Last week, I made five batches of cinnamon rolls in three days. I kid you not. Do the math. And because I know you’re wondering if I got tired of the ooey-gooey, melty, caramelly sweetness, I did actually. Nine out of ten times, when I’m baking, I won’t get sick of sweets - I can eat cookie after cookie, donut after donut, you name it. This time, though, you can bet your last cinnamon roll ever that by the third batch, I didn’t want to see that dang swirl again for a long, long time.
But I’ve learned to never make myself promise anything, and to never say “never” (even though I just did… twice). I’ll never do that again. Okay I’m done. The week and a half-ish between that last sixth batch and now was just enough time to refresh my cinnamon roll craving. Told you - it’s like clockwork, that sweet tooth of mine. A determined and undying little thing.
My creative side convinced me to step a little farther outside the box… or should I say “roll” with this recipe. This world has plllllllllenty of basic cinnamon roll recipes, and within that realm, one can find vegan, gluten-free, paleo, overnight, and one-bowl spin-offs of the OG roll. So, I can’t resort to the basic and I don’t really feel like digging my hands into anything that smells like the word “paleo” sounds (sorry not sorry).
Chocolate chips? Ehh. Cinnamon rolls should always be eaten with coffee and chocolate and coffee is as “too-much” as those burgers with bacon and peanut butter and cheese and a fried egg on top (again, sorry not sorry). Blueberries? Out of season. Pumpkin? Too soon. And let’s be honest, we will all be exploding with pumpkin-flavored-everything come October, so our cinnamon rolls don’t need o contribute to those explosions.
APPLES. Yes. All the way. It’s time. Apples can surely be enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee in the morning. Apples can be found locally in most areas and taste a million and three times better in the Fall months. Apples, when baked, soften and sweeten even further, complimenting the warm spices of a beloved cinnamon roll. Apples, when diced, snuggle right into the fluffy whole-wheat dough of a beloved cinnamon roll.
Now all that’s left is the execution, the stage of baking that makes me more nervous than my first college final did. And it’s always the proving of the yeast that gets me all fussy - the milk must be just warm enough to make the yeast comfy, but just cool enough not to kill it immediately. Believe me - dead yeast makes for horribly disappointing cinnamon rolls.
I microwave the milk for 45 seconds, dip my finger in to act as a thermometer (I know - very technical), and pray to the heavens above that the yeast I’m about to whisk in will create frothy little bubbles that signify life. Five minutes pass and I check the bowl of milk, yeast, and sugar I’ve covered and cornered on the kitchen counter…
… LIFE. There are frothy bubbles and therefore life. Cinnamon rolls are a go. Commence the making of the first Fall baked goodie.
I’ll probably be making these again in, like, three days.
Makes about 8 rolls
For the dough:
3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour*
1 cup almond milk
3 tbsp. coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup + 2 tsp. coconut sugar**
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
For the filling:
2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 cup coconut sugar***
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. sea salt
1 medium apple, diced into 1/4-1/2”-thick cubes (Fuji or Granny Smith will work)
For the frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I prefer Fagè)
3-4 tbsp. maple syrup or honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Warm the almond milk to 95-100 degrees F - if you don’t have a thermometer, you should be able to stick your finger in the milk without it burning. I heated mine in the microwave for about 35-40 seconds and it was perfect. You don’t want it too hot because this can kill the yeast!
Whisk the yeast and 2 tsp. coconut sugar into the almond milk, cover with a towel, and let proof for at 5 minutes. When it has frothed significantly (about an inch above where it was originally in the bowl, before proving), whisk in the melted and cooled coconut oil. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, 1/4 cup coconut sugar and 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice. Pour in the yeast mixture and, using the dough attachment on a stand-mixer, knead until the dough forms a ball around the attachment (it shouldn’t be sticking to the sides of the bowl anymore). Gently form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly greased large bowl - covered - to proof for an hour in a warm environment. My trick is to heat the oven to 200 degrees F, then turn it off, and let the rolls proof in the oven as it cools down slightly. It should double in size.
In medium-size bowl, combine the coconut sugar, spices, and apple for the filling while the dough proves. Let this mixture rest at room temperature so that the flavors from can come together.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 1/2” tall. Rub to the edges with coconut oil and evenly sprinkle the filling mixture over the top. Leave this about an inch from the edges, as it will move towards the edges while you roll the dough.
Depending on how many rolls you would like, roll from the long or short end. Rolling from the long end will give more rolls with fewer swirls, while rolling from the short end will do vice versa. Lay the sliced rolls in a lightly greased ceramic baking dish, cover, and prove for another hour in the warm oven (use the trick from above).
After proving the second time, heat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the rolls for 30-32 minutes if larger, and 28-30 minutes if smaller. You’re looking for a golden top with sides the give just a little when pressed lightly with your finger.
Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes.
Prepare the frosting by combining the ingredients in a mixing bowl and use a stand- or hand-mixer to beat on high until light and fluffy. Sweeten more or less to your preference.
Spread 2-3 tablespoons of the frosting on top of each cinnamon roll and serve immediately. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. Unfrosted rolls can be frozen and reheated at a later time.
*I’ve tried this with whole-wheat flour and I think the protein content is too high - this makes it hard for the yeast to do its job and results in not-as-fluffy rolls. I recommend the whole-wheat pastry flour for the best texture.
**Granulated sugar can be used here instead.
***Brown sugar can be used here instead.
I used a 9x13 natural clay baking dish from Lodge Cast-Iron. This post is not sponsored - I just love their bakeware!