These sweet apple cinnamon rolls are the perfect autumn treat. A base of enriched dough is is wrapped around seasonal apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then topped with a simple cream cheese frosting. It's the ultimate fall-inspired cinnamon roll!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Brown sugar: use dark brown sugar for a slightly more gooey filling with a stronger caramel flavour. Light brown sugar will add a more subtle flavour and they'll be slightly more dry in the middle.
- Cinnamon: try pumpkin pie spice in place of the cinnamon for a spicy twist.
- Make it dairy-free: simply replace with vegan butter, plant-based milk and vegan cream cheese frosting.
- Cream cheese frosting: if you want a very sweet roll, you can top them with vanilla frosting instead.
Step 1: heat the milk and sugar, then mix in the butter. Once this mixture has cooled to skin-temperature, mix in the yeast and let it bloom.
Step 2: add the flour and stir until a loose dough forms.
Step 3: knead the dough until it becomes a smooth round ball. Set it aside to rise.
Step 4: let the dough rise, covered, until it's doubled in size.
Step 5: cook the apples in butter until softened, then stir in the sugar and spices. Set aside to cool.
Step 6: mix the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Roll the dough out, then top with the butter mixture and apples.
Step 7: roll the dough into a spiral, then cut into 9 equal rolls. Set into a baking dish and cover to rise.
Step 8: bake the cinnamon rolls for about half an hour and cool before serving.
- Use rapid rise yeast: rapid rise or instant yeast will reduce the rising time of the dough by about half. If you don’t have instant yeast, you can use active dry yeast, but note that it will increase the amount of rising time needed.
- Rest the dough before rolling: if the dough springs back when rolling it out, allow it to rest for about 10 minutes, then re-roll. Resting allows the gluten strands to relax and makes it easier for the dough to keep the desired shape.
- Cool before frosting: don’t add the cream cheese frosting right away. Let the rolls cool fully so that it stays in place and doesn't melt.
You want to use gala, jazz, granny smith, pink lady, honeycrisp or braeburn apples for this recipe. Avoid red delicious apples because they lack moisture and will not hold together during the baking process. In general, red delicious are not the best option for baking.
These buns are best the same day they’re baked. However, you can store these in an airtight container for several days. You can also double the recipe and freeze half for later. Let the buns defrost at room temperature before icing and serving.
There is an extra step, beyond making the dough and the cinnamon sugar filling here, because the apples need to be cooked beforehand. It's well worth it - and trust us, raw apple chunks added to the filling aren't very nice.
How to Store
Storage: keep the rolls in a sealed container at room temperature. If you've added frosting, they should be refrigerated, but note that chilling will dry them out a bit.
Freezing: the apple cinnamon rolls can be frozen without frosting added. Transfer fully cooled rolls to an airtight container and freeze for up to a month, then thaw at room temperature. Refresh them by reheating in the oven and brushing with some butter while they're still warm.
Rapid Rise vs. Active Dry Yeast
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between rapid rise (instant) and active dry yeast? Both are a granular dry yeast that can be used interchangeably, but each will alter the rising time of your baked good.
As the name implies, rapid rise yeast will shorten the rising time by about ½ that of active dry yeast. If a recipe calls for active dry yeast, you can use rapid rise/instant yeast, but you'll have to reduce the amount of yeast in the recipe by about 25% to prevent over-rising.
The trade off with using instant yeast means less time for the dough to develop a deep flavour. That being said, because this recipe is loaded with so much flavour, there's no need to have a long proofing time. The instructions are written for either traditional or instant yeast so you don't need to worry about which you're using – just keep an eye on the dough so it doesn't over-proof.
It's also possible to use fresh yeast in these rolls. Half a cube will be good, and whisk it into the warm milk mixture to bloom.
You can prepare the recipe the night before up until the second rise, but keep the rolls tightly covered in the fridge overnight. In the morning, take out the rolls, let them rise until doubled, then bake.
They will have a slightly different flavour with an overnight rise, with a slightly stronger yeast flavour, a bit more like sourdough. If you don't like that, then stick to the shorter proving time.
This recipe is perfect for weekend baking. Preparing this recipe the night before will make for a fresh baked treat for a cozy Sunday brunch.
Extra Flavour Options
- Add nuts: add in a ½ cup of toasted pecans or walnuts to the filling.
- Use maple syrup: sweeten the icing with a touch of maple syrup or try using our maple drizzle instead.
- Use a chocolate & nut combo: add chopped chocolate and walnuts, or spread Nutella and chopped hazelnuts for an irresistible chocolatey filling.
- Add dried fruit: sprinkle a handful of dried cranberries or raisins over the filling.
What's the difference between a cinnamon roll and a cinnamon bun?
While some people say that nuts make the difference, it's more of a regional linguistic difference. In Canada, these are called cinnamon buns, but south of the border they're rolls.
What is cinnamon roll filling made of?
The filling for cinnamon rolls is usually made with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. It can include white sugar and extra spices or add-ins, too.
Should apples be peeled to add to the filling?
This is up to you, but the pieces are so small that you don't really notice the peel. We think you can save some time and reduce waste by leaving the peel on.
If you make this Apple Cinnamon Rolls recipe or any other bread recipes on the Baked Collective, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more baking, follow along on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
Apple Cinnamon Rolls
- Measuring cups and spoons or digital kitchen scale
- small pot
- Rubber spatula or wooden spoon
- Mixing bowl or stand mixer
- handheld whisk or whisk attachment
- Tea towel
- vegetable peeler
- sharp knife for chopping apples
- medium frying pan
- Rolling Pin
- small bowl
- serrated knife for slicing dough into rolls
- 8-inch (20-cm) square baking dish
- Wire rack
For The Enriched Dough
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup butter plus extra for greasing the pan
- 2 ¼ teaspoon traditional yeast
- 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
For The Cooked Apples
- 4 small apples
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon ground
For The Cinnamon Filling
- 3 tablespoon butter softened
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoon cinnamon ground
Make The Enriched Dough
- Heat the milk and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour the milk mixture into a large bowl (or the bowl of a standing mixer) and whisk in the butter until it is melted. Check the temperature. It should be just warmer than skin temperature.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the milk mixture and set it aside to bloom for about 10 minutes (you can skip the resting period for instant yeast).
- Add the flour and mix everything together with a wooden spoon into a rough dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it until a smooth and soft ball forms, about 10 minutes (if using a stand mixer you can use your dough hook).
- Lightly grease the mixing bowl you were using with a few drops of vegetable oil (or any other oil). Place the ball of dough in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let rise for 1 hour at room temperature, or until doubled in size.
Cook The Apples
- Peel, core, and chop the apples into ½-inch (1-cm) cubes.
- Add the butter to a medium frying pan over low-medium heat. Add the apples to the pan and cook them until they're tender but not mushy, about 7 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Cook the apples for another minute or so, or until the sugar is dissolved. Important Note—If the apples begin to stick to the pan at any time add a splash of water.
Roll Out The Dough
- Once the dough has doubled in size, lightly use your fist to deflate it. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a 12x18-inch (30x45-cm) rectangle.
Mix The Cinnamon Filling
- Combine the softened butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Use a fork or your hands to mix everything together thoroughly.
Assemble The Cinnamon Rolls
- Lightly grease an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking dish.
- Spread the cinnamon filling in an even layer over the rolled out dough then spoon the cooled apples evenly over the top of the cinnamon filling.
- Starting with the long end of the dough, roll it into a tight log. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice the dough into 9 equal portions. Place each roll into the greased baking dish.
- Cover the rolls with a damp towel and let them rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Bake The Cinnamon Rolls
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Bake the proofed rolls for 28 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Transfer the dish to a wire rack to cool before topping them with cream cheese frosting. The cinnamon rolls are best eaten fresh but can be stored in a sealed container for a couple of days.