Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Caramel apple cinnamon rolls stuffed with cinnamon, brown sugar, caramel, granny smith apples and drizzled with homemade apple cider caramel sauce and pecans. My cinnamon rolls have the most wonderful, bakery-style, buttery flavor! These apple cinnamon rolls are the perfect fall treat!
Feeling all the fall vibes today!
It’s that time of the year again when calories don’t count! HA. If only that were true!
Today, I’m bringing you apple cinnamon rolls drizzled all over with cider caramel sauce! I‘m telling you, if you’re looking for a weekend baking project, you’ve found it. Gooey caramel apple filling all wrapped around pillowy soft bakery-style cinnamon roll dough. You could totally frost these with cream cheese frosting like I do my 1-hour cinnamon rolls, but I like to go in with that leftover apple cider caramel or salted caramel sauce, and it’s golden brown fall perfection. It’s totally giving sticky buns meets caramel apple pieces.
Caramel apples give you that bobbing-for-apples autumnal feels. If you’ve gone apple picking recently, first of all, you need to make yourself a batch of homemade cider. And then, you need to make these caramel apple rolls. The center is filled with brown sugar, pecans, apples, and cinnamon.
It totally tastes like a slice of apple pie but in breakfast form. So basically, it’s a swirled version of my apple pie french toast bake topped with caramel sauce. If it doesn’t feel like fall where you live (it definitely doesn’t feel like fall where I live) then these extra indulgent, feels-like-fall, all hugs and smiles caramel apple cinnamon rolls are exactly what the doc ordered.
Ingredients for caramel apple cinnamon rolls:
- Flour: The protein content of all-purpose flour is ideal for making cinnamon rolls. You’ll also need a little extra flour for the surface.
- Milk: warm whole milk is added to the dough. This adds hydration, structure, and strengthens the dough.
- Instant Yeast: ferments the sugar that we use in the rolls. It also helps the dough to rise by releasing carbon dioxide.
- Sugar: You’ll need both granulated sugar and brown sugar for this recipe. I like to use white sugar in the dough and brown sugar for the cinnamon swirl in the center.
- Powdered Milk: This is my secret ingredient in making bakery-quality cinnamon buns at home! Most grocery stores carry this in the baking aisle; you can also purchase it online here.
- An Egg: helps strengthen the structure of the final baked product.
- Butter: adds flavor, tenderness, and moisture to the rolls. When we add melted butter to the rolls, the fat coats the flour and ensures that less gluten is formed, so the rolls are melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
- Spices: You’ll need ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and kosher salt for the dough. These add flavor.
- Diced apples: I love using a nice and tart green apple for this recipe because it balances out all the sweet ingredients in the recipe. You can swap that with any other apples that are suitable for baking.
- Pecans: Chopped toasted pecans pair beautifully with the tart apples and the sweet caramel sauce.
How to make apple cinnamon rolls:
- Yeast likes things warm to get it going. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the milk and water. Heat it for 30-45 seconds until warm but not hot. Add the melted butter to the mixture, then check the temperature using a food thermometer. It shouldn’t be any hotter than 105ºF; if it is, just let it cool a bit.
- Make the dough. Add the flour, sugar, salt, powder milk, and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Add the milk mixture and the egg. Mix together until a soft dough forms. You can add additional flour as needed. If you live somewhere humid, you’ll need more flour than if you live somewhere dry! When the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and comes together, remove it from the stand mixer, cover it, and let sit for 10-15 minutes. This allows the gluten to relax. If you were to roll this right away, the dough wouldn’t stretch the way we need it to!
- Make the cinnamon brown sugar filling. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a bowl; set it aside for later. This would also be a good time to dice up a granny smith or Honeycrisp apple.
- Make rolls. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and make sure to flour your rolling pin. Make a nice big rectangle. Then spread the surface with softened butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Make sure to cover the dough all over. Drop apple chunks and drizzle with salted caramel or apple cider caramel sauce on top. Roll the dough into a tight log. Make sure to tuck and pinch the ends. Cut the ends off to make clean pieces. Then cut the log into 12 equal pieces. I like to use dental floss, but you can also use a sharp knife. Place the rolls in a lightly greased baking dish.
- Let the dough rest and rise. For the second rise, I like to warm the oven to 200ºF, turn it off and then place the rolls inside covered with a damp tea towel. The warm oven is an optimum atmosphere for the dough to rise; it’s warm and dark. If the oven is in use, my favorite trick is to preheat the dryer (yes, the kind where you dry your clothes), turn it off then place the dish inside (covered with a damp cloth.) This does the same thing without putting the oven out of commission!
- Preheat the oven and bake. When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and preheat the oven. Bake the rolls for 16-22 minutes or until the center roll is cooked through and no longer raw. Let the rolls cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then drizzle with more apple cider caramel or salted caramel. Serve warm!
FAQs about caramel cinnamon rolls:
Yes, you can. The only difference is you’ll have to proof the yeast. So add it to the warm water and milk (before adding the butter) and let it hang out for 10 minutes. Then allow more time for the dough to rest and double in size once the dough is mixed; about 1 hour. And again, you’ll have to let it rise for longer for the second rise right before baking, about the same; 1 hour.
2 tablespoons of powdered milk gives these rolls the most amazing bakery-like texture and flavor. It’s something that I almost always include in my baked goods – check out my 1-hour cinnamon rolls for proof!
I’ve used a homemade apple cider caramel, a homemade salted caramel with vanilla, and I’ve even used several brands of store-bought caramel sauce. If I go the store-bought route, this one has been my favorite!
If I’m making this a couple of hours ahead of serving, I store them at room temperature until service, covered with a sheet of aluminum foil. If I’m making them a day or so ahead of time, I usually prefer to pop them in an airtight container and refrigerate them until ready to serve.
These rolls can be baked in a 9-inch round pie dish as well. Keep in mind that the pie dish typically holds 11 rolls – not the full 12. You can also make these in a muffin pan to get individual cinnamon rolls.
Other apple recipes to try:
- Quick Warm Cinnamon Apples
- Homemade Apple Cider
- Apple Crumble Bars
- Easy Maple Honeycrisp Apple Fritters
- Honeycrisp Kale Salad with Parmesan Vinaigrette
Original recipe shared Oct 2014, updated with new images, post, and minor recipe edits, Sept 2022.
Cinnamon Roll Dough:
- 4 tablespoons melted salted butter (or ghee)
- ¾ cup milk (such as dairy, almond,etc)
- ¼ cup water
- 3¼ - 3¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 tablespoons powdered milk
- 1 egg, room temperature
Caramel Apple Filling:
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 5 teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 5 tablespoons salted butter, softened
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped
- ¼ cup toasted chopped pecans, optional
- ¾ cup caramel sauce (homemade or store-bought)
- WARM: In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the milk and water for 30-45 seconds. Check the temperature, it should be about 105-108ºF. If it’s hotter, you’ll need to allow it to cool at room temp until it reaches that range. Add the melted cooled butter to the milk mixture.
- DOUGH: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook (or hand mixer with dough hook) combine 3 cups flour, sugar, salt, powdered milk, and yeast. Mix for a few seconds, then pour in the milk mixture and egg. Beat on medium-low speed until the flour is incorporated; about 5 minutes. If the dough is sticky, add ¼ cup of flour at a time until it pulls away and forms a ball. Run the mixture for another 5 minutes on medium speed. Remove dough from hook, spray dough with oil spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
- CINNAMON BROWN SUGAR: In a small now, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and ground nutmeg; set aside.
- MAKE ROLLS: Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a 14x10 inch rectangle. Spread the softened butter over the surface using a butter knife. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Top with apple and pecan pieces. Drizzle ½ of the caramel sauce on top. Roll the dough tightly, tuck and pinch the ends and cut into 12 even pieces, using a sharp knife or dental floss. Place rolls in a lightly greased or parchment-lined 13x9 baking pan.
- REST: Loosely cover with a towel and allow the rolls to rise in a warm, dark place for 20-35 minutes. TIP: heat a 200ºF oven, turn the oven OFF and place rolls inside.
- BAKE: Remove the dish from the oven. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the rolls for 16-22 minutes or until golden. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Drizzle with remaining caramel sauce and serve warm.
Alternate pans: If you bake these cinnamon rolls in a 9-inch round pie dish, you’ll only be able to fit 11 rolls. You can also bake these in a muffin pan to get individual cinnamon rolls.
Update 9/22: recipe updated with minor edits and easier to follow directions.