Pumpkin spice seems to have taken over once again as we usher in the official start of Autumn, but I’m over here pointedly obsessing over all things apple.
(It won’t be long now, pumpkin, before I come for you, too…)
One morning last week, I took a trip to our local community apple orchard, a quiet, happy place nestled unassumingly between neighborhood cul-de-sacs.
Most of the trees had already been picked over, so with the exception of the small army of spiders nestled in the delicate, expansive webs stretching from tree to tree, I had the place to myself, the early sunlight shining soft and dappled through the branches, the fruit dotted with dew.
I came away with a handful of apples, and a bevy of apple-themed inspiration.
Baking is already in full swing in my kitchen. I’ve stocked up on ungodly amounts of butter, and sugar, and flour. My recipe to-do list is long. And our oven is getting an almost daily workout.
But first up, a batch of these fluffy, flavorful apple cider cinnamon rolls.
Soft, tender apple cider-enhanced dough, curled around a cinnamon-laden, apple butter slathered filling, and baked to sweet and buttery, fluffy perfection, these apple cider cinnamon rolls are the ultimate fall morning indulgence.
These apple cider cinnamon rolls are a recipe I’ve toyed with off and on for over a year now, and it’s a winning combination of sweet and tender yeast dough and gooey, apple butter filling, rounded out with tons of cinnamon and warming spice.
My recipe is a bit time-consuming (as all from-scratch cinnamon rolls tend to be), but has a shorter rising time than some, and is very straight-forward. Make the dough. Rise, rest, roll. Prep the filling in between. Bake and go crazy with anticipation as the most deliciously comforting aroma begins to enrobe you and your kitchen.
And it goes without saying, but worth all the effort.
I’ve tested these cinnamon rolls a few times with cooked apples in the filling, but no matter how small I dice them, the texture always bugged me, while rendering the dough difficult to slice evenly, with apple bits ever-falling out.
My solution: eliminate the extra step and maximize the apple-cinnamon flavor by using creamy apple butter instead. I often use store-bought apple butter in the filling, but you could absolutely make your own.
Instead of the traditional cream cheese frosting/icing, I like to top/slather mine with a sweet brown butter glaze, but you do you.
That’s the sort of decision without a wrong answer… 🙂
- 1-1/4 cups apple cider or unfiltered apple juice, reduced to 1/2 cup
- 2-1/2 + 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
- 3 Tbsp organic cane sugar
- 1 tsp fine-grain sea salt
- 1 package (2-1/4 tsp) instant (rapid rise) yeast
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 large egg
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room-temperature (soft and easily spreadable)
- 3 Tbsp apple butter
- 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1-2 Tbsp milk or cream
- In a skillet over medium heat, reduce the apple cider by half, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Meanwhile, stir together 2-1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
- In a microwave safe-bowl, heat the 1/2 cup reduced apple cider, milk, and butter at 50% power until it reaches 115-120 degrees. The mixture should be hot to the touch but not boiling. Stir in the nutmeg.
- Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir with a nonstick spatula, to combine.
- Add the egg and 1/4 cup flour, and stir until a soft dough forms. Add a 1-2 more tablespoons of flour as needed. The dough is ready to knead when it becomes elastic and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly-floured work surface and gently but firmly knead for 3-4 minutes.
- Place the ball of dough in a lightly-greased bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Return the dough to your work surface. Be sure to scrape away any stuck-on dough (a bench scraper is great for this) and lightly flour again first.
- Shape the dough into a flat rectangular disk, then use a lightly-floured rolling pin to roll out the dough into an 8x14-inch rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Dust the top and underside of the dough with flour as you work if the dough becomes sticky. Using a ruler to measure helps to ensure evenly-sized cinnamon rolls, but don’t fret if they aren’t exact.
- Spread on the butter, followed by the apple butter, in even layers, leaving a half-inch border on the long sides.
- In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon until combined. Sprinkle on the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then, starting from one of the long sides, slowly and tightly roll up the dough.
- Place the log of dough seam-side down, and use a very sharp serrated knife or (preferably) unflavored dental floss to cut the rolls into 9 to 12 pieces.
- Place the rolls in a lightly greased or cooking-sprayed 9-inch pan, leaving even space between each. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise (I use the microwave). Let rise for 50-75 minutes, until roughly doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake until barely-browned, gently puffed, and cooked through, about 20-25 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning, as necessary.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the butter begins to bubble and foam. When golden brown bits begin to form at the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat, and continue whisking for another minute or two.
- Add the brown butter to a medium mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar and vanilla. Stir in the milk or cream as needed to reach your desired consistency. Drizzle over the cinnamon rolls while still warm. Enjoy!