Yeah, and it only gets better with cream cheese frosting! Cinnamon roll meets rich, caramelized apple butter, studded with fresh apples, and baked to perfection. Spread with cream cheese or caramel topping and enjoy!
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like cinnamon rolls, have you? If so, they’re certainly in the vast minority. The aroma that fills the house while they’re baking, sinking your teeth into that soft gooey goodness topped with cream cheese frosting….There is just something about them that feels like coming home.
My husband, Todd, is the kind of person who rarely craves sweets. But he’ll never pass up peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispy treats, or cinnamon rolls. When we first met he told me he didn’t like cake, so for his birthday I surprised him with a batch of cinnamon rolls baked in a round pan and put candles on it. He was in heaven.
This cinnamon roll dough is the best I’ve had. It has the perfect texture. I love to unroll the baked cinnamon buns, watching the dough gently rip apart in soft, fluffy strands. Traditionally I’ve used this recipe for standard cinnamon rolls. But after making a batch of homemade apple butter recently, I was enjoying a spoonful of it and contemplating other uses for it. Somehow the thought of cinnamon rolls came to mind – imagine spreading them not only with brown sugar and cinnamon, but how about a generous layer of rich apple butter? The image stuck in my mind and wouldn’t leave until I put it to the test. The end result: Divine.
This recipe features my homemade Amazing 24-Hour Crockpot Apple Butter, but you can use store-bought as well (but trust me, it won’t taste as good! Also, my apple butter is quite thick. Be careful when selecting an apple butter to purchase that it isn’t very runny or these rolls may result in a goopey mess!).
Note: You don’t have to use apple butter at all. If you prefer to omit it, spread the dough with 1/3 cup softened butter instead of the apple butter at the appropriate step. This recipe still makes the most wonderful cinnamon rolls!
Note: See “note” in the recipe box for Make Ahead instructions.
Let’s get started!
Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let sit for 5 minutes. It will be frothy on top.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, make a well in the center, and add the eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and yeast/milk mixture.
Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer and knead the dough on the bread setting (“2” on a Kitchenaid) for about 10 minutes.
The dough will be stiff but not dry or very sticky.
Remove the dough and form it into a ball. Lightly spray the same bowl with vegetable oil and return the dough.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough sit in a warm place to rise until nearly doubled in size, about 90 minutes. I turn the oven on to 350 degrees F for about 1 minute, turn it off, and then put the dough in the oven to rise.
Beautiful dough with the perfect texture, nearly doubled in size.
Punch the dough down in the center and let it rest for 1 minute.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16X21 rectangle, The dough will likely spring back, let it rest for a minute and roll it back out to size.
Measure out the apple butter and combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a separate small bowl.
Spread the apple butter over the surface of the dough, leaving about 1/4 inch space around the border.
Sprinkle with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Sprinkle over the apple pieces.
Roll up the dough.
Place it seam side down and slice into 15 equal rolls.
Place the rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch pan. I use and LOVE Parrish’s Magic Line pans. Made in the USA with hand-forged aluminum.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 30-40 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.
Beat until smooth.
If you prefer more of a cream cheese glaze, spread the frosting over the rolls while they’re still warm so the frosting melts. If you prefer a fluffier cream cheese frosting, spread the frosting over cooled cinnamon rolls.
- For the Cinnamon Rolls:
- 1 cup warm milk
- 2½ teaspoons yeast
- 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup butter, melted but not hot
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup amazing homemade apple butter (highly recommended) or store-bought)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 small apple, cut into small, very thin pieces
- For the Frosting:
- 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup butter, softened
- 1½ cups powdered confectioner's sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer, stir in the salt and sugar to combine and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, melted butter, and milk/yeast mixture.
- Attach a dough hook and knead the mixture on the bread setting ("2" on a Kitchenaid) for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the dough, form it into a ball, lightly spray the stand mixer bowl with vegetable oil, and place the dough ball back in the bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place until nearly doubled, up to 90 minutes. (I turn on the oven to 350 for about 1 minute, turn it off, and place the dough/bowl in the oven to rise.
- Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and measure out the apple butter. Set aside.
- After the dough has nearly doubled in size, punch it down in the center, let it rest for a minute and then place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
- Roll out dough into a 16x21 inch rectangle. The dough will likely spring back, let it rest for a minute and roll it back out to size.
- Spread the apple butter evenly over the surface of the dough and sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mixture over it, leaving about a ¼ inch border around the dough. Place the apple pieces evenly over the dough.
- Roll up the dough, seam side down, and cut it into 15 equal rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 30-40 minutes.
- While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Bake the rolls until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
- To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract, beat until smooth.
- Spread the frosting over the warm rolls if you prefer more of a glaze. Spread over cooled rolls if you prefer the fluffy white frosting.
Option 1 (Refrigerate): In step 9 after you’ve placed the rolls in the baking pan (but don’t let them rise), immediately cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge overnight. The next morning place them on the middle rack in the oven (turned off), fill a shallow pan ⅔ full of boiling water and place it on the rack below the cinnamon rolls. Close the oven door. Let the rolls sit in there for about 30-40 minutes until they’ve risen. Then bake as instructed.
Option 2 (Freeze): At the same point in step 9, place them in the freezer (don't use a glass pan). Remove them and set them out on the counter to thaw completely (you could set them out overnight) and then continue with the rising process as instructed.