the dough, combine the orange juice, sugar, butter, salt (if using) and milk in a large bowl. Mix well. A stand mixer with the dough hook is useful here, but a sturdy bowl and hand mixer, also preferably with a dough hook, is fine too.
- Pour in the yeast mixture and beat for a few seconds till everything is well combined. Now add 3 cups of flour and beat on low speed. Gradually add the remaining half cup of flour, a little at a time and continue beating. If you don't use the entire remaining amount, that's fine. You need a dough that is soft and smooth and it might be a little sticky if your kitchen is warm, but do not be tempted to add more than a total of 3 and a half cups of flour.
- If using a stand mixer, beat for at least 5 minutes after adding all the flour till the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and begins to form a ball. At this point I prefer to knead the dough with my hands, rather than let the machine overwork it.The dough should be soft, pliable, only slightly sticky and spring back slowly when poked with a finger and this is when you know it's ready to rise. Kneading entirely by hand may take a little longer but it's absolutely doable.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled, large bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm area for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled. If your kitchen isn't very warm or you want to speed up the rise, turn your oven on to 100 C for about 30 seconds, switch it off, then place the bowl in it.
- In the meantime, prepare the apple filling. Heat the butter in a non stick pan on low heat, then add the sugar and stir. Add the chopped apples and mix very well, cooking for 5 to 10 minutes until the apples are tender and the liquid is bubbling. Set aside to cool.
- When the dough has puffed and doubled in size, lightly flour your kitchen counter or a silicone mat which is more convenient.
- Punch down the dough to release any air bubbles, then turn it out onto the floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top and roll it out into a roughly 10x15 rectangle.
- In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Spread the butter onto the rolled out dough, making sure it reaches every inch of it. Sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar, covering the dough entirely. Finally, spread the apple mixture onto the dough, pressing it down gently so it sticks to the dough.
- Slowly roll the dough up as tightly as possible, lightly flouring your fingertips if needed. The dough will be a little wet because of the apples, so roll as quickly as you can to prevent sticking. Slice into 12 even pieces.
- Place each roll, cut side up in a lightly greased baking pan, 8x8 should be sufficient or use two smaller pans if baking in batches. Leave a little gap between each roll because they're going to rise further and stick to each other. Cover with clingfilm and let rise again for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until puffy.
- Preheat the oven to 190 C, then remove the clingfilm from the dish and lightly cover it with aluminium foil. This prevents excessively quick browning.
- Bake the covered rolls for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until browned and cooked through. I like a nice crust so allowed mine to brown a little longer. If baking in batches, leave the second batch out at room temperature, covered, while the first one bakes.
- Allow the rolls to cool slightly, before using a sharp knife to take each one out. To make the frosting, simply combine the cream cheese, milk and vanilla and mix well till smooth and creamy. Spread the frosting on top of the rolls and eat them up while they're still warm! They reheat beautifully in the microwave and should be stored in the refrigerator after day one. Happy baking!