While pumpkins rule supreme, there is something about a crisp apple in the fall that feels right. Bundled up in sweaters, sporting your boots for the first time, getting to go out in nature without tree pollen trying to kill you. Apple picking and the festivities of fall just go hand in hand. In my excitement, I decided to create the ultimate apple cinnamon rolls. With apple cider in the dough and apple butter for filling, these apple butter cinnamon rolls are near perfect on their own. We could stop there, but no. We end it all by topping these beautiful buns with an apple cider caramel over some toasted pecans!
But, where are the actual apples?
Okay, you have a valid point. How am I going to call something the ultimate apple dessert and not have any actual apples? Because apples are notoriously watery and do not make easy additives in doughs. Simple as that. To get apples ready to bake with, it takes a bit of prep, especially if you want to incorporate them into a yeast dough. You'd have to grate the apples and then drain all the liquid out of them. That sounds laborious and boring. I'd much rather fast track the process and use various apple by-products. So, in apple butter cinnamon rolls, we are just using apple butter! No apples necessary.
So, apple cider caramel, you say?
I do say, and so should you. Caramel is already good on its own, but add in the subtle hints of apple and spices from the cider, and you are in for a treat. It's my current obsession, and I want it on everything. When my grandma tried it, she said she wanted it on vanilla ice cream, which is an idea I can totally get behind!
When making it, be careful with the water content of the cider. If you had the reduction to the sugar too fast, it will boil at a much lower rate than listed below for a long period of time as that water cooks off. As it does, the temperature will slowly get hotter. While you shouldn't stir caramel, you will need to stir this to keep it from burning. If not, the sugar will sit in the pot too long waiting to reach temp, and it will burn.
Also, you must heat up that heavy cream before you add it to the caramel. It's going to bubble up either way, but the hotter cream minimizes the bubbling the caramel will do. Be prepared for that reaction and just stir it until it calms down.
Tricks for the perfect yeast dough
Yeast can be such a prickly mistress. I've tried many brands and many versions, and I suggest you do the same. What I love might not be what you love, but I will say I prefer active yeast. A lot of people don't like active yeast because you have to "activate" it. This adds about 10 minutes to any recipe you do. In comparison, you can just add instant yeast in with the flour and there is no wait time. The reason I don't do this is because I've been burned by instant yeast before. The yeast had gone bad (even though the expiration date wasn't for some time), and it would not activate. Unfortunately, you don't learn this until after you've wasted all your ingredients. With active yeast, you know if it is going to work long before you waste all your flour.
Once you get it activated and read to proof for the first time, make sure you put it in a greased bowl. I also recommend to always drizzle a little oil on top so it stays moist as it expands. Then, cover it tightly with clingfilm. This keeps the air and moisture in, keeping it. By draping it in a towel, you create it's own little "hot box" for it to expand with.
Dough expands best in warm environments! If you are struggling to get a dough to rise, you can preheat your oven to 200F while your yeast is activating, turn it off, then place your dough in with a damp towel across it. Let it rise with the oven door cracked open.
Apple Butter Cinnamon Rolls with Apple Cider Caramel
- ¾ cup apple cider
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 pack yeast
- ½ cup melted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 5 cups bread flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups apple butter
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
Apple Cider Caramel
- 2 cups apple cider
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Heat apple cider and milk until they reach 110°F. Add in yeast packet. Let activate for ten minutes. Melt butter while waiting and let cool slightly.
- After ten minutes, add in remaining ingredients and bring together. This dough is too sticky to knead. Work together until fully incorporated. Place in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Drape with towel. Let rise for 2 hours.
Apple Cider Caramel
- In a sauce pan, boil the apple cider until reduced by half. Stir constantly. This will take about 10 minutes.
- In a separate pot, add 2 cups of sugar. Pour in reduced apple cider. Bring to medium heat and place your candy thermometer. When it reaches 290F, take off heat. Add heated milk and add back to the heat for an additional 2 minutes.
- Place butter in heat safe bowl and pour hot mixture over. Let sit for 2 minutes. Stir vigorously and then set aside to cool. If it becomes too firm before ready to drizzle, microwave for 15 seconds.
Filling, Baking, and Assembly
- When dough is finished rising, dump onto a floured surface and roll until it is as thick as 3 quarters stacked together (which is about ¼", it should be about 24" x 20".
- Brush with melted butter. Spread with an even layer of apple butter. Sprinkle brown sugar on top.
- With the long end facing you, roll away from yourself until the dough is in one log. Cut into 1" sections. Place in greased baking pans about ½" apart. Cover with plastic wrap. Drape with a towel. Sit on top of oven while it preheats to 375F. When the oven is done preheating, bake at 375°F for 50 minutes.
- The cinnamon rolls are best enjoyed topped with pecans and drizzled, generously, with caramel. Enjoy!