Is it a cinnamon roll with an apple pie twist, or an apple pie in a bun? Either way, these baked gooey rolls smothered in a luscious cream cheese icing merge two of my favorite fall foods together for apple spice bliss that is perfect for your next fall brunch or a lazy rainy day (like today, if you’re in the northeast!)
Although apples feature heavily in American cooking today, apples are actually native to Central Asia and spread to Europe and other parts of Asia before being brought to the Americas by Europeans. And they clearly were well-suited to the climate. Growing up in the northeast, I have so many memories of going apple picking, making caramel apples, bobbing for apples, and of course apple pie. How can you not love fall?
So why not celebrate the season of apples with a fresh twist on cinnamon buns?
Start by activating your yeast. To do this, yeast needs to sit in liquid that is just the right temperature. Too cold and it won’t activate and the dough won’t rise. Too warm and you kill the yeast. Milk should be warm to the touch, like bath water, but not so hot that it’s uncomfortable to put a finger in it.
Add all other dough ingredients and knead together with your hands. It is generally a wet, sticky dough but if it’s so sticky that after a few minutes of kneading, it’s not forming a dough, you can add more flour. Let the dough sit, covered, in a warm spot for an hour. My favorite proofing spots include on the radiator and on top of a heated oven.
While you’re waiting, caramelize the apples. I love to elevate the taste of apples by adding juice from fresh citrus and apple spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom). Cook until apples are soft and most of the liquid has cooked down.
After an hour, your dough should have doubled in size. Flour a large surface – make sure to cover it well lest your dough stick! Turn out the dough and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Roll dough into a 21×16” rectangle using a floured rolling pin. To get the dough even, always roll from the middle to the edge, then back to the middle. If it’s misshapen, use your (floured!) hands to stretch it into the shape you want. Now my favorite part: filling! First, brush melted butter across the surface. Then, sprinkle brown sugar, apple spice, and caramelized apples evenly across (make sure to go all the way to the edge). Finally, roll your dough width-wise into a log.
If there’s excess dough at the ends, trim that now. It’s time for your secret weapon: floss! Yes, you heard right. Floss is a fantastic tool for cutting sticky dough. Just gently slide the floss under the log, cross the two ends, and pull apart to cut. Slice the log into 12 sections. I measured in advance to get ones that are even. Place your rolls on a greased baking pan.
Cover the pan and let the rolls sit for 30 minutes. They should grow in size again. This is the time to turn your oven on. Make the cream cheese frosting.
Bake the rolls until lightly browned on top, around 20 minutes. Enjoy straight out of the oven and frosted.
Apple Pie Cinnamon Buns
Yield approximately 12 rolls. 2 hours and 30 minutes
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
- 4 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons butter, divided
- 5 apples, peeled and diced
- 1 cup brown sugar, divided
- Juice of half an orange
- Juice of half a lemon
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
- 2 teaspoons nutmeg, divided
- 1 teaspoon cardamom, divided
Cream Cheese Icing
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup butter softened
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Frying pan
- Baking sheet
- Rolling pin
- Pastry brush
- Dental floss or serrated knife
- Heat milk in a large bowl until warm to the touch (110˚ F). Add the yeast and let it sit for 10 minutes, it should get slightly foamy.
- Add remaining dough ingredients to the milk in the order listed. Knead together to form dough. Dough should be sticky, but add additional flour if it’s too difficult to work with.
- Let the dough sit, covered, in a warm spot for an hour, until it doubles in size.
- In the meantime, make the filling. Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add the apples, half a cup of brown sugar, lemon and orange juice, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. Caramelize the apples by cooking on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone. Set aside.
- Turn out dough on a floured surface, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter.
- Roll dough into 21×16″ rectangle. Spread melted butter on dough using a pastry brush. Sprinkle brown sugar, remaining spices, and apple mixture evenly. Make sure to fill all the way to the edge.
- Roll dough width-wise to form a log. Cut into twelve equal pieces (recommended to use dental floss). Place rolls on lightly greased baking sheet.
- Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.
- Bake rolls for 20 minutes, until golden brown on top. Meanwhile, make cream cheese icing: beat together cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth. Spread on rolls and serve warm.