Bursting with the flavors of the season, these apple butter cinnamon rolls are the perfect start for any fall day, but most of all Thanksgiving.
Dripping with caramel sauce and crammed full of apple cinnamon goodness, these cinnamon rolls will quickly become your go-to recipe for a sweet cinnamon roll treat. The dough is soft and slightly sweet. The filling is rich and buttery. The topping guarantees you will get your fingers sticky. All in all, they satisfy all of my requirements for a perfect cinnamon roll. The one thing these don’t do, is make me feel guilty for eating a sweet treat for breakfast.
The taste won’t give it away, but this is actually a reduced fat, reduced sugar recipe. Remember the apple butter we made 2 weeks ago? The one that creates a thick, rich, buttery sauce? That’s the filling for these cinnamon rolls. I used it instead of my standard filling of butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Now, I am not usually one to recommend diet food. As I find that it usually tastes bland in comparison to the original and hardly ever satisfies my craving. I would much rather have two bites of a full fat version and savor it, than devour a full serving of a “healthy” version any day. This recipe however, is the exception to that rule. It tastes just as decadent and delicious as the original. The apple butter gives these cinnamon rolls all of the rich, spiced, flavor without the extra calories and fat. Looking at the filling alone, here is the nutritional difference.
Now, I’m not saying these cinnamon rolls are healthy. I doubt a healthy cinnamon roll exists. After all, they aren’t supposed to be healthy, they are supposed to be a treat. What I am saying: If you really want a cinnamon roll that will satisfy a craving for a cinnamon roll while being slightly better than a standard cinnamon roll, these are your cinnamon rolls.
These cinnamon rolls should come together fairly quickly and easily. The key to getting them just right is allowing the dough enough time to rest and to rise. If you try to rush it, you will get dense, tough rolls that can be difficult to chew. Pay attention to the temperature in your kitchen and remember that yeast will work only on it’s own time.
Start by slicing the butter into 1 tablespoon sized chunks. Place the butter along with the milk into a small sauce pan. Heat it gently over medium heat and avoid boiling or scalding the milk. Once the butter is almost melted, turn off the heat and continue to stir until it’s fully incorporated. Pour the butter and milk mixture into a 2 cup or larger measuring cup and allow to cool until it feels neither cold nor hot to the touch.
This recipe can be mixed by hand, but I recommend using a stand mixer with the dough hook. In the bowl of your stand mixer measure out 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of instant yeast, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine.
Once the butter and milk mixture is around body temperature (95 – 100 degrees), add in one egg and 1/4 cup of water. If the butter and milk mixture is too warm, you will end up with scrambled eggs in this step and if it’s too cold the yeast will take forever to work in the next step. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and turn the mixer to low – level 1 or 2 if using a Kitchen Aid mixer. Once combined, the mixture will be slightly wet and lumpy. Add in the next 1/2 cup of flour gradually until you have shaggy dough that sticks together. If your dough is still sticky to the touch, that’s okay as we will add more flour while we knead it.
Turn the shaggy dough ball out onto a clean, well floured surface. I started with about 1/4 cup of flour on my counter top. Knead the dough until it’s smooth, folding it over on itself, then turning 90 degrees before repeating. It will take about 8 – 10 minutes of kneading to smooth out the dough. If your dough is sticking to your hands or to the counter, add more flour. My dough had just under four cups of flour total when it reached the right consistency. Once your dough is smooth and not sticky, shape it into a ball and let it rest 10 minutes.
The 10 minute rest allows time for the gluten to relax, which will make rolling it out much easier. If the dough springs back when flattened, walk away and let it rest for a couple minutes. It will be easier when you come back. When rolling out the dough, aim for a rectangular shape that is about 1/4 of an inch thick. It’s okay if it’s not perfect. The rolls that come from the ends will be a little bit smaller and should be placed in the middle rows of the pan to prevent burning. My imperfect rectangle measured roughly 14 inches by 20 inches.
Measure out 1 cup of apple butter and spread evenly over the top of your dough rectangle. If you don’t want to make it from scratch, store bought is fine. You should be able to find it with the jams and jellies at your local market. Once the dough is covered in apple butter it’s time to roll it up. Starting with the long edge, begin to gently pry the dough from the work surface and roll it in on itself. Be careful not to rip the dough if it’s sticking. If the apple butter starts to seep forward, lift the roll and tuck it over to pull back the apple butter. Once it’s all together, flip it so that the seam side is down to make for easier slicing.
Grab a 9″ x 13″ pan and grease it liberally with butter. The roll needs to be divided into 12 individual rolls of the same height, just under two inches. Start by cutting the long roll into half, then cut each half into half. Take each quarter and slice into thirds. It’s much easier to get uniform rolls this way rather than starting at one end and working your way down. It also guarantees an even 12 rolls to fit your pan. Place each roll into the pan on it’s end.
Once you have them in the pan, cover with a clean kitchen cloth and place them in a warm spot. Now comes the hard part. The waiting. The rolls above on the left were just sliced and placed into the pan. The rolls on the right are the same rolls that have been resting for 90 minutes. I was working in a fairly cold kitchen when I made these. The house temperature was around 63 degrees and the oven was initially turned off. After 30 minutes there was no change in the rolls. To help activate the yeast I preheated my oven to 350 degrees and set the rolls on top of the stove. 60 minutes later they filled the pan beautifully. I have made these cinnamon rolls previously in a very warm kitchen – house temperature around 78 degrees – and they were ready to bake in only 30 minutes. Check yours every 30 minutes or so and bake them once they have risen to fill the pan. If they expand too far, you cannot punch them back down to size. You are stuck with the size they rise to.
Once they are risen, place them into a 350 degree oven and set the timer for 25 minutes. The tops will turn a beautiful golden brown color and your house will smell like a bakery. Don’t those look yummy?! Let them cool in the pan while you make the glaze. You can use a simple icing glaze of powdered sugar and water, or even a cream cheese icing like those famous rolls from the mall. I, however, decided to go with my bourbon caramel sauce, the one I shared with you for the Apple Crumble last month.
I made a half recipe: 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp of bourbon or vanilla. Melt the butter with the brown sugar; add the cream, salt, and bourbon/vanilla; boil for 3 -5 minutes until it froths up and triples in size. Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then drizzle it all over the top of the cinnamon rolls while still in the pan. If you can be patient, give it a minute to seep down around them before cutting.
These were too much fun for a knife and fork – finger licking good. Serve them up with eggs or a side of sausage and you have a great start to your Thanksgiving day. What is your favorite way to start Thanksgiving?
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Please Note: The recipe below does not include the bourbon caramel sauce. The recipe for the sauce is listed in the post and is getting it’s own designated post in December.
Apple Cinnamon Rolls
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/3 cup butter
- 3 1/2 - 4 cups flour
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup apple butter
- Cut butter into 1 tablespoon sized chunks.
- Place butter and milk in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until butter is almost melted.
- Remove from heat and continue stirring until butter is fully incorporated.
- Pour butter and milk mixture into a 2 cup or larger liquid measuring cup and allow to cool until it feels neither hot nor cool to the touch.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer measure out 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp of instant yeast, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix to combine.
- Once the butter and milk has cooled (around 95 - 105 degrees) add the water and egg. Whisk to combine.
- Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture in the stand mixer.
- Using the dough hook, turn the mixer to low.
- After about 3 minutes the mixture should be sticky and slightly wet.
- Add in the next 1/2 cup of flour gradually until you have a shaggy dough.
- Turn it out onto a clean, well floured work surface. Knead for 7 - 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth, not sticky, and bounces back to the touch.
- Shape it into a ball and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
- Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a large rectangle that is approximately 14" x 20" and 1/4" thick.
- Evenly spread 1 cup of apple butter on top of the dough's surface.
- Starting with the long side of the rectangle, gently roll the dough towards you. Be careful not to tear the dough, or roll too tightly and push out the apple butter.
- Place the seam side of the roll down and slice into 12 equal pieces. Start by slicing the roll in half, then half again, then dividing the quarters into thirds.
- Place each individual roll into a buttered 9" x 13" pan, keeping the smaller rolls towards the center to prevent burning.
- Cover with a clean kitchen towel, place in a warm spot, and allow to rise for 30 - 90 minutes or until the rolls have doubled in size.
- Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.