Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Oh yes, I went there. After playing around with the idea of blueberry cinnamon rolls, I realized that regular cinnamon rolls are a bit like a blank canvas. Sure, they are wonderful all on their own but they also lend themselves well to showcasing other flavors. The idea of caramel apple cinnamon rolls popped into my head and it wasn’t long before I just had to make them.
I added a touch of fall spices to a basic cinnamon roll dough, rolled them with caramelized apples and cinnamon sugar filling the swirls, and drizzled with a caramel cream cheese glaze. The result was exactly what I was hoping for. A tender lightly spiced dough with big chunks of apple, and the glaze was positively to die for. Ben doesn’t normally get overly effusive about the things I bake, but he called these his other true love. They are definitely sweet enough to be a dessert, but I’m sure they would be the hit of any fall brunch. After adding the filling, rolling and slicing the dough log, the filling may seem to be overwhelming the dough but don’t worry. After the rolls proof the dough and filling will be nicely proportioned.
Yield: 8-12 large cinnamon rolls or 12-16 smaller rolls
For the cinnamon rolls:
6½ tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
5½ tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon zest
3½ cups bread flour
2 tsp. instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 cup plus 2-4 tbsp. whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature
For the filling:
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
For the glaze:
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. caramel sauce
1 tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter on medium-high speed until smooth. Mix in the egg and lemon zest until incorporated. Mix in the flour, yeast and milk until a dough forms. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed, about 8 minutes until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. (You may need to add a little extra flour or liquid to achieve this texture.) Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, make the filling. To make the caramelized apples, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apple slices, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix until the apples are evenly coated. Cook about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon to blend; set aside.
Mist a work surface with spray oil. Roll it out into a rectangle with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the dough with flour if needed to keep it from sticking (about 12 x 14 inches for larger rolls or 9 x 18 inches for smaller rolls). Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix to blend. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the surface of the dough. Evenly distribute the caramelized apples over the top of the dough. Starting with the wide edge, roll up the dough into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon sugar spiral as you roll. Pinch the seam shut, and with the seam side down, slice the log into your desired number of rolls. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, placing the rolls about ½-1 inch apart.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 75-90 minutes, until the rolls have grown into each other and have nearly doubled in size. At this point, the rolls can also be covered and retarded in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Pull the pan out of the refrigerator 3-4 hours before baking to let the dough proof.
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool in the baking about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
To make the glaze, combine the cream cheese and butter in a small heatproof bowl and microwave in 15-20 second intervals until it is warm enough to whisk together. Whisk in the caramel sauce, milk and vanilla extract until smooth. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Swirl the glaze over the top of the cinnamon rolls. Let cool at least 15-20 minutes before serving.