Apple cinnamon rolls are soft, gooey treats made for fall weekends and holiday mornings, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. We start with a classic homemade cinnamon rolls recipe and upgrade it with the addition of fresh apple pieces and a decadent vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.
Does making cinnamon rolls from scratch sounds like too much work for an early morning? Check out my tips for making these as overnight cinnamon rolls instead. Nothing beats the indulgence of a sweet, homemade, apple cinnamon roll for a special occasions.
Originally appearing on the blog in November 2015, the recipe was last updated in September 2019.
As a child, nothing beat rolling out of bed on a chilly holiday morning knowing that mom had cinnamon rolls waiting in the kitchen. The soft, gooey dough, sweet spiced filling, and decadent cream cheese frosting were always a welcome treat.
While these are not the cinnamon rolls of my childhood, I dare say they are better. Afterall, these are homemade cinnamon rolls from scratch! I know what goes in them and I think that the extra work involved means I earn my indulgent treat.
These apple cinnamon rolls start with a yeast dough, are filled with a layer of sweet, spiced, apple filling, then topped with a homemade cream cheese frosting. Rich, buttery, and indulgent, they are a classic way to kick off your holiday celebrations.
Apple Cinnamon Rolls from Scratch
Making apple cinnamon rolls from scratch is not a quick or easy process. You have to make the yeast dough. Let it rise. Make the filling. Assemble the rolls. Let them rise again. Make the cinnamon roll icing. Bake the rolls. Then wait for them to cool enough to touch while being tortured by the heavenly aroma of fresh bread and baked cinnamon.
It’s a complex process and not for the faint of heart. However, if you are only doing it once or twice a year for special occasions it’s totally worth it! Also, my tips and tricks will help you get it done right the first attempt, making it that much easier to include it as an annual tradition.
Cinnamon Rolls Yeast Dough
The dough we are using for these apple cinnamon rolls is a modified brioche dough made with instant yeast. The egg and butter give it a rich texture that makes these rolls taste extra decadent. The instructions in the recipe card are detailed, but there are a few things to consider.
First question: do you trust your yeast? I recommend instant yeast, which does not HAVE to be proofed, but I recommend proofing it anyway. Why? If your yeast is too old or was improperly stored, it may not do its job. I’d rather find out at the beginning, than after an hour of work. Want the long story and to learn more about working with yeast? See my English Muffin Bread recipe or my Homemade Pita Bread recipe.
Do you have a stand mixer or do you prefer to work off your indulgences before you enjoy them? Mixing and kneading the yeast dough by hand is totally doable, but it takes extra energy and extra time.
This is one recipe that makes me happy to pull out my stand mixer. The image of dough below shows it after adding enough flour to make it stop sticking to the bowl, but before kneading.
Tips for a Faster Proof
Allowing enough time is important. The dough has to rise twice. Once in the form of a dough ball and again in the form of cinnamon rolls. The actual timing depends on the ambient temperature of your kitchen and can only be estimated.
If you want to speed things up, use your oven as a proofing box. If your oven has proofing settings, set it to 200º, You can also heat your oven to its lowest temperature – typically 250ºF, turn it off, then place the dough inside. Either of these methods should cut the suggested proofing time in half.
Also, you don’t have to be an early riser to enjoy these rolls fresh from the oven. Check out my tips below for overnight cinnamon rolls to see how to break this up into a two day project.
Apple Cinnamon Rolls Filling
The filling for these apple cinnamon rolls is a combination of butter, brown sugar, spices, and diced apples. For the most even coverage and best filling to dough ratio, I add the filling in three parts: room temperature butter, then the the brown sugar and spice mixture, then the chopped apples.
While it’s tempting to start the filling while the dough rises, if you chop the apples too far in advance they will brown. To speed things up, wait the first hour and see how your dough is doing. If it’s doubling quickly go ahead and start the filling. However, if it’s a slow rise kind of day, wait a little longer to start the filing.
Rolling and Assembling the Apple Cinnamon Rolls
After the first rise, when the dough has doubled in size and has a puffy, soft appearance, punch it down (it will deflate), then roll it out. When rolling out the dough, make sure you are working with a well floured surface.
Roll and stretch the dough into a rectangular shape that is about 1/4 of an inch thick and just larger than 18′ by 12′. While an exact rectangle is not required, it helps to gently stretch the corners by hand to get them into place.
Before adding the filling, make sure your dough isn’t sticking to the surface. Brush on the melted butter, then sprinkle on the brown sugar and spice mixture. Follow this with the diced apples.
Working with the long edge, gently roll the dough in on itself so that you have a log that is roughly 18″ long. Once it’s all together, flip it so that the seam side is down.
Slicing Uniform Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Use a very sharp knife, let the knife do the work to slice the cinnamon rolls without mashing them down. Instead of working from one end of the roll to the other, I use a kitchen measuring tape as a guide and divide the sections starting in the middle.
Start by cutting the long roll into half, then cut each half into half. Take each quarter and slice into thirds. This trick increases the chance that you will get an even 12 rolls that are uniform in size and will bake evenly.
Place the rolls into a buttered 9″ by 13″ pan with the smallest rolls on the inside. Typically, these are the rolls from the end of the log. Placing them in the middle will prevent them from cooking too quickly compared to the other cinnamon rolls.
Once you have your assembled cinnamon rolls in the pan it’s time to choose your own adventure! Do you bake them now or do you bake them later?
Overnight Apple Cinnamon Rolls
If you want to enjoy apple cinnamon rolls for an early breakfast, it’s super convenient to make overnight cinnamon rolls. Once the rolls are assembled in the baking dish, cover the pan and place it in the fridge overnight. The next morning pull them out and let them rise one hour in a warm spot before baking.
The fridge stalls the yeast, and some argue it helps the flavor of the dough further develop – similar to proofing pizza dough for up to 72 hours. I haven’t done a side by side taste test, so I’m not sure, but I have refrigerated mine for about 12 – 14 hours with good results.
Baking Apple Cinnamon Rolls
If you want to bake them today, cover the assembled cinnamon rolls with a clean kitchen cloth and place them in a warm spot for the second rise. Since the dough is already warm, or at least at room temperature, this second rise should only take 30 – 60 minutes.
You’ll know they are ready to go when the dough has expanded enough for the rolls to fill the pan. Once risen, place them into an oven preheated to 350ºF. Bake until the tops turn a beautiful golden brown color and your house smells like a bakery.
Cinnamon Roll Icing
An apple cinnamon isn’t a truly decadent indulgence without the vanilla cream cheese icing. The icing is fairly simple, but you do need to let the cream cheese and butter come up to room temperature for the lightest fluffiest results.
I set my ingredients out when I start the recipe, then make the icing while waiting for the rolls to bake. When doing these as overnight cinnamon rolls, I do the icing the night before to minimize the mess and the work in the morning.
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Apple Cinnamon Rolls Recipe
Apple cinnamon rolls with fresh apples and vanilla cream cheese frosting are an upgrade on classic homemade cinnamon rolls. These apple cinnamon rolls from scratch are perfect for fall weekends, holiday mornings, and special occasions.
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- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (1 packet)
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup butter - melted
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 - 4 1/2 cups flour
- 5 TBSP butter - softened
- 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 2 large apples* - diced
- 6 oz cream cheese
- 5 TBSP butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Warm milk to between 105º to 110ºF. Sprinkle yeast on top and let it proof for 5 - 10 minutes. Yeast should foam up. If it doesn't start over with fresh yeast.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer whisk together the eggs and salt. Add the yeast mixture, melted butter, sugar, and 4 cups of flour.
- With the dough hook attachment, mix on low to combine, stopping to scrape the sides at least twice. About 3 minutes.
- The dough should be soft and wet. Add the remaining flour 1/4 cup or less at a time, mixing each addition until combined completely. You may not need it all, you'll know it's enough when the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.
- When the dough is shaggy and no longer sticking to the bowl, knead the dough with the mixer or by hand.
- To knead with the mixer: run the mixer on the lowest setting for 5 - 7 minutes, stopping at least twice to push the dough back down and off the dough hook. To knead by hand: turn the dough out onto a clean, well floured work surface. Knead for 10 - 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth, not sticky, and bounce back to the touch.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to coat with oil, then cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise 1 - 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- While the dough is proofing, prepare the filling.
- On a well floured surface, use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a large rectangle. Approximately 18" x 12" and 1/4" thick.
- Spread the softened butter on the dough. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and spices, then sprinkle on top of the butter. Follow with the diced apple chunks.
- Starting with the long side of the rectangle, gently roll the dough towards you so that you have a roughly 18" long log.
- Place the seam side of the roll down and trim any uneven ends. Slice the log into 12 equal pieces by slicing the roll in half, then half again, then dividing the quarters into thirds.
- Place each roll on it's end in a buttered 9" x 13" pan. Keep 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.
Cream Cheese Icing
- In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the softened cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing to combine completely and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
- After the last addition, with the mixer running add the vanilla bean paste (or equal parts vanilla extract) and combine completely.
*Any apples of your choice will work. My favorites are honeycrisp, granny smith, braeburn, and jonagolds.
Overnight Cinnamon Rolls:
To make these into overnight cinnamon rolls, follow the directions through step 13. Cover the baking dish with a lid or with foil and place in the fridge overnight.
Remove early and let rise at room temperature for 1 - 2 hours. To speed this up, use the proof settings on your oven or preheat the oven to 200ºF, turn it off, then place the rolls inside for 30 minutes to an hour to rise.
Once the rolls have doubled in size, bake according to step 15.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 roll
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 523 Total Fat: 22g Saturated Fat: 13g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 86mg Sodium: 332mg Carbohydrates: 76g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 42g Protein: 7g